[WATCH] Hero’s welcome for Panama Papers minister, €6 million Marsaxlokk project announced, Mizzi avoids press

Standing ovation for minister Konrad Mizzi at 'Gvern li Jisma' consultation session • Minister avoids Panama Papers topic, refuses to speak to press

Minister Konrad Mizzi and parliamentary secretary Deborah Schembri at Gvern li Jisma
Minister Konrad Mizzi and parliamentary secretary Deborah Schembri at Gvern li Jisma
File photo shows Konrad Mizzi greeted by well-wishers during a walkabout for the European elections in 2014. Photo: Ray Attard
File photo shows Konrad Mizzi greeted by well-wishers during a walkabout for the European elections in 2014. Photo: Ray Attard
The proposed €6 million regeneration project for Marsaxlokk

Konrad Mizzi, now a ‘minister without portfolio’, announced a €6 million project to regenerate Marsaxlokk.

The project will include the construction of new roads to deviate traffic from the centre of the village, and allow the coast of Marsaxlokk to be converted into a pedestrian zone.

A carpark will be built by the football pitch, the Vendome Tower will be restored, and a heritage trail will be set up for tourists.

“The regeneration of Marsaxlokk is only one example of the government’s intentions to create open spaces for the public to enjoy,” Mizzi said.

Mizzi announced the project during a ‘Gvern li Jisma’ consultation session, a rare appearance for the minister to which he was received by a standing ovation.

The Marsaxlokk regeneration project will be split into six phases
The Marsaxlokk regeneration project will be split into six phases

Onlookers were shown a video on the project, bearing the watermark ‘minister within the Office of the Prime Minister.  

But the minister refused to engage with journalists after the session ended, to discuss his offshore dealings, saying he would only answer questions on the subjects he discussed at ‘Gvern li Jisma’.

Mizzi was stripped off his energy and health portfolios after it was revealed in the Panama Papers that he owned an offshore Panamanian registered company.

However, he was not asked about the Panama Papers scandal during the session, and did not even refer to it in his opening address. Instead, he gave a run-through of ongoing projects in his former health and energy sectors – such as the LNG power station project and the partial privatisation of three hospitals.

Shortly before announcing the regeneration project, he said that “the final touches” are being completed on a LNG tanker that will be berthed in Marsaxlokk Bay as part of the power station project, and that it is expected to sail to Malta within the coming weeks.

“We turned Enemalta’s fortunes around in three years, from a debt-ridden company weighed down by political interference to a profit-making enterprise that is able to invest in its own distribution centres,” he said.

The minister said that 80 MWp a year are currently generated by solar panels, that is expected to rise to 185MWp by 2020.

He said that tenants will soon be able to receive water and electricity bills at residential tariffs, without requiring their landlords’ signatures.

“Many tenants are unfortunately being charged higher tariffs, because their landlords hadn’t signed a form to prove that they live in the building,” he said. “Now tenants will be able to present their lease agreement to ARMS as proof of residence, and hence qualify for residential tariffs. This will close the chapter of unfairness against tenants.”

He also touched on a planned ‘New Water’ project that will annually treat around seven million litres of drainage into water that will be used for agriculture, industry and to recharge aquifers. The water will be treated in three phases – ultra-filtration, reverse osmoses and advanced oxidification.

The room was packed to the brim with people who turned up to listen to Mizzi and planning parliamentary secretary Deborah Schembri, and chairs had to be lined up outside the room.

On 3 April, the International Consortium for Investigative Journalism (ICIJ) uncovered 11.5 million documents from Mossack Fonseca, a global law firm based in Panama. The documents revealed that Konrad Mizzi and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, opened two offshore companies in Panama through Mossack Fonseca’s agent in Malta, as well as two offshore trusts in New Zealand; as well as having sought to open bank accounts in Panama to deposit some €800,000 annually.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has since faced two protests fronted by the Opposition against corruption, three confidence motions in parliament, and only ‘demoted’ Mizzi to a minister without portfolio, under his purview, while retaining Schembri as chief of staff. Mizzi also resigned as Labour's deputy leader for party affairs, a position that was eventually taken up by economy minister Chris Cardona.

‘Two year grace period to regularise minor illegal development’

Mizzi was accompanied at ‘Gvern li Jisma’ by planning parliamentary secretary Deborah Schembri, who detailed the government’s plans to allow people to regularise minor planning illegalities.

The Planning Authority will in the summer launch a two-year initiative that will allow people to regularise minor planning illegalisties against a set fee.

“The problem was far too widespread and people were left unable to sell their properties because of minor planning illegalities, sometimes committed back when planning laws were looser than they are now,” she said. “People have two years to comply with the law, after which enforcement will be beefed up.”

Schembri also said that the law converting the Lands Department into a Lands Authority should be passed before Parliament breaks for summer recess. The initiative was announced by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat in the wake of an audit report into the expropriation of half a Valletta palazzo from entrepreneur Mark Gaffarena.

“People often hear murmurs that one must have contacts at the Lands Department to truly see what land is available. We don’t want that; we want he same information to be at the fingertips of Cikku and Peppu alike, and we want that information to be accessible online.”