Sliema tower: ‘Environment has been relegated, PM has a lot to answer’ – Busuttil

Simon Busuttil says controverisal approval of 38-storey in Sliema belies government's claim that MEPA demerger would give environment stronger voice; accuses government of 'gagging' and 'hijacking' public authorities investigating corruption

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil has lambasted the Planning Authority’s decision to approve a controversial 38-storey tower in Sliema, arguing that the the Environment Authority’s absence from the hearing belie the government’s claim that the environment would be given greater importance by the MEPA demerger.

Speaking during a brief interview on Radio 101, the PN leader insisted that the “Prime Minister [Joseph Muscat] has a lot to answer for after the Environment and Resources Authority was absent from the hearing.”

The Authority – which following the MEPA demerger was created by the government as a means of strengthening the environmental voice in planning decisions – was absent at the planning authority hearing that decided to approve the 38-storey Townsquare tower in Tigne and the development of four interlinked towers in Mriehel.

“The Environment Authority should have been present and should have said that the towers are exaggerated. However, not only did it not say this, it was not even present. I expect someone to shoulder responsibility for its absence,” he said.

ERA chairman Victor Axiak did not attend the hearings due to illness, and therefore, the Authority did not have a vote or real say in the process. Axiak did however submit comments in writing in which he expressed his concerns on the visual impact of the Mriehel Project, but nevertheless, no appeal will be filed against the decision, MaltaToday on Sunday reported.

The ERA will neither appeal the PA’s decision on the Sliema towers, arguing that since mitigation measures are included as conditions in the permits, it would not be appealing.

Lambasting the ERA’s absence, Busuttil – who did not say that he was against the projects or that the Authority should appeal the decisions – insisted that the Opposition was proven right.

“The Opposition is not against development, but a balance must be struck and development must be sustainable. The PN had immediately opposed the MEPA demerger on the basis that the government would be relegated, but the government went ahead.”

“Sliema and Mriehel are the first casualties of the MEPA demerger. We have been proven right, our fears have come true, the environment has been relegated to the second division. These decision belie the government’s claim that the environment would be given a stronger voice,” Busuttil said.

Government has 'hijacked' institutions investigating corruption - Busuttil

Turning his attention on the resignation of Manfred Galdes as FIAU director, the PN leader lambasted the prime minister for having ignored the resignation.

Demanding explanations into the resignation, Busuttil said the resignation of Galdes from the directorship of the anti-money laundering unit was “mysterious and serious” as the unit was investigating Maltese nationals implicated in the Panama Papers revelations.

Questioning whether the investigations into Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri were still ongoing, the PN leader accused the government of “gagging” the institutions that are investigating corruption.

“Did Galdes resign while the investigation was ongoing, if the investigation is ongoing, what were its conclusions? Is it true that an investigation report had been handed to the police for further action, but just two days, the police commissioner [Michael Cassar] resigned?” Busuttil asked.

Calling on Muscat to answer these questions, Busuttil said it was a shame that the prime minister had remained silent.

“We are in a situation where corruption has become institutionalized. The government has not only closed its eyes but it is allowing those people do what they wants and gagging those institutions which are investigating.”

“The government has hijacked the public authorities. This is institutionalized corruption,” he said.

Similarly, he explained that the allegations surrounding Neville Gafa – a health ministry official alleged by a whistleblower to have run a medical visa racket charging Libyans thousands of euro to get into Malta – were of very serious nature and deserved an explanation.

“These allegations are a threat to Malta’s national security. 600 medical visas have been issued to Libyans, much more than issued after the 2011 revolution,” he said.

LNG tanker monument to corruption of government - Busuttil

Speaking on the LNG tanker which will be berthed outside Marsaxlokk Bay, the Opposition leader insisted that the involvement of former energy minister Konrad Mizzi led one to wonder whether there was corruption, calling it as a “monument to the corruption of Muscat’s government.”

He said that the tanker was not needed because the BWSC power station and the interconnector ensured a steady provision of electricity for Malta.

“When it came to choosing between his own interests and the interests of the Marsaxlokk and Birzebbugia residents, Muscat chose the former, even though the tanker poses a risk to residents’ health,” he continued. 

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