Busuttil says PN ‘will give voice’ to disgruntled Sliema residents

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil says Planning Authority chairman Johann Buttigieg clearly lied when he said there was no conflict of interest by the consultants who drew up Paceville masterplan, calls on planning parliamentary secretary to shoulder political responsibility

PN leader Simon Busuttil
PN leader Simon Busuttil

The Nationalist Party will give a voice to the disgruntled Sliema residents who demonstrated against the town’s construction chaos, Opposition leader Simon Busuttil said on Sunday. 

Speaking in an interview on Radio 101, the Nationalist Party leader said residents were living “on a permanent construction site” and that they had been taken for a ride by the government.

“The protesters in Sliema are living a life very different than what is being portrayed by the government. I am not saying that there should not be any construction, but it should be done in a sustainable manner, no one wants extremes.”

“They are seeking a voice and they do not want a government to steamroll over them. The Nationalist Party will give a voice to these people,” Busuttil said as he paid tribute to Nationalist MPs and candidates who took part in Saturday’s demonstration.

The Opposition leader said the government’s main goal was to appease its inner circle, arguing that on the other hand, the masses had been duped into voting for the Labour Party and then ignored.

Busuttil’s comments were made after Sliema residents took to the streets on Saturday to protest against the town’s overdevelopment, and the lack of consideration in the issuance of development permits.

The Nationalist Party leader insisted that “it was a clear lie” when the Planning Authority’s executive chairman, Johann Buttigieg, told parliament this week that there was no conflict of interest by the consultants who drew up the Paceville Masterplan.

Busuttil insisted that there was a clear conflict of interest as the consultants, Mott MacDonald and Broadway Maylan, were also consulting the developers who will own the Mercury House project - one of the major projects proposed in the Paceville master plan.

Mott McDonald, one of two consultancy firms for the masterplan, had also drafted engineering reports for the Mercury House project, the brainchild of businessman Joseph Portelli – who plans to build two skyscrapers on the 80,000-square-metre-site.

On Wednesday, McDonald officials told Parliament that they had verbally informed Buttigieg of the potential conflict of interest. Buttigieg has denied that they had a conflict of interest.

Taking parliamentary secretary for planning Deborah Schembri to task, the Opposition leader said the junior minister was shying away from taking responsibility for Buttigieg’s actions.

“Deborah Schembri is responsible for Johann Buttigieg and she has to shoulder political responsibility for this obscenity. The masterplan wreaks of pre-electoral deals, and it is nothing but bluff and propaganda,” he said, 

Parliamentary secretary for planning Deborah Schembri – who had previously said that a foreign consultancy firm was selected specifically to avoid potential conflicts of interest - insisted that she hadn’t been informed of Mott MacDonald’s consultancy work on the Mercury House project until recently.

The Opposition leader said the Paceville masterplan was another case that put the government to shame and which “wreaks of corruption.”

“Corruption is everywhere. The prime minister lost all moral authority when it comes to corruption after deciding to retain Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri.”

“There are other things which stink of corruption, for instance, the signing of the privatisation contract between the government and the operators of the Gozo hospital [Vitals Global Healthcare] was signed just two days before Mizzi and Schembri gave the go ahead for the opening of a bank account in Panama,” Busuttil said.

“These are all disgusting obscenities. People are now becoming immune to all these scandals, as they have become the norm,” he said.

The Opposition leader also took the government to task over its ‘social’ budget, arguing that pensioners at the risk of poverty were still struggling to make ends meet despite a “paltry” increase of €2.25 per week.

“No one beats this government in propaganda, photos and bluff. After nearly four years, when one takes the government’s measures into account, there is little substance,” he said.

Busuttil, who this week pledged to increase the minimum wage by 3.5% every year over three years, also called on the prime minister to come out in favour of the increase.

“The prime minister had talked about a possible increase in the minimum wage and an introduction of a living wage back in 2010. Since then Muscat, during which he has spent four years as prime minister, nothing has been done,” he continued. 

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