MPs bicker over wording of expropriation rules in contentious Fekruna PAC

MPs disagree over a legal wording that either sets compensation values at 30% of the expropriated land, or within a 30% variance of its value

Robert Abela insisted that the law was being interpreted wrongly, including by the Auditor General
Robert Abela insisted that the law was being interpreted wrongly, including by the Auditor General

Labour MP Robert Abela has challenged the Auditor General’s interpretation of the Disposal of Government Land Act, during a session of the Public Accounts Committee currently debating the 2013 transfer of land in tal-Fekruna, Xemxija

In a previous sitting, Abela had said the deal breached a provision in the law which sets out that the value of public land given in exchange for privately-owned land being expropriated, cannot exceed 30% of the value of the expropriated land.

Abela had said it was evident that the Fekruna deal had breached the 30% legal ceiling rule.  

The Fekruna Bay land, which had been valued at €5 million, was finally expropriated and compensated by the government back in 2013, shortly before the March general election. In return, the owners of the land were granted title over two properties, one in Swieqi and the other in San Gwann, valued jointly at €4.3 million.

Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi was the parliamentary secretary responsible for the lands at the time.

Testifying before the committee on Wednesday, Auditor General Charles Deguara said that while his deputy Noel Camilleri had stated that the investigation had not entered into the legal aspects of the case, upon checking it transpired that the office had in fact ensured that the deal was within the parameters of the law. “The value of the government property does not exceed the value of the expropriated land by 30%,” Deguara said.

Article 13 of the third schedule of the law being quoted states that “the exchange cannot be effected if the value of the government land to be given exceeds 30% of the value of the expropriated land”.

Robert Abela said that the word ‘by’ was nowhere in the clause being quoted.

“Exchange of property cannot take place if the government’s property goes beyond 30% of the value of expropriated land. There’s no ‘by’ here and if it were interpreted as you’re saying, then it was interpreted wrongly,” he said.

Both PN MP Beppe Fenech Adami and Deguara insisted that this was the way it had always been interpreted over the years by many different lawyers, and that previous interpretation therefore had some momentum. “The way the law was interpreted was extraordinarily convenient at the time,” Abela said, adding that if this were the way it was always interpreted then it was consistently erroneous.