Planning Authority was insensitive on Qala decision – Joseph Muscat

The 2014 policy reform that allowed the PA to say 'yes' to Qala ruins being developed into a private villa need to be changed, Muscat said

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat at a political activity in Nadur
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat at a political activity in Nadur

Despite following all the rules and legislation that followed the 2014 policy reform, the Planning Authority was insensitive over the decision it took to allow Qala ruins to turn into a villa, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said.

The PA's decision was met with uproar and a fallout of disappointed statements, including those from the Labour-led council of Qala and Labour MEP Alfred Sant who called for an investigation into the "risky decision" to approve surging Gozo developer Joseph Portelli's planning application. Portelli is also the promoter behind Paceville’s Mercury Towers.

"People were justly enraged over the decision, myself included, because they could not understand how such a decision could be taken. It was technically correct because the permit followed the legislation and the application ticked all the marks on the checklist, but then this means that the 2014 reform itself was illogical," Muscat said.

Speaking at a political activity at the Nadur Labour Centre in Gozo, Muscat condemned the PA's decision and said that such a move was insensitive.

"I talked to the Infrastructure Minister [Ian Borg] so that the reform that allowed this to happen is changed but he informed me that he had already asked for a change over a year ago," Muscat said. 

He added that meetings have been taking place since that time and a decision is yet to be reached. He lamented that it was unfortunate that despite the PA's independence from the government, the government is still blamed for such decisions. 

"This should serve as a lesson for the regulatory authorities. It's not just about checking the right boxes but it's also important to be sensitive to the complaints and voices of the people out there. We should be constantly listening to them," Muscat said.

The controversial permit which would have allowed the redevelopment of a 31 square-metre countryside ruin to turn into a 114 square-metre villa and a swimming pool on the pristine Qala coastline was followed by the applicant, Portelli, to renounce the permit after the growing outrage on Saturday.

On Sunday, Nationalist Party MP Marthese Portelli resigned from her post on the Planning Authority Board, claiming that, for some time now, the PA had been taken over by forces that did not have the common good at heart.

Archbishop's blessing of interdicted gravesites was a brave act

Muscat praised Archbishop Charles Scicluna for taking the "brave decision" to bless the grave site known as 'the rubbish dump' (il-Mizbla) where Labour politicians and activists interdicted by the Maltese church in the 1960s were interred.

Amongst them is the popular left-wing writer and politician Guzé Ellul Mercer, known for his tongue-in-cheek Malta Genna ta' l-Art

"I thank the archbishop for showing sensitivity. The relation between the church and Labour is always taken in the historical context of the 60s. In time, the wound is always changing but never fully closed," Muscat said.

Visibly moved, Muscat thanked Scicluna for his symbolic gesture where he blessed the graves of formerly unconsecrated grounds of the dead Labourites who were condemned by the Catholic church at the time.

In January 1961, at the height of the Catholic Church’s feud with the Labour Party, the diocesan commission issued a circular read out in all churches condemning the MLP’s affiliation with the Socialist International and the Afro-Asian Peoples Solidarity Organisation.

In a bid to wield its power over the god-fearing masses, it declared a sin the reading of Labour newspapers and the attendance of MLP meetings.

"We recognise that this is a brave act. The people interred here never did anything wrong, they believed in civil rights, in the equal rights for women, they believed in what we believe," Muscat said.