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Personal stand on golf course

My latest contribution on the Rabat golf course issue has attracted a response from the Prime Minister's assistant, Edgar Galea Curmi (The Sunday Times, September 5). Over the past three years, I feel I have had my say on this proposal and, by the time this letter appears in the press, the MEPA Board should have arrived at their decision. Much as I would like to, however, I cannot allow certain comments made by Mr Galea Curmi to go unanswered.

I take personal responsibility for the criticisms of the Prime Minister's statement, which Mr Galea Curmi considered to be "most unfair".

In particular, he objects to the fact that I lumped together comments on the Prime Minister's remarks and the University Chaplaincy's response to Angelo Xuereb's Rabat golf course proposal. He suggests that this is tantamount to judging that the Prime Minister's statements of policy serve somebody's interest.

He insists that what the Prime Minister intended is to make clear that "it is not Government that decides whether a site is suitable or not for a golf course but the technical experts entrusted with the task, namely MEPA".

While welcoming this clarification, I continue to believe it was fair to respond in the way that I did. If I replied to the Prime Minister in the same breath as I did to Mr Xuereb, this was only because they were saying the same thing.

In fact, in his latest reply to me, Mr Xuereb dedicated a third of his article to saying that a golf course is in the national interest and the only question was where it should be built.

The Prime Minister is reported to have said that another two golf courses are needed by the nation. However, it is up to the experts to decide where these should be located.

I believe that these statements are sufficiently similar to justify my claim that the Prime Minister "echoed Mr Xuereb" (The Sunday Times, August 29).

By placing the Prime Minister in the same category as Mr Xuereb, I wanted to draw attention to the way his statement appeared to place them together in the same camp.

I emphatically did not say that the Prime Minister was making policy statements so as to serve the interests of a particular developer. On the contrary, what I hoped is that, once he became aware of the way his statement was being interpreted, the Prime Minister would intervene to clarify its meaning, something which Mr Galea Curmi has now ably done.

Nowhere in my letter did I doubt the Prime Minister's good faith. But I did consider his statement to be disappointing to environmentalists and I drew attention to its probable repercussions.

Although I am still not happy about certain implications of the Prime Minister's statement, I am encouraged by Mr Galea Curmi's insistence that it is MEPA experts and not the Prime Minister who should take the final decision on the merits and demerits of particular golf course proposals.

This is surely the right approach to these issues. And all the members of the University Chaplaincy Media Team welcome his invitation for open and frank discussions with himself and other staff at the OPM.

Incidentally, that is exactly what we are doing through this exchange of letters.

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