TM insists removal of billboards is not politically motivated
Transport Malta officials today denied in court that Labour Party billboards were to be removed from the roads for reasons of political discrimination, and said they and other billboards were a safety hazard to drivers.
The Labour Party is asking the court to stop Transport Malta from removing its billboards. In its application, the PL said the billboards did not constitute a hazard and they were not placed on property belonging to Transport Malta. The party also claimed breach of freedom of expression.
In today's hearing, Brian Zahra, TM's senior manager, enforcement, said the decision to remove the billboards was taken higher up in the Authority. He said the billboards at issue were in Regional Road near the tunnels, another in Marsa near the Turkish cemetery; at Birkirkara Bypass and on the Coast Road. He said the billboards were illegal and constituted a hazard to drivers, especially the one in Marsa.
PL counsel Paul Lia, who appeared agitated, asked who had taken offence over these billboards. Was it the prime minister? This was political action and noting else.
Judge Anna Felice asked him to calm down.
Mr Zahra said his job was about enforcement and it was not his competence to decide whether a billboard was a health hazard.
Dr Lia said that according to a legal notice, the party did not need permission to place its billboards.
Party president Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi said a billboard could be left on the same site for 28 days. The person who was engaged by the PL to erect the billboards was instructed not to place them on the roads or pavement but land which was beyond. He said the PL had the right to convey its message. He said the request for a warrant was being made because the party also had billboards removed in April.
Dr Zrinzo Azzopardi said enforcement only began when the PL set up its own billboards. Other billboards, including those which belonged to Transport Malta itself as well as product advertisements had not been previously removed. Therefore the PL followed suit.
Architect and road engineer Audrey Testaferrata de Noto, head of transport research and development at TM, said the billboards were a hazard and she had advised that they posed a risk. This applied to all billboards she said. The Marsa billboard was particularly hazardous because it was near a junction and a billboard could not be within 50m of a junction. She said that an illuminated billboard at a petrol station in Marsa was not a distraction as it was on a straight road.
Stanley Portelli, CEO of Transport Malta said he had issued instructions for the removal of all billboards which were viewed as posing a hazard. He did so after seeking advice.
Judge Anna Felice is expected to hand down a decision in the coming days.