Transport Minister Ian Borg, who is also responsible for the Planning Authority, has submitted plans to turn an untouched agricultural field into a large, private, outdoor space to include a swimming pool, dining area and other facilities.

The undeveloped field, situated in one of the few remaining unspoilt landscapes on the outskirts of Rabat, would form an extension of his residence.

The application was filed by the 31-year old minister and his wife. It follows their controversial planning application, approved by the then Mepa in 2014, to build a 400 square metre “matrimonial house” in the hamlet of Santa Katerina, limits of Rabat.

Dr Borg is asking the Planning Authority to consider this new application as “part of the already approved property”, despite the controversy that arose over it.

At the time, following an investigation, the Ombudsman termed the approval of Dr Borg’s application in such a sensitive rural area “a grave error” and said the permit should not have been issued.

Despite the Ombudsman having ordered a review of the permit by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, nothing was done and Dr Borg carried on with the house construction.

The Commission against Corruption undertook a separate investigation of the 2014 case, and while finding no proof of corruption, endorsed the conclusions of the Ombudsman.

The Sunday Times of Malta is informed that while Dr Borg had already acquired the agricultural field adjacent to his house prior to his controversial 2014 permit, he did not apply for full development of the outdoor area of his dwelling at the time, as would normally be the case.

According to the plans filed with the minister’s new development application, submitted last May through Architect Colin Zammit of Maniera Group, the proposal is to develop more than 600 square metres of agricultural land.

Part of the farmland where Transport Minister Ian Borg has proposed the extension to his house. Photo: Chris Sant FournierPart of the farmland where Transport Minister Ian Borg has proposed the extension to his house. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

There are a number of policies, including the local plan of the area, which absolutely prohibit the type of development requested by the minister

The plans envisage that half of the field, or more than 300 square metres, will be paved with flagstone and will include a small dining area and other related facilities, such as a shower and toilet and a canopy for deckchairs.

The pool, some 60 square metres in size, will be developed in the area where, according to the applicant, there is a “disused cesspit”. The other half of the field is to be either soft landscaped or used as agricultural land and is to include a flagstone passageway to a gate linking the area to the road.

The plans do not show that any boundary wall or other means of partition will be erected between the road and the valley to make the area private. In case this is done, as is normal in such developments, the view of the untouched landscape from the public road will be lost.

Planning Authority sources have informed The Sunday Times of Malta that current planning polices do not allow the proposed development to take place.

“There are a number of policies, including the local plan of the area, which absolutely prohibit the type of development requested by the minister,” a source said.

If he is given the green light, the value of the minister’s property will balloon.

Moreover, his decision to file the application also carries political consequences.

Government sources said that although, as with any other citizen, Minister Borg has every right to submit a development application, even a controversial one, his latest move was “politically insensitive and naive”.

The sources said that although he had not declared his intentions publicly yet, “it is common knowledge that Dr Borg has his eye on the post-Muscat Labour leadership”.

One source expressed disbelief that this application had come just a few years after Dr Borg created such a controversy over the same issue. As minister responsible for planning, he was supposed to see to it that the ongoing onslaught on ODZ areas is at least restrained.

“This application will work against his political ambitions and in favour of his rivals”, the source said.

The 2014 case

Following an investigation into how the Planning Authority (at the time known as Mepa) issued a development permit to Dr Borg for building his residence in the Santa Katerina hamlet, in the limits of Rabat, in December 2015, the Ombudsman published a damning report, in which he recommended a review of Dr Borg’s permit after having established that “policies were incorrectly applied” by MEPA.

The Ombudsman also chastised the then Parliamentary Secretary for choosing a “somewhat devious method to file the development application”, when it resulted that it had been filed by a project manager in Dr Borg’s name.

It found Mepa “removed the one possible reason (and a very strong one) for refusing the proposal of a similar permit, thereby facilitating the process in the case of Dr Borg’s application”.

“The series of omissions and variations in the text of the development application [of Dr Borg] cannot be put down to human error but point to a deliberate attempt to remove the one remaining obstacle potentially blocking approval of the application,” the Ombudsman pointed out.

According to the investigation, “the grave error” by Mepa should have been sufficient to review the process and reassess the application.

In a separate report, the Commission against Corruption endorsed in full the conclusions of the report of the Ombudsman. At the same time, it said that it found no evidence of corruption or an attempt of corruption in terms of criminal law.

Despite the specific request by the Ombudsman for a review of the permit, this was not done. Instead, Mepa countered the Ombudsman’s conclusions and Dr Borg carried on.

In an interview at the end of his tenure in 2016, then ombudsman Chief Justice Emeritus Joseph Said Pullicino complained that the Prime Minister had failed to act on Dr Borg’s permit.

“The Ombudsman reached a decision that the permit was not regular and needs to be corrected. The report cannot be contested,” the former Chief Justice told this newspaper.

“As obliged by law, we sent the report to the Prime Minister for action. It was the Prime Minister who stopped it and decided not to act.”

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us