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Sant accuses Mepa of rushing permits

Nationalist Party environment spokesman Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando (first from left) listens attentively during the press conference by Labour leader Alfred Sant, yesterday. Photo: Joe Camenzuli.

Nationalist Party environment spokesman Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando (first from left) listens attentively during the press conference by Labour leader Alfred Sant, yesterday. Photo: Joe Camenzuli.

Labour leader Alfred Sant yesterday launched an attack on the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (Mepa), following the resignation of one of the (DCC) Development Control Commission boards, claiming the authority is in a frantic rush to approve as many permits as possible before the election.

In February 2007, about 602 permits were approved, as opposed to just over 1,140 this February, he said.

He also claimed that the newly-appointed DCC board has scheduled over 280 applications to be decided over the next few days before the election.

The situation, he insisted, was a clear case of the system being rigged to suit the Nationalists.

Mepa reacted by releasing statistics contradicting the figures given by Dr Sant. In a brief statement, bereft of comment, it pointed out that the average for February over the past three years had stood at just about 700 applications being approved.

It had approved 798 applications in February 2006, 652 (as opposed to 602 cited by Dr Sant) in February 2007 and 798 applications this February.

The new DCC board was appointed by the Prime Minister on Thursday to replace the one which resigned en masse the previous day after its members felt aggrieved by a damning report issued by Mepa's audit office.

The report described their decision to approve the controversial Lidl supermarket application as a "gross irregularity".

The project in question, which belongs to construction magnate Charles Polidano, lies outside development zone in Safi and was approved despite a recommendation for refusal by the Planning Directorate.

By appointing another board to have these applications approved, days before the election, the Prime Minister was giving his seal of approval to this "corrupt" state of affairs, Dr Sant insisted. "I think it proves that Dr Gonzi is not acting when faced with such cases."

The Office of the Prime Minister said on Thursday that Dr Gonzi felt it prudent to accept the resignations given that the content of the audit officer's report and the board's reaction were diametrically opposed.

It added that the Prime Minister had no reason to doubt the board members' statement that that they acted in good faith and to the best of their abilities.

The new DCC board members are Elizabeth Ellul, chairman, Ruben Sciortino, Daniel Cordina and Peter Axisa - appointed by the Prime Minister, and Mark Edward Pisani and David Smith - appointed by Mepa. Charles Micallef St John remains on the DCC board as his resignation was not accepted by the Prime Minister in view of the fact that he was not present when the decision on the Lidl supermarket was taken. As Dr Sant spoke about Mepa outside the authority's offices in Floriana, Nationalist candidate Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando stood listening silently behind the journalists presents.

Before starting his address, Dr Sant jokingly asked whether Dr Pullicino Orlando had become a journalist, to which the latter responded by greeting him courteously.

When questioned about his presence, the dentist said he had been reliably informed by people close to Dr Sant that Labour would be making some unfounded allegations on members of his party and so he wanted to be there to rebut any such claims.

On this point, The Times asked about a case of corruption that a number of Labour speakers, Dr Sant included, had hinted at over the past days, suggesting they had something up their sleeve.

"Haven't I just revealed a case of corruption," was Dr Sant's curt answer, adding, when pressed: "What I am confirming is that this is a huge case of corruption. The fact that the board is suddenly swapped in this way, when there is no clear evidence of illegalities recorded by the auditor, is scandalous, I think".

In its reactions, the Ministry for the Environment said the DCC board was set up again in order to continue providing a service to the public.

The absence of such a body, it said, would have led to an injustice being done with those people who had a pending application before it.

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