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More than one perversion - Ċensu Galea

Reading Desmond Zammit Marmara’s article ‘A perversion of Democracy’ (September 25), forced me to write these thoughts. In particular, my thoughts were provoked by this section of the article: “I am particularly irked, as a local councillor, that the opposition of three local councils has been ignored. Excuse me, but what sense does it make to have local councils and then ignore their protests on behalf of the residents they represent? Who is most interested in the welfare of the residents of localities, the local councils or big businesses? I think the answer is more than obvious.”

I fully agree that local councils should be the ones who are mostly interested in the welfare of the residents.

Yet, the members of the St Paul’s Bay local council, representing the Labour Party, have done precisely the opposite when an issue of great importance, regarding the development of a massive petrol station between Burmarrad and St Paul’s Bay, had to be discussed.

When the application (PA1514/16) was discussed at council level, the councillors representing the Labour Party present for the meeting were all for the council to vote in favour of this development. If it were for the Labour Party representatives, the council’s representative should have gone to the sitting and voted in favour of this application.

When the council decided to object and vote against the application they were not happy with the decision. 

In spite of the council’s objection and the vote against the proposal by the then mayor (Graziella Galea), the Planning Authority board decided the application should be approved... and approved it was.

The council had the opportunity to appeal the decision. Once more, when the discussion with regards to whether to appeal or not was discussed, the Labour councillors at that meeting did their very best to ensure that the appeal would not be submitted.

I believe that there must have been some very good reasons for their objection, which I have not yet found out.

The St Paul’s Bay local council still decided to appeal. The appeal (348/17), was considered by the Appeals Tribunal for a number of months. There was also another appeal by the Environment and Resources Authority (345/17).

Local councils should be the ones who are mostly interested in the welfare of the residents

Yet, the Labour councillors never accepted this decision, and they kept doing their very utmost to withdraw the appeal. A few weeks ago, an urgent council meeting was requested, by the same councillors who had voted in favour of the withdrawal of the appeal, for the appeal be discussed.

The Labour Party never accepted the fact that they had lost the majority in the local council in the 2015 election and did their very best to ensure, more than once, that a Labour councillor takes over the post of mayor in the locality, though this did not materialise.

For reasons known only to the Labour councillors, they still tried their very best to ensure that the appeal against the Burmarrad petrol station was stopped. In fact, the Labour councillors proposed that the local council withdraws the appeal.

This time round, the labour councillors, with the support of a so-called independent councillor, acquired a majority for the council to withdraw the appeal. The other independent councillor was nowhere to be seen when the vote on the appeal took place.

This decision was communicated to the Appeals Tribunal, and the tribunal was quick to take note of this withdrawal. 

In the meantime, the tribunal itself, after several hearings of the appeal, “realised” that the ERA could not appeal, for an array of legalistic arguments which are part of the appeals decision dated July 26, 2018.

According to the records of the tribunal’s decision, the tribunal itself decided, “out of its own initiative” on May 31, to take note “of a question of public interest” with regards to this appeal.

Two months later, the tribunal decided not to take any decision on the appeal as presented by ERA, but declared the appeal as null. 

In conclusion, I ask, why is it that the Labour Party councillors were so adamant that this particular application be approved? I also ask why the ERA did not speak at all, about the declaration of a null appeal.

In this case there is no doubt that those who did their very utmost for the permit to be issued were not “interested in the welfare of the residents”. Perhaps, when Zammit Marmarà meets his colleagues from the St Paul’s Bay local council he would ask them for an explanation.

Ċensu Galea is a former Nationalist Cabinet minister.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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