Token condemnations, Pontius Pilate and the db permit

'The government cannot have the cake and eat it. It cannot ask its operators and appointed captains to implement its policies and then dump them whenever it suits the political game'

I could look the other way, argue that it is a glitch in the system, believe that there must be a reason, accept the argument that we cannot quite grasp just how the whole system works.

But this the not case.

What I do know is that two particular events this week shocked the nation. It is true that our daily routine did not stop and we did not experience a sudden change or impact on our quality of life. There was no revolution. No grouping chained to Castille, no Molotov cocktails. But that does not mean that what happened is right.

Had someone like Annick Bonello, a Planning Authority board member who represents the environment lobby, was sick or trekking the Nebrodi mountains in Sicily, we all know that no private plane would have been contracted to pick her up.

No chopper would have been dispatched to winch her back to Malta to vote on the City Centre high-rise project… because she would have definitely voted against the db proposal.

And I emphasize this point: because the incident reveals the thinking behind the decision to hire a private plane to bring over a Contracts Department official, who was 100% going to support the government’s way of thinking and vote on the government’s side. Someone inside the PA felt that a convincing majority to push this project was needed. Someone feared a one-vote majority would weaken the legitimacy of the PA board’s decision.

And the token condemnation of the Prime Minister and the planning minister Ian Borg means absolutely nothing: the government cannot play at Pontius Pilate whenever it gets caught with its pants down.

The PM knows this, but is unwilling to take this further. He would if he were faced with a strong Opposition and a stronger media.

Indeed, PN leader Adrian Delia hobbled to the Planning Authority offices – alone, without any supporting MPs, not even his shadow minister for environment – days after the incident and called for an investigation. No resignations were requested.

The PA decision has of course cast a serious shadow on the db development. Personally, I am not too concerned about the level of development in St Julian’s, which has now evolved in a centre for tourism that has itself suffered from a lack of planning. The area in question needs a masterplan – but that masterplan should have been implemented before such important decisions.

The biggest problem, and this is what I always said even when Portomaso was built years ago, was not the concept and design but the equation applied to allow the use of public land for such a private project. In the db project, the equation used raised more questions than answers.

Many have still not understood how a company that is planning such a multi-million project was awarded this land for a price, a price fixed after the government relinquished any official patronage for the workings on the project evaluation.

So, it was left to Silvio Debono to try and get the message across, and if we want to be honest about the whole affair, this was not exactly a success story.

The moral of this saga is that we all know that the government was all in favour of all this development, we all know that government intentionally has a policy that opens up for development in every possible way, and a pro-active Planning Authority that is invested in the Labour administration’s unlimited development policies.

Johann Buttigieg is an effective and loyal captain who implements this brief. Calm and composed, he put all his cards on the table and replied – when asked if he would sub-contract a jet plane to bring over a PA member again – “No, I will not, now that I know the opinion of the PM and the Minister.”

There was a sublime message there. The Planning Authority has bent over backwards for developers and investors, and it has done so intentionally – the government cannot have the cake and eat it. It cannot ask its operators and appointed captains to implement its policies and then dump them whenever it suits the political game.

Or perhaps it is all a game. We are simply assisting to Act 2 in a carefully choreographed recital of a scene where the media serve as wailers during an episode at a funeral service. And like all wailers or whiners they do not change the outcome of any event. They neither soothe the bereaved or alter the state of things.

Which means that if we really want to change the way things work at the planning stage, we have to hit out at the heart of the problem – the political stand of our government on planning.

And that is not going to be easy, because a vast majority are all for more development and for retaining the status quo.

What makes me wonder is how anyone who fundamentally objects to the way the PA acts continues to serve on the Planning Authority. A case in point is the chairman Vince Cassar, a decent man. I cannot understand how he continues to serve when he is so vehemently opposed to many of the PA’s policies and decisions. In his position I would have done the honourable thing and called it a day. Or maybe, he is just the silver lining on a board of sycophantic yea-sayers.

***

And if the PA’s private jet was not enough news for a week, Justice Antonio Mizzi agrees to give bail to a 17-year-old who, as we all know, maimed and seriously injured a police officer.  Mizzi argued in his decree: “It would be of no benefit were the applicant to continue to be detained at the Corradino Correctional Facility and therefore this court is of the opinion that today the time has come for him to be reinserted into the social fabric of our society.”

Well, if we stretch our imagination a wee bit longer, it would of no benefit for practically no one to be incarcerated at Corradino. But that, I am afraid, is not the point.

Liam Debono was no ordinary 17-year-old criminal – he was someone who was caught on CCTV acting in such a vicious manner that it shocked a nation.

It was also very clear that at the budding age of 17, which by the way is a recognised age to vote and drink alcohol in Malta, the young man was far from being a saint. 

Mizzi, in his wisdom, decided to argue that he must be reinserted into the social fabric of society – as if society, as Liam Debono knows it, is any better than the social fabric inside Kordin.

Courts deliver justice not only to reform those who have committed crimes. Excuse my ignorance, but they also serve to determine if one should be punished for one’s crimes, and to serve as a sentinel for what is good and acceptable versus what is bad and unacceptable according to law.

Liam Debono, who was driving without a licence and underage, was awarded bail against a deposit of €10,000 and a personal guarantee of €40,000. That is not a small bill, considering that we do not even know how much Liam Debono is paying his lawyer Franco Debono.

Liam Debono faces 47 charges in all. It is abundantly clear that the law allows bail to be granted. But if the law was discretionary and dependant on the Judge, then it is clearly an unwarranted decision – yet another one from our Courts of Justice.

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