NEWS | Sunday, 25 November 2007

MEPA stops own auditor from taking witness stand

James Debono

The Malta Environment and Planning Authority stopped its own auditor from taking the witness stand in a court case instituted by the M’Skala council and the Committee against the Recycling Plant against the Planning Authority’s decision to approve the Sant’ Antnin recycling plant.
MEPA Auditor Joe Falzon had penned a draft report on the approval of the Sant Antnin Plant but was asked not to divulge its contents by Ombudsman Joseph Said Pullicino.
Falzon’s name was included in the council’s witness list in March and was duly summoned in front of the court’s judicial commission on November 9.
But MEPA only chose to present a judicial protest against Falzon taking the witness on the very morning of his court appearance.
“I could hear the lawyers arguing loudly as I was waiting outside to take the witness stand. After waiting for some time I was told that MEPA was objecting to my testimony. I cannot understand why,” an incredulous Joe Falzon told MaltaToday when contacted.
MEPA also objected to the auditor’s former investigating officer Carmel Cacopardo taking the witness stand.
In its judicial protest, MEPA argued that neither Falzon nor Cacopardo should be allowed to testify “directly or indirectly on investigations conduced by the Audit Office on this case.”
MEPA argued that the plaintiffs should present proof of their allegations rather than resorting to the “opinion and analysis of third parties.”
But in a counter protest Dr Owen Bonnici insists that Falzon and Cocopardo will not be expected to express their opinion, but to testify on what they found in their investigation.
“They would be asked to testify on MEPA’s own documents. They would even have the chance to exhibit these documents so that the court which will have the chance to evaluate this evidance”
According to lawyer Owen Bonnici, MEPA had every opportunity to object to Falzon taking the witness stand and it is not fair that the objection was made on the same day as Falzon was to give his testimony. Cacopardo was not included in the original list of witnesses presented by the council.
This is the second time that MEPA stopped its own auditor from divulging any information on his investigation on the Sant’ Antnin plant approval.
MEPA is fully aware of the contents of his report because Falzon had sent a draft copy to the MEPA board.
MEPA immediately asked Ombudsman Said Pullicino to stop its auditor from “completing” his report. The report which was practically finished only lacked the comments of the MEPA board and Falzon’ s conclusion.
The ombudsman acceded to MEPA’s request arguing that the report could prejudice proceedings in MEPA’s appeals board. Surprisingly the same ombudsman had accepted to investigate a complaint by Santa Marija residents who had previously instituted court procedures against MEPA.
Since February, the contents of Falzon’s report have remained a closely guarded secret.
Clearly the M’Scala council intended to reveal the report’s contents by questioning Falzon directly in a court of law.
According to Owen Bonnici, Cacopardo and Falzon are the “most appropriate witness in this case” as they have full knowledge of the facts.
“The evidence they collected is the best evidence the court can have in order to make a judgement,” he claims.
The court has yet to pronounce itself on whether to accede to MEPA’s request to stop Falzon and Cacopardo from taking the witness stand.


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