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NEWS | Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Jeffrey: It ain’t over till the police investigation is done

Charlot Zahra

Nationalist MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando yesterday told this newspaper that he has no intention to make any public declaration, still less resign his seat in parliament, until the police investigation requested by the Prime Minister into the “Spin Valley” permit in Mistra is concluded.
Pullicino Orlando has been in the line of fire ever since the last week of the election campaign, when former Opposition leader Dr Alfred Sant published documents linking him to an outline development permit granted by Mepa for ODZ development in environmentally sensitive Mistra Bay.
There have been numerous calls for his resignation from parliament, especially after yesterday’s publication of the MEPA auditor’s report, requested by the prime minister before the election, which concluded that “accusations of corruption are inevitable and difficult to refute” when permits are granted in flagrant breach of Mepa’s own policies.
But Pullicino Orlando himself argues that his own involvement has yet to be established by the police investigation.
“Whilst I am certain that this was not your intention, your enquiry (as indeed those of other journalists) is being put to me rather prematurely at this stage, since whilst the MEPA Auditor’s Report has been concluded, the investigations by the Commissioner of Police are still ongoing,” the MP said.
Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando confirmed that he wrote to the Commissioner of Police and to the Auditor of MEPA on 12 March 2008, referring to the investigations being carried out at the request of the Prime Minister, confirming his full disposition to co-operate fully and unrestrictedly in these investigations.
Pullicino Orlando was questioned at the Police Headquarters in Floriana on 16 March.
“Whilst I am fully aware of the fact that the case is being closely followed by the media and subject to public reaction, even amid much speculation and misinterpretation by those who may or may not have any particular agenda in my regard, I would wish therefore not to make any public declaration that can in any way be seen or interpreted as attempting to influence, digress or hamper these investigations,” he said, adding that the publicity given to this case will have inevitably led people to make their judgments before hearing his own version of events.
“I feel that it would only be proper for me to reply at the opportune moment when I shall be completely free to do so,” he concluded.
Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, formerly awarded the “Green Politician of the Year” award, was elected from two districts despite the allegations of serious misconduct which surfaced just days before the March 8 election.
The Siggiewi-based dentist has from day one insisted that the application was submitted by a third party without his full knowledge or consent.

What the audit report said
In his report, MEPA internal auditor Joe Falzon revealed that application PA 5880/05, submitted in September 2005 by Ian Sultana, was approved by the Development Control Commission A (DCC) contrary to policy and despite various warnings by the MEPA Board itself.
In October, the applicant was requested to submit clearance from the Malta Tourism Authority. The MTA informed the applicant – indicated as acting on behalf of DJRL Limited, owned by Domenic Micallef – that his application was being processed as per established policies.
On 14 March 2006, the Planning Directorate gave four reasons for recommending a refusal – the site is located within Special Area of Conservation of International Importance (Natura 2000 site); it is located within an ecological buffer zone, there is no justification for the development of this site as required by Structure Plan Policy SET 12, and there is already development not covered by a permit. The Director of Agriculture also objected.
However, in April 2006, the DCC requested the architect to submit more detailed drawings. The architect, Paul Camilleri, replied with a report compiled by George Micallef, an MTA consultant which was favourable to the development.
On its part the MEPA Executive Committee considered the application on 29 August 2006, and referred to the MEPA Board two days later: “The Executive Committee directed that the DCC is to consider that the area is ODZ and the project is not justified in such an area”.
On 15 October 2007, the DCC instructed the case officer to assess this application together with the application for a full development permit of an 8,000 seat open-air disco at Mistra Bay submitted last year. On 12 November, the DCC “approved 5-1 subject to a full development approval of the outline application PA 5028/07 submitted by MTA”.
In his report, Falzon notes: “The DCC ignored the provisions of the Development Planning Act when it failed to justify on planning grounds why the recommendation of the Planning Directorate was not acceptable. The DCC chose to ignore all recommendations that this application was unacceptable in principle, including a minute from the MEPA Board…
“The DCC chose to ignore all the relevant planning policies as established by the Structure Plan, Local Plans and other subsidiary regulations. Indeed they assumed that they could decide policy rather than enforce it. The DCC failed to consider that the application may require an Environmental Impact Assessment. The DCC approved an application manifestly contrary to the legal provisions of LN 311/06 and hence against the EU Habitat Directive.
“What led the DCC to take these steps?” Falzon asked in his report. “There could be many possible reasons for this, most of which are beyond my competence to investigate.”
Falzon said that the MTA’s positive report for the application “definitely had a bearing on the decision of the DCC. Why did the MTA choose to write a very long report to try and justify the proposed development? They definitely had access to the document present by the applicant to the MEPA as substantial parts of it are taken, sometimes verbatim, from this report.”
“When the DCC chose to ignore the possibility of the need of an EIA they abused their power. In the affirmative case (and this is the responsibility of the Director of Environment Protection to decide, the decision of the DCC is null and without effect.
“When a development permit is issued on a piece of land which was valued at the rates applicable for agricultural holdings on the basis that it could not be developed for commercial and other use, and then a development permit is approved for the new owner, accusations of corruption are inevitable and difficult to refute,” Falzon concluded.

czahra@mediatoday.com.mt



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