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NEWS | Sunday, 15 June 2008

Gonzi won’t appoint JPO to Cabinet post

Matthew Vella

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi yesterday said he would not be appointing Nationalist MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando to a Cabinet post, after the police arraigned three people over the controversial Mistra disco project that was earmarked for development on land owned by Pullicino Orlando.
“I have made my political judgement on this case when I appointed the Cabinet. I see nothing new that makes me change my judgment. Correctness in public statements has to be maintained given that criminal proceedings will start in the courts,” Gonzi said yesterday.
The case concerns the investigation over the way a permit was issued for the disco on the land Pullicino Orlando had leased out to Tattingers disco owner Dominic Micallef, who used a third party to apply for the permit for the open-air disco.
The controversial permit was issued for the disco on the land against Structure Plan policies. When the case was revealed by former Labour leader Alfred Sant in the last week of the elections, Sant claimed corruption had taken place in the award of the permit.
Pullicino Orlando subsequently said he knew nothing of the project or of who had applied for the permit over his land, despite having signed a consent form for a third party to apply for the permit.
Three months after the Prime Minister asked the Commissioner of Police to carry out investigations into Sant’s claims of corruption, the police on Friday said they had arraigned Philip Azzopardi, former chairman of a DCC board, and Anthony Mifsud, a former board member, for “private interest in adjudication”.
George Micallef, a high-level consultant with the Malta Tourism Authority who claimed he had been “collared” by Pullicino Orlando to discuss matters connected with the Mistra permit, was also charged over a false declaration and planning development crimes.
Micallef had been previously commissioned by Dominic Micallef’s company DJRL to issue an independent report arguing in favour of the project. As an MTA consultant later, he prepared a report justifying the project.
Commissioner John Rizzo however said there was no criminal case in Pullicino Orlando’s regard.
Yesterday morning, Pullicino Orlando issued a statement explaining his version of events, this time claiming he was “fully aware that the applicant had applied for a permit for an underground lavatory and an open-air dance floor with a platform less than two metres high.”
But the MP refused to take political responsibility for having lied to the public about not being aware of the project on his land, the permit for which was issued irregularly.
“My words have been twisted in such a way as to give people the impression that I said that I did not know the person I rented the land out to. Justifiably people have found this hard to believe. I never said that. I did state that I did not know the applicant who effectively is a completely different person. This is not a play with words – far from it - as it subsequently emerged that the leaseholder’s decision to ask another person, not known to me, to submit his application, was the result of a grave fact.
“When I asked the leaseholder why he got someone else to apply in his name he explained that he did this to avoid the attention of someone who is also in the entertainment business who had sabotaged another similar application of his in the past. The landlord feared that if this competitor got to know about this application he would be likely to initiate a campaign which would be aimed at stopping any potential competitor in his tracks and since I was indirectly involved he would prey on this factor and find elements in the MLP who were willing to help him out,” Pullicino Orlando said yesterday.
The former MTA consultant George Micallef, who had been hired first as a consultant by DJRL, had already said Pullicino Orlando had “collared” him into a meeting at MEPA to discuss the development in Mistra, along with a high-ranking MEPA official.
Yesterday, Pullicino Orlando claimed he had approached the person in charge of liaising with MPs and the general public – the high-ranking MEPA official – because the leaseholder had asked him to check why his limited-scale application was being held up for such a long time.
The report presented by George Micallef eventually was found to have had clear bearing in the planning authority’s bizarre decision to ignore its own policy guidelines and grant a permit in clear breach of the Development Planning Act. According to MEPA auditor Joe Falzon, Micallef’s report “definitely had a bearing on the decision of the DCC (to grant the outline permit).”
According to the original planning application, the nightclub would have occupied 2,000 square metres of arable land lying entirely outside the development zone, in an area earmarked as a Natura 2000 site. A subsequent development application was submitted for a development double the size (8,000 sq. m.).
Both the former DCC officials and George Micallef had resigned after their names were linked to the case.

Story of a permit
In September 2005, Ian Sultana’s application for the disco was approved by the DCC contrary to policy and despite various warnings by the MEPA board itself.
Despite the planning directorate calling for the refusal of the application because the site is located within a Special Area of Conservation of International Importance (Natura 2000 site), in April 2006 the DCC requested architect Paul Camilleri to submit more detailed drawings.
Camilleri replied with the report compiled by George Micallef, which was favourable to the development.
In August 2006, the MEPA executive committee directed the DCC to consider that project was not justified since the area was ODZ. The DCC however ignored recommendations by the planning directorate. The project was approved without being subjected to an environmental impact assessment.
George Micallef claimed he was pressured by Pulllicino Orlando to give due attention to the Mistra disco application on the MP’s land. Micallef claimed he had received several calls from Pullicino Orlando on the issue and also “reluctantly” attended a meeting with Pullicino Orlando and two officials, who he later discovered were the chairman and a member of the DCC which later issued the outline development permit for the development at Mistra.
Micallef claims Pullicino Orlando and “a high MEPA/ministry official” made calls to him in respect of the MTA application for the Mistra Bay rehabilitation, but also to invite him to talks at the MEPA offices on the matter.
It later transpired that discussion also fell on the application concerning the disco at Mistra, to be developed on Pullicino Orlando’s land there.
Micallef also said that within a few days of the meeting, the ministry official called him requesting that the MTA write a detailed report substantiating its support for the application.


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