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NEWS | Wednesday, 25 March 2009

MEPA uses parking funds to buy €4.3m Hexagon House

Funds paid by developers for MEPA’s community parking scheme were used by the planning authority to purchase Hexagon House, the building shunned by MEPA workers due to persistent pungent odours.
To finance the €4.3 million purchase from HSBC to house its Environment Protection Department, MEPA actually took a €3.1 million loan repayable within four years from the very fund that should be used to improve parking and traffic provisions in towns.
The information was revealed in parliament by Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi on Monday in reply to a question by Labour MP Roderick Galdes.
Introduced in 1994, the Commuted Parking Payment Scheme (CPPS) allows developers who are unable to provide the required parking facilities for their projects, to contribute to the fund that finances the construction of car parks and facilities for public transport.
The CPPS funds represent MEPA’s hidden treasure of €7.5 million, accumulated from developments in various localities.
A MEPA spokesperson told MaltaToday the authority received authorisation from the Ministry of Finance to utilise €1.2 million of its own resources and the remaining balance of €3.1 million by means of an interest-free loan from the CPPS which is administrated by MEPA.
“On receiving authorisation the fund had an accumulated amount of €7.45 million. It was agreed that this loan was to be repaid into the fund over four years in monthly installments of €63,634,” the spokesperson said.
The CPPS balances are subject to a 0.25% monthly administration charge and any interest earned is accrued to the fund. “It was agreed that no administration charge will be levied on the CPPS balances whilst on loan to MEPA. This agreement was made to compensate for any loss of investment revenue which the fund may sustain by lending this money to MEPA.”
The MEPA spokesperson cited the need to locate the Environment Protection Directorate (EPD) in one building to justify the €4.3 million expenditure. “The Directorate was partly working from both St Francis Ravelin in Floriana and offices in Kordin.”
MEPA also claims that additional staff needed to strengthen the EPD could not be accommodated in the EPD’s former offices due to lack of space.
But the purchase of Hexagon House has so far been a bad omen for MEPA due to persisent odours inside the building. Yesterday, house union UPAP (Unjin Professjonisti Awtorità tal-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar) instructed all its members working at Hexagon House to report for work at the Floriana Head Office until the relevant authorities certify Hexagon House’s air quality to be safe for all employees.
UPAP said a number of employees have felt unwell when exposed to “obnoxious gases” and were certified by health centre medics to suffer from “poisoning and infections.”
Moreover a number of employees were referred to hospital from the health centre for further observations and further tests. “It is imperative that the outside source of the gas is identified and relevant actions are taken to eradicate the problem at source,” UPAP said.
UPAP is holding MEPA responsible for any injuries or physical harm incurred by any of its members as a result of past or any future incident.
UTAC, the union representing clerks and technicians in MEPA, also ordered its members not report for work in the same building until it is certified to be safe. When this issue was raised in parliament, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi told Labour MP Leo Brincat that he had had no reports of health problems at the Hexagon House complex, but any such complaint would be registered and investigated.



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