MEPA Watch | Sunday, 20 September 2009

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Robert Musumeci’s observations on the proposed MEPA reform – part 11


The Development Notification Order mechanism was introduced in the year 2001, with the specific intent to enable a ‘fast-track’ procedure where a simple notification to MEPA in cases of minor interventions would suffice, instead of having to submit a full development permit. In simple words, DNOs provide applicants with the opportunity to have their application determined within a month from the validation date, whereas a full development application takes at least three months.
Statistics show that over the period 2006-2008, the number of DNOs validated increased by nearly 50%, the reason being that Legal Notice 115 (which regulates DNOs) has changed to include more types of development which can be handled through the DNO platform. It is also imperative to note and acknowledge that the DNO team is composed of very able and efficient officers.
In the reform document prepared by government, it is stated that the current DNO framework does not allow aggrieved applicants to lodge an appeal in case of a refusal from a DNO application. The same document also iterates that this shortcoming creates an obstacle causing applicants to prefer the full development application route.
In succinct terms, the reform document is proposing the following changes:
• the concept of a DNO is to be further promoted by MEPA so as to ensure potential applicants are aware of this process. In publicizing this concept, MEPA must clearly outline the criteria determining the eligibility for a DNO;
• case officers are to ask applicants who submit a full development application which is eligible for a DNO to re-submit their application through a DNO; and:
• case officers are to send back the application if a DNO is submitted in lieu of a full development application, stating the reason for re-submission request.

Robert Musumeci’s observations
All efforts to widen the scope of the DNO framework augur well and are positively viewed. There is no doubt that the use of the DNO procedure is of benefit to both the citizen and MEPA itself. Applicants only stand to gain in terms of the expediency with which such permits for their proposed development are dealt with, since DNOs, unlike full development permits (which typically take months to be issued), are issued within a month. At the same time, DNOs are handled by one officer, unlike full development applications which involve the input of at least a case officer, a team manager and the DCC Board which subsequently is entrusted with the final decision.
The idea that case officers assessing a full application will now be legally bound to inform applicants to submit a DNO application if the request satisfies the DNO provisions certainly makes for good news and should be encouraged. However, in such cases it is to be pointed out that applicants would need to submit a new application package together with a new payment. In my view, it would be more efficient if one were to enable a mechanism where such applications are automatically channelled through the DNO Department without the need for applicant to submit a new application package and having to wait a number of days before the new DNO application is in effect validated. Such recommendation would certainly curtail undue waiting.
On a completely different note, it must be observed that the authors of the reform document are blatantly incorrect in stating that that applicants using the current DNO mechanism cannot lodge an appeal in case of a DNO refusal. It is to be noted that in reality the current use of the DNO application already provides for a right of appeal in case of a refusal.
Experience shows that it was the Authority’s learned defence lawyer himself who pointed out that it was the appellant himself who in a particular case, had failed to lodge an appeal from a DNO decision which was relevant to the case proceedings being heard before the Appeals Board.(l-Avukat Dr. De Gaetano irrileva li saret DNO application 580/86 li giet rifjutata fuq il-Policy 2/96 minhabba is-sanctioning tal-appell odjern. Kieku sar appell mid-DNO, dan kien jimxi flimkien ma’ l-appell odjern pero’ l-istess DNO ma giex appellat…). It follows that it was always possible to appeal a DNO decision and thus no reform should be addressed to this effect.

Next week Mepawatch will focus on the proposed reformed EIA process


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