Environment NGOs Friends of the Earth Malta, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, MOAM, NatureTrust Malta, Ramblers Association and Zminijietna express deep concern at the news that more than 1,200 cases of abuse have been erased from the MEPA website in a corrupt effort to hide development illegalities.
The NGOs have for years been highlighting the fact that some MEPA officials are not committed to eliminating abuse. Indeed the NGOs have handled cases where enforcement officers, the very persons responsible for taking measures against abuse, have been more focused on concealing abuse and defending serial abusers rather than on stamping out the abuse.
The NGOs deplore this latest action on the part of those who abused their authority while being paid by the public. Tampering of official data is a criminal offence and the NGOs maintain that action must be taken to bring the perpetrators to justice and not simply carry out a whitewash exercise as has happened in the past.
This tampering of records casts further doubt over the workings of the MEPA. Does this mean that the MEPA IT system lacks the necessary auditing and controls normally incorporated in any corporate computer application, let alone one used in such a sensitive sector costing millions of Euros annually in public funds? How is it possible that such changes were only noticed by MEPA officials when discrepancies in fines cropped up at the end of the year, signaling a potential loss of hundreds of thousands of Euros in uncollected enforcement fines. The implications that MEPA’s IT network lacks a system of cross-checks to prevent abuse and a tamper-proof audit system to track any changes, raise questions of poor management that go beyond negligence.
The NGOs ask whether the physical files matching the missing digital data were similarly removed?
Other cases where MEPA officials ‘failed to notice’ blatant abuse include whole structures like the Kordin Cement silo built without permits and the ongoing pollution of the cement plant at Mqabba. MEPA frequently ignores reports from the public and fails to take decisive action following repeated reports on the part of FAA and Ramblers Association. Very often, instead of being demolished, these abusive structures are sanctioned and legalised. The eNGOs support the stand taken by Alex Vella and others on the MEPA Board who refuse to accept sanctioning which only encourages further abuse.
The eNGOs also highlight the fact that the system of fines does nothing to deter abuse, as fines are not imposed systematically, while fines of four Euros a day are risible and an insult to law-abiding citizens.
The eNGOs have for years been calling on the Authorities to strengthen MEPA’s enforcement arm, by giving it the resources and legal power it lacks. MEPA’s refusal to implement a measure as simple as a daytime mobile abuse hotline which NGOs have been demanding for years, amply confirms that MEPA prefers to discourage public reports, rather than supporting them.
The appointment of architects who have been involved in irregularities is again an indication of the lack of ethics within the authority. This tolerance of abuse is not limited to MEPA but has also been encountered in dealings with the Lands Department and the Building Regulations Board.
The Authorities’ failure to take action against IT and development infringements indicates a consistent lack of political will to stamp out abuse.
Press Release 28.01.2014