Monday, 16 February 2015

Amnesty on illegal development “unacceptable” – NGOs

by Caroline Muscat

The planning authority has finally relinquished all pretence of being a regulator and exposed its real role as facilitator for development, environmental organisations said today, slamming the Authority’s proposed amnesty on works done without permits.
Environmentalists united against Mepa’s proposal to sanction illegal developments saying it was “unacceptable” and sent out a message that “abuse pays off”.
Calling Mepa’s latest proposal “the mother of all building amnesties”, they said it was proof of the Authority’s incompetence and put into question the very reason for its existence, they said.
The Sunday Times of Malta revealed earlier this month that Mepa was in the final stages of proposing an amnesty to sanction long-standing illegal developments.
The scheme is meant to wipe out a substantial chunk of the planning authority’s pending enforcement cases, which number about 10,000, and to rake in more than €20 million.
The organisations pointed out amnesties held in 2012 and 2013 already dealt with the abuse that could reasonably be absolved.  They drew attention to the contradictory situation that the Authority’s chairman, Vince Cassar, now finds himself in.
At the time of the last amnesty, when Mr Cassar was president of the Chamber of Architects, he had lambasted the proposal saying those who broke the law should not end up on an even footing with those who had not adhered to it.
“How can he now endorse a more extreme amnesty?” asked FAA spokeswoman Astrid Vella.
“Such amnesties foster a culture of abuse... We have seen this from past experience in Malta, and also from the Italian experience which saw an increase of 30 per cent of building abuse when the last amnesty was announced,” she added.
The environmental organisations said they had to rely on a media report to discover what was going on since no details had been made available to them.
The fact that Mepa CEO Johann Buttigieg had said he would not give further detail because the proposals had not yet been approved by the Board and Parliament showed the Authority no longer even pretended to respect laws on consultation, the NGOs said.
The NGOs demanded that before proceeding with its proposed amnesty, Mepa publish reports justifying its decision, as well as studies on the environmental impact of existing illegal development.  They also insisted that illegal buildings Outside Development Zones and the coast be immediately eliminated from any consideration.
The proposed scheme would apply to all infringements that took place before 2013 and those in ODZ that took place before the full establishment of the planning authority in 1994.
Applicants that could be considered for such an amnesty would be expected to pay a one-time fee that is heftier than current sanctioning charges. Yet the environmental organisations argued that any monetary gain from such an amnesty could not be the basis for such a decision.
Rambler Association President Lino Bugeja pointed out the repercussions of this amnesty would have a lasting impact, unlike other amnesties already granted, such as those on tax payments and electricity theft.
The NGOs insisted government could not continue to make rules and then complain they can’t be enforced. Edward Mallia said there was a pattern emerging where law enforcement authorities were just “pandering to wrongdoers”, an attitude that must stop.
Something went wrong with the way Mepa was functioning along the years, the NGOs pointed out. That problem must be addressed before an amnesty could be proposed.
“This is not going to solve Mepa’s problems nor will it solve illegalities,” they said.
The NGOs present today were Friends of the Earth (Malta), Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar, Din l-Art Helwa, Ramblers Association, Nature Trust, Noise Abatement Society and Zminijietna. They were joined by water expert Marco Cremona, environmental expert Alfred Baldacchino, and deputy chairman of the Green Party Carmel Cacopardo.

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