Former Nationalist MP Marthese Portelli on Tuesday denied quitting politics to join the developers’ lobby and dismissed rumours that she was being blackmailed.

Portelli served as a PN MP until last month, when she resigned without warning and with little explanation. Questions were asked when last week, the Malta Developers’ Association announced that Portelli would be its first director general, putting her in charge of the powerful lobby’s administration.

Speaking to Times of Malta, Portelli on Tuesday said her reasons for leaving the PN had nothing to do with the association of development and construction magnates, with the offer to join their ranks having come as “quite a surprise”.

“I want this to be made clear. This is not a move from politics to the MDA. I did not step down from politics with the aim of joining the MDA. I was taken by surprise when the offer came in and actually had to think long and hard about it,” she said. 

Opposition MPs were left shocked by Portelli’s decision to step down, with sources telling Times of Malta they were still uncertain what prompted the move. 

“It just doesn’t make sense. Marthese just suddenly became absent, her attendance in both parliament and PN activities dwindled and then out of nowhere and with no warning, she just left. Something is afoot here,” a senior PN MP said.

A former member of the Planning Authority board, and at one point shadow environment minister, Portelli weighed in on rumours circulating among her former PN colleagues that she had resigned because of some form of blackmail attempt. 

Multiple PN sources told Times of Malta in recent weeks that Portelli had stepped down after having been tipped off about an attempt to use compromising material linking her to the developers’ lobby. 

“I have heard of this story that is being said about me. These are just the usual frivolous stories they invent when they haven’t got more mud to throw at you,” she said.  

Portelli, a Gozitan, went one further and said she had also been made aware of claims that she had been seen meeting a senior government minister at a hotel in Gozo shortly before her resignation.

Denying that she had ever had any such meetings, Portelli said the last time she had been in Gozo was in Christmas 2019. 

Portelli also dismissed claims that she had long held an interest in the construction industry as an investor.

“This is something else they say about me, that I have some alleged interest in the construction sector. Well it is not true. I own my small house of character and my car, and that is it. I do not have any investments in construction,” she said. 

Portelli was reticent to get into her plans for the MDA, saying she is yet to have a formal meeting with the association’s members to lay out her vision for the sector.

However, while acknowledging that there had been some major shortcomings in the industry over the years, Portelli believes these could be overcome if the government and all operators involved worked together.

There is a difference, she says, between a developer and a contractor, and this must be something that is clearly laid out in the law. 

Pressed to state why she resigned, Portelli said she had first stepped down from the PA board, which “just wasn’t functioning properly”.

Giving a “tangible example”, Portelli said that back in February 2018 she had voted in favour of an application in St George’s Bay, St Julian’s, which she said respected policies, while others who had voted against had raised concerns of the impact this project would have on a nearby cave – some 100 metres away.

These same members, however, had no qualms about voting in favour of a mega project in the same area which went completely against a number of policies.

 “And this project wasn’t 100 metres from the cave, but was right on top of this cave. This was just one case,” she said. 

Portelli said this was something she had grown to hate in politics too.

“I don’t believe in handing out favours. And that is something else that is not functioning well. MPs just thinking about what is best for their district. That is why Malta is being ruined. These are the things I didn’t like in politics,” she said.

Portelli said this was why MPs and successive governments had been unable to deal with hot topics like waste management.

Whenever a proposal was discussed by the major parties, she said, MPs feared a backlash from constituents if a major waste facility was proposed for their locality. 

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