Updated Monday, August 22
Planning Authority executive chairman Johann Buttigieg has downplayed links he and his wife have with hotelier Adrian Buttigieg, whose Mellieħa hotel was granted a two-storey extension last November by Mepa.
Reservation forms seen by this newspaper show that a stay by Johann Buttigieg at the Royal Garden Hotel in London 2014, when he was then Mepa CEO, was booked by his friend’s company.
Sources said the pair went to London to watch a football match between Chelsea and Manchester United.
The Mepa head has however insisted that he paid for the hotel himself and that the hotelier, who owns La Salita and Maritim Antonine hotels in Mellieħa, did not gain anything from the arrangement. He said the two had been travelling partners long before his appointment to public office.
“I categorically deny that La Salita Holding Ltd hosted this trip. The company has not gained anything from this alleged arrangement. The only application and permission that was granted to Adrian Buttigieg was the extension of the hotel in Mellieħa [Maritim Antonine], which extension is clearly in line with current policy.
“The undersigned was not involved in the processing of this application nor in the discussion at the Mepa board. The latter left the board prior to the commencement of the discussion of the application and re-joined the board after the discussion and vote were over,” he said in reply to questions.
No reply was forthcoming when asked whether he paid for his football match tickets.
I have always declared any conflict of interest and, hence, forthwith refrained from involving myself in any decision of whatever nature involving Adrian Buttigieg
Mr Buttigieg argued that his role in the PA should not preclude him from maintaining “personal relationships with close friends and family”, while still being subjected to “strict rules of governance and transparency”.
“In this regard, I inform you that, upon assuming public duties within the authority, I have always declared any conflict of interest and, hence, forthwith refrained from involving myself in any decision of whatever nature involving Adrian Buttigieg or any entities within which he has any interest,” Mr Buttigieg said.
Research by The Sunday Times of Malta also shows that the PA chairman’s wife Lorraine Buttigieg has a business relationship with the hotelier through a company called MMB Ltd.
Ms Buttigieg shows up as one of four shareholders in the company together with Adrian Buttigieg, who is also the company's sole director.
Asked to explain the nature of his wife’s business relationship with the director, the PA executive chairman replied that the relationship was set out in the company’s memorandum of articles.
The memorandum of articles confirm Ms Buttigieg’s shareholding in the company, which owns and operates the Arches wine bar and restaurant in Mellieħa.
In July 2014, the Mepa board had cleared its CEO of any shortcomings following questions raised about a potential conflict of interest due to his wife's role in MMB Ltd.
NGO Din l-Art Ħelwa had said in a statement that it should be “self-evident” that the CEO of a regulating authority and officials should not have financial interests in the sector which they are involved in regulating.
A number of potential conflicts of interests of members sitting on the PA’s board were highlighted last week. Both the Environmental Resource Authority's Victor Axiak and PA board member Timmy Gambin denied any conflicts of interest in the recent approval of the Gasan Group’s Townsquare high-rise project after having been accused by lawyer Claire Bonello of having done past consultancy work for the developers, who also form part of the consortium building the Delimara gas-fired plant.
Prof. Axiak said he had been engaged as an independent consultant to conduct an environmental impact assessment for the gas-fired project on behalf of Enemalta in 2013 when the Gasan Group's consortium had not yet been chosen to develop the new power station.
In his reply to the accusation, Dr Gambin said he had acted as an independent consultant on the environmental impact assessment and had no dealings with the Gasan Group.
'A mutual friend called Steve'
Fielding questions during a press conference, Mr Buttigieg said the football tickets were not bought by hotelier Adrian Buttigieg but by a mutual friend called “Steve”.
“We’ve visited him every year for the past 12 years," he said, before he provided his address in the UK.
Mr Buttigieg reiterated that his relationship with Adrian Buttigieg predated his appointment as Planning Authority CEO, and added that the hotelier was the godfather to one of his children.
“When the application in question was being discussed I stepped out to ensure I did not influence the board in any way,” he said.