Tough life being a Zammit Tabona. You get to be ambassador and compare Merkel to Hitler after Sunday lunch. You get to pitch for various government contracts (schools, landscaping) through a company that “outsources” workers to the low-paying hospitality and cleaning sectors. And, of course, the red carpet is rolled out whenever the government is required to rubberstamp Fortina’s expansionist ambitions.
It is now impossible to find a corner of space where the Zammit Tabonas – the Fortina Group, in particular – haven’t planted their flag. In fact, when Julian Zammit Tabona’s name was published in relation to the Marsascala Marina, it was just a written confirmation of the many careful whispers wafting in our direction from unusual sources.
That’s only a symptom of Fortina’s rise to the forefront of Maltese big business, mostly in hospitality, an industry they describe as “a mercilessly competitive business”. In fact, they come up short in returning mercies.
The rebuilding of the Fortina Hotel on the severely mangled Tigné Seafront made use of a Turkish contractor who housed his workers in tents and didn’t pay their salary. (Fortina intervened with TACA Construction only after the workers went on strike, five months since their last paycheck.)
Captain Morgan was also one of the illustrious floating concentration camps used by the government to house migrants during the pandemic, at a daily cost of €3,000.
But the seas are for Fortina what the sky is for Portelli: a vast, immense, public space to be conquered and annexed. Tenders for Gozo “fast ferry” services which saw Captain Morgan in the running drew widespread controversy, with the call being cancelled three times before it was finally awarded in April this year.
Back in September 2020, Moviment Graffitti publicly asked – as we always do, because we’re averse to whispering – whether the government was directly favouring Fortina.
They replied with a lengthy, meandering press release in which they also got our name wrong, incensing our comrades down in marketing. Sadly, they shied away from answering questions and replied to questions we didn’t ask, rebutted allegations we didn’t make and concluded with a threat of legal action.
You cannot really blame anyone for thinking the Zammit Tabonas have been favoured in one way or another, let alone residents from St Julian’s and various NGOs, who have seen the pretty Fortina machine at work.
Fortina aren’t solely to blame for the shameful manner in which the authorities treated objectors’ and residents’ concerns in the Balluta Bay saga, for example. But, in days like these, you cannot really blame anyone for being suspicious, especially since the Zammit Tabonas and their lawyers skirted our question as to whether they ever donated to the Labour Party.
They will find us again on the water’s edge. We will fight them, even on the seas, in Balluta as in Marsascala- Wayne Flask
Balluta Bay remains under threat from two applications for the construction of a jetty. The saga began in 2019, with an application by Fortina to build a pontoon, with the intent to use Balluta as a stop for a 33m hop-on hop-off tourist catamaran.
Farcically branded as an “alternative means of transportation”, the ferry would be scheduled to make 22 stops daily in a bay used by locals and tourists as a bathing spot, breaching various planning policies in the process.
Edward Zammit Tabona is also CEO of St Julian’s ASC, alongside former Lands official Matthew Zammit Fonk, who recently hit the headlines for his dismissal after using his position to obtain a daily lease of just €20 for his restaurant in Senglea. Naturally, St Julian’s ASC endorsed the application, so their players can expect to breathe a lungful of catamaran fumes at each training session.
As a Zammit Tabona you also get to hire the services of a “consultant” with very deep knowledge of the Lands Department: James Piscopo, who was unceremoniously dumped out of Baviera after being implicated in a corruption scandal. Revolting doors.
Unsurprisingly, Lands under Piscopo hadn’t objected to Fortina taking up a public spot for commercial uses, however, things hit an unusual snag at the PA when former commission head, Simon Saliba, initially upheld the objectors’ views and turned the case officer’s recommendation to a refusal. In the second sitting, however, Saliba did a Jekyll and turned into a lawyer for Fortina, rubbishing the objections and approving the permit in a horror show not even Murnau could direct.
The residents crowdfunded and appealed and although the appeal is still ongoing, the EPRT refused to issue a suspension of works.
Then, it was the ERA’s turn to keel over, as Fortina broke regulations by commencing works during the summer season. Axiak’s puppet police stopped the works, then issued an unusual exemption allowing Fortina to ravage the bay.
Residents and members of this group, together with Mayor Albert Buttigieg, stepped forward to stop Fortina’s bullying. The stand-off lasted for a week, until they beat a retreat.
But, in the way reptiles in murky waters rarely retreat, Fortina, after teasing with the idea of an alternative site, duly presented a second application for an even larger pontoon.
See, a few years ago I was pleased to read Jason Micallef’s tirade against the “few families who have taken control of Malta”. There was nothing wrong with his unusually illuminated sentiment, even though he should have criticised his own party for greasing and ramping up the self-entitled expectations of these families.
The Zammit Tabonas of Fortina are one of them: their entitlement is down to heritage but also a result of politicians and authorities rolling over to their wishes.
But Malta is not their fiefdom, despite their feudal ambitions and apparent closeness with certain princes in cabinet.
They will find us again on the water’s edge. We will fight them, even on the seas, in Balluta as in Marsascala.