“With a Little Help from My Friends” is a song by The Beatles. Is this the prevalent modus operandi, that is, the habitual way of how things are accomplished on this island, if I may query?

With a little help from my friends, can I appropriate public land?

With a little help from my friends, can I construct within an ODZ zone?

With a little help from my friends, can I get a phantom government job/contract?

With a little help from my friends, can I transform a swimming bay into a commercial port?

These are legitimate questions, in view of an everlasting list of episodes of sleaze and collusion.

Accounts of collusion with friends in high government places and murky relationships between dishonest politicians and particular business people are not a new occurrence. What was wrong then is wrong now. However, never before did we have a government and its acolytes who are so blatantly, systematically and unashamedly such fine enablers.

All the bizarre planning decisions, change of established policies, hefty direct orders, illogical promotions, lethargy to enforce and the readiness to accommodate ‘friends of friends’ have become the norm rather than the exception.

The Labour government seems determined to enable fat cats to become fatter and fatter, all to the detriment of our common good. Even Labour’s apo­lo­gists are feeling nauseated.

The latest case, of which I am morally convinced is a leaf directly out of the Beatles’ songbook, is the sneaky work carried out by Carlo Stivala on the former Barracuda restaurant in St Julian’s, a Grade 2 listed property.

Even though PA 03863/21 was suspended, works on this landmark premises started over the New Year’s weekend, stripping the entire building of its wooden apertures, savaging the mid-19th century louvred Maltese wooden balconies and, in the process, destroying traditional hexagon patterned Maltese floor tiles. Most of the debris ended up in a hook loader, ironi­cally not even covered by a valid local council’s permit.

The return of the Barbarians, one can quip?

The saddest thing is that this rampage took place without a valid permit of the Superintendent of Cultural Heritage and/or of the Planning Authority.

Choosing to do works on New Year’s weekend, when everyone is on holiday, is not only devious in itself but goes to show the level of impunity one seems to enjoy. This goes to prove further that particular deve­lopers consider themselves as untouchable and above the law.

One can ravage even a Grade 2 listed property and get away with it- Albert Buttigieg

Regrettably, the PA’s ‘stop and enforcement’ notice came too little, too late in the day. The irreversible damage was done. What planned to be destroyed was eventually destroyed. The stop enforcement came when all was done and dusted. What a coincidence.

I am firmly and morally convinced that this was not coincidental at all. Somewhere there was a deliberate inaction and a delay. The delay purposely gave the developer the necessary time to do what he had deviously planned to do.

I encourage the Planning Authority to come clean and ask its ombudsman to hold an internal inquiry.

Although the PA was informed informally on January 1 through a WhatsApp message, the immediate reply was that the Enforcement Directorate had been informed. Still,  works continued throughout Sunday. Notwithstanding this, on Monday, January 3, at 6.48am, I e-mailed the Enforcement Directorate, copying in Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia, the PA’s CEO and the ombudsman. In the afternoon, once more, I forwarded another gentle reminder.

Sadly, the Enforcement Directorate took until late on Monday afternoon, almost nine hours after my e-mail, to take action, and three days after my WhatsApp message. The directorate stated that it takes enforcement seriously and had to verify prior to any actions. All they had to do was to log into their own eApps application system to verify.

This lethargy vastly contrasts with the swiftness and zeal with which the directorate had acted in removing ‘unauthorised’ billboards, calling for justice for the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia!

A case of two weights…?

To add insult to injury, not only did workers return on site the following morning but the PA’s assertion that the applicant was to receive a daily fine turned out to be a pittance of €50 a day.

What a sick joke.

Indeed, in Malta, ‘with a little help from my friends’, one can ravage even a Grade 2 listed property on a New Year’s weekend and get away with it.

What a mockery of our institutions.


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