The Malta Environment and Planning Authority had wanted to get rid of Carmel Cacopardo long before the authority raised the issue of his conflict of interest, the outgoing investigating officer himself said yesterday, contradicting comments made earlier this week by the chairman.

In comments reported by The Times yesterday, the chairman said the board's main problem with Mr Cacopardo's reinstatement was the fact that he had a conflict of interest, which stems from the fact that he has publicly questioned the credentials of the man appointed director for environment protection, a post for which Mr Cacopardo himself had applied.

In a statement, Mr Cacopardo referred to a meeting his boss, audit officer Joe Falzon, and Environment Minister George Pullicino had, back in April 2006, in which it had already emerged that Mepa wanted to get rid of the investigating officer.

This was before the application for the contended post of director had closed, let alone the controversy over it erupted, Mr Cacopardo said.

In that instance, back in 2006, Mr Falzon had threatened to resign if Mr Cacopardo was not reinstated. Mepa backed down and Mr Cacopardo's contract was renewed.

"I understand that Mepa is upset because I contested its decision regarding the choice of environmental director. However, that this is deemed enough to disqualify me from my post as investigator within the audit office is absurd.

What's next, does Mepa expect me to say: Thank you for a bad decision in my regard," Mr Cacopardo asked.

In his comments to The Times, Mr Calleja said the board was not confident that Mr Cacopardo would show no bias when investigating not only the director but the entire directorate, which is Mepa's second largest.

"We find this to be a very serious issue," Mr Calleja said. "Had he simply filed a complaint with the Ombudsman, it would have been another matter altogether, but with his public statements, Mr Cacopardo has rendered his position untenable.

On this point, Mr Cacopardo said his public statements about the matter were merely a repetition of a complaint he had filed with the Ombudsman.

He commented on what, in his view, was Mepa's distancing from the other objections it had been making with regard to his reappointment (the fact that he had written an article critical of Mepa and that he had chaired a meeting organised by AD dealing with the authority).

"While it is positive, because it shows the authority itself started realising it is wrong, this does not diminish Andrew Calleja's responsibility... to take back what was said in the letter released to the press on July 16," Mr Cacopardo said.

In the letter in question, Mr Calleja defended the authority's objection to Mr Cacopardo's chairing the AD meeting, insisting that the point was not that the activity was a political one but that the meeting dealt specifically with Mepa's structures. However, Mr Calleja had insisted that the main issue was Mr Cacopardo's conflict of interest.

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