Former Labour media journalist Ramona Attard, who until recently served at the Office of the Prime Minister in communications consultancy, has been appointed as a member of the planning appeals board.
The decision, which was recently announced in The Malta Government Gazette, has raised eyebrows in view of her very close connections to the Labour Party in government.
By law, the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal, as it is formally known, is an “independent and impartial” body whose remit is to review Planning Authority decisions as well as those of the Environment and Resources Authority.
Dr Attard’s appointment was made in terms of article 4 of the Environment and Planning Tribunal Review Act, which states that the chairperson and two other members of this body are appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister.
Dr Attard graduated as a lawyer three years ago and works in a law firm owned by her former Labour media journalist colleague Charlon Gouder and Shaheryar Ghaznavi.
Sources within the planning sector who spoke to the Times of Malta on condition of anonymity questioned Dr Attard’s appointment. “The decision to have somebody so close to the party in government on an independent tribunal deciding on sensitive matters like development applications does not bode well for good governance. Justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done.”
The decision does not bode well for good governance
Dr Attard said she had terminated her OPM employment before Prime Minister Robert Abela took office. She added that her appointment to the tribunal came before Dr Abela’s premiership.
Having worked as a reporter for the Labour television station for three years, Dr Attard was put on the State payroll soon after the party was elected to government in 2013. Her jobs included deputy chief of staff and communications coordinator at the Home Affairs Ministry until 2015 and, subsequently, a government spokesperson at the OPM where she was eventually appointed as a consultant. Until last year, she was presenting current affairs programmes on the Labour media.
The Environment and Planning Review Tribunal is a quasi-judicial authority whose decisions can be further challenged in court.
The government has been faced with criticism over a number of partisan judicial appointments since it was first elected to office in 2013.
In 2018, a group of rule of law experts from the Council of Europe, called the Venice Commission, had expressed concern on the mechanism in use to appoint members of the judiciary in Malta, saying that the Prime Minister should not have so much influence on the decision.
Subsequently, the government had pledged to reform the manner in which members of the judiciary were appointed but, so far, this has not been implemented.