Establishing the number of vacant properties owned by the State seems to be a long shot, as a request for the Lands Authority to furnish such information was rejected on the grounds that this was “humanly impossible”.
The issue came to light in Parliament, when Nationalist MP Ryan Callus, who is also the Opposition’s representative on the Authority board, asked Planning Minister Ian Borg to table a full breakdown of vacant dwellings by location.
Mr Callus also asked for the list of complaints which the Authority received over illegal placing of tables and chairs in public places and the number of pending applications for ground rent redemption of agricultural land.
A fourth parliamentary question was filed for the list of architects engaged to make valuations for all transactions carried out and those in the pipeline since the Authority’s establishment three years ago.
None of the questions were answered. Dr Borg justified himself saying that such requests, “demanded a large amount of human resources and time” and consequently were deemed as “humanly impossible” to be entertained.
This was the second time in less than a year that Dr Borg gave this reason for refusing to divulge information. Last July, he had also deemed it impossible to table all planning documents related to the decision to narrow part of Mellieħa Bypass.
Asked for his reaction by the Times of Malta, Mr Callus on Monday accused the Planning Minister of trying to hide the “complete failure” of the Lands Authority on various fronts.
“Listing the number of complaints over chairs and tables is no impossible task. If this were true it would be an admission that the Authority it turning a blind eye to people’s complaints,” he said.
As for the architects engaged, Mr Callus pointed out that he had raised the issue in Parliament, as the authority had not been forthcoming when he had made the request during a board meeting.
Established in the summer of 2016, the Lands Authority was part of a government reform to overhaul the management of State properties and bring about more transparency on issues like expropriations.
Such pledges had been made in the aftermath of the so-called Gaffarena scandal, which involved the acquisition of part of a Valletta property by the defunct Lands Department for €1.65 million. The deal had fuelled controversy after it transpired that the vendor, Marco Gaffarena, had bought it a few weeks before for a fraction of that price.
This led to the resignation of Michael Falzon from the Cabinet, on the strength of a National Audit Office investigation which concluded that there had been collusion between the Lands Department and Mr Gaffarena.
In April last year, a court rescinded the controversial expropriation deal.