Updated February 27
Around 40 illegal billboards around the island remain standing despite pending enforcement notices and amid anger over the removal of three billboards calling for justice over the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Most of the enforcement notices, retrieved from the Planning Authority website, date back around two years, when an exercise to identify illegal billboards was carried out ahead of the introduction of new regulations.
A total of 140 enforcement notices remain pending, though in many cases the offending billboards have already been removed. In other cases, multiple enforcement notices were issued for a single billboard.
The activist group #OccupyJustice complained of a “vile act of suppression” after their billboards were removed by the PA, mere hours after being put up on Friday.
The signs, echoing the Oscar-nominated film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, read: “A journalist killed. No Justice,” “A country robbed. No Justice” and “No resignations. No Justice.”
The activists insisted on Sunday they had not broken any laws when they rented licensed billboard space for their messages, and that they had been assured the billboards had the necessary permits.
They questioned the PA’s timing in removing the billboards, noting that the country was riddled with illegal billboards that had been used by political parties countless times. The PA insisted all the ones removed on Friday – six in total – were covered by active enforcement notices and had been served with removal notices months ago.
It did not respond to questions from the Times of Malta over whether the timing of the enforcement action was linked to the content of the billboards.
Most date back two years, when an exercise to identify illegal billboards was done
Since 2016, when a new legal notice regulating billboards was introduced, the authority has carried out periodic enforcement exercises targeting illegal structures.
It was quickly forced to refute allegations of discrimination after business owners complained that some operators were being hit with fines while others were allowed to remove the billboards without penalty. The PA said at the time that it would be “operationally and logistically impossible to remove all illegal billboards in one fell swoop”.
After the last general election, the billboards set up by both major political parties during the campaign, which were to be removed within a week, remained standing for weeks after and were used illegally for commercial advertising.
The parties’ flouting of the law angered legitimate operators, who had paid an annual fee to use their structures legally and in specific, designated areas.
The Nationalist Party has since submitted numerous applications for sanctioning all over the island.
Correction: The article initially stated that around 140 illegal billboards were up across Malta. The correct figure is 40, as the PA later clarified.