The Board of Governors of the Lands Authority has delegated most of its powers to the CEO, former Labour Party boss James Piscopo, adhering to strict government instructions.
In what authority sources interpreted as a “win” for the CEO in an apparent power struggle with the board, it was decided last Friday that most of the authority’s decisions be devolved to the office of the Chief Executive, leaving only a few major decisions that will need the board’s seal of approval.
Times of Malta is informed that in the build-up to this endorsement, several governors, including chairman Lino Farrugia Sacco, voiced reservations over the government’s instructions. They warned that such a move would be regressive and wipe away the independence with which the board has performed its mission since its inception a few years ago.
One senior official at the authority said: “We are back to square one when in the time of the Lands Department, civil servants used to decide almost everything after consultations with their respective ministry.
Another said the reason for the changes in the law and the creation of the Lands Authority was to take away the power concentrated around the CEO. “Now, with the government’s consent, most of the decisions will be considered administrative and won’t need the board’s approval.”
Sources said that during last Friday’s meeting, described as tense, members of the board, including the chairman, accused Mr Piscopo of making the board less relevant and concentrating power in his office.
However, at the end of the meeting it was decided that the government would get its way. No vote was taken and only the representative of the Opposition, MP Ryan Callus, insisted on recording his objection.
The board is also formed of Dr John Vassallo, Dr Maria Cardona, Dr Odette Lewis, Mr Joseph Scalpello, architect Michelle Piccinino and Labour MP Alex Muscat.
Questions sent to former Judge Farrugia Sacco, asking for his position on the matter, were not answered by the time of writing.
The government’s strict instructions to the board were conveyed last August following a Cabinet decision.
In a letter to the board, the Parliamentary Secretary responsible for the Lands Authority, Chris Agius, ordered it to start concentrating on policy and to delegate most executive powers to the CEO.
Saying the authority needed to be more efficient and expedient in its day-to-day running, Mr Agius said that issues related to transfers of land, leasing government property, objections to development proposals on public land and administration of schemes involving disbursements of public funds had to be decided by Mr Piscopo. The only exception would be expropriations of land of a high value and sensitive issues involving transfers of land worth more than half a million euros.
The Lands Authority was set up in 2017 as a result of a major scandal connected to the management of public property involving businessman Mark Gaffarena, officials at the former Lands Department and then Parliamentary Secretary Michael Falzon.
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