The Prime Minister would retain “absolute power” when the “fake” Lands Department reform is pushed through Parliament, the shadow minister for planning, Ryan Callus said today.

The government is to turn the Lands Department into an Authority but the Opposition has protested over the composition of its board, saying it will not be truly independent.

Mr Callus observed that the government would be able to nominate MPs to sit on the authority’s board of governors – a move which goes against recommendations  by the Auditor General following two investigations into lands related scandals.

“It is clear that the government has learnt nothing from the Café Premier and Gaffarena scandals and that it wants to keep forging ahead with this corrupt mentality,” Mr Callus said.

A lawyer, architect and auditor who would sit on the authority’s board would also be handpicked by the government. 

“How can these people be independent if they are handpicked by the government?” Mr Callus asked.

The Opposition had proposed allowing professions’ chambers to elect members to sit on the board, arguing that this would ensure independence. 

The Nationalist MP also observed that the authority’s chairperson would not have to undergo scrutiny by a parliamentary committee before appointment, despite an electoral pledge by the government.

“The government has time and again gone against promises to introduce more transparency,” Mr Callus said.

He also questioned how Planning Parliamentary Secretary Deborah Schembri could defend the reform when it clearly went against the principles of transparency.

Dr Schembri had last week said the government would only give “strategic direction” to the board and would not interfere in the day to day decisions.

The authority would also have an internal auditor who could only be removed by a majority in Parliament, she had said.

GOVERNMENT REGRETS OPPOSITION STANCE

In a reaction the government regretted the Opposition's position. By voting against the Bill setting up the new Authority, the Opposition would show it was in favour of the old system which lacked checks and balances and created grounds for abuse, it said.

It said the board of governors would take decisions currently being taken by the minister, and the new Authority would have an auditor to verify decisions, even at his own initiative. The people would have the right to appeal decisions of the Authority.

 

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