The Malta Environment and Planning Authority chairman yesterday finally made public his objection to the reinstatement of Carmel Cacopardo as investigating officer within the authority's own audit office.

In a letter addressed to Environment Minister George Pullicino and released to the press, Mepa chairman Andrew Calleja mentions the fact that the authority's board is "preoccupied with the public opinions" expressed by Mr Cacopardo in the press and by the fact that he chaired a political meeting dealing with Mepa organised by Alternattiva Demokratika.

Mr Cacopardo, however, is promising to fight back. "If it's a fight they want, that's what they'll have," he said when contacted yesterday.

"The last person to treat me in this way was Lorry Sant and I have a judgment from the Constitutional Court saying that I had been discriminated politically by him," he continued.

The matter has been at the centre of a tug-of-war between the chairman and audit officer Joe Falzon who has repeatedly threatened to resign if Mr Cacopardo, whose contract expired last April, is not reinstated. However, Mr Calleja never made explicit his objections.

Mr Calleja has also formally written to the Ombudsman asking him to intervene in order to help sort out the situation.

In his letter to Mr Pullicino, Mr Calleja says the board is preoccupied with Mr Cacopardo's articles in the newspapers. The letter itself does not specify what the board finds objectionable in Mr Cacopardo's publicly expressed opinions but refers to a letter he had sent to The Malta Independent last October challenging the credentials of the person chosen for the post of Director for Environment Protection, for which Mr Cacopardo too was a candidate.

In fact, the investigating officer had filed a complaint with the Ombudsman, who had absolved the authority of any wrongdoing.

The Ombudsman had commented on Mepa's failure to explain its choice, even during his investigation, regarding "apparent discrepancies" in its judgment.

The issue results in an unresolved conflict of interest, Mr Calleja writes, since Mr Cacopardo, who has expressed his lack of confidence in the qualifications of the Director for Environment Protection, could find himself investigating the latter.

The letter also points out as a matter of concern the fact that Mr Cacopardo chaired a discussion meeting organised by AD to discuss reforms in Mepa for environmental NGOs. This is the point which most angered Mr Cacopardo - there are a number of officials who are directly or indirectly involved with political parties, he said.

"In fact, a Mepa official recently chaired a meeting on the environment at the PN general council. I find nothing wrong in this but Mepa cannot use two weights and two measures," Mr Cacopardo said.

With regard to the issue regarding his application for the post of environment protection director, Mr Cacopardo said he did not agree with the Ombudsman's conclusions and that he had written to him about it. "I don't think its ethical of me to reveal the details given that the Ombudsman has not declared himself on the matter yet."

In the meantime, during a press conference dealing with the matter, AD chairman Harry Vassallo heavily criticised Mr Calleja.

"The Mepa board chairman has made himself look ridiculous by justifying his refusal to renew Carmel Cacopardo's contract with the Mepa audit office because Mr Cacopardo had chaired a meeting organised by AD.

"Mr Cacopardo was asked to chair the meeting precisely because he is considered to be an honest broker in an exchange between AD and a number of external consultants invited to influence the party's policy," Dr Vassallo said.

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