The Planning and Environment Review Tribunal, which is hearing an appeal against a controversial development permit given to Transport Minister Ian Borg and his wife, is refusing to let an objector produce witnesses.

The list of witnesses includes former Ombudsman Joseph Said Pullicino.

The case involves a permit that allows the minister responsible for planning to turn agricultural land adjacent to his rural dwelling in the limits of Rabat into a large swimming pool and outside dining area.

In a decree given by chairman Martin Saliba, the Environment and Planning Tribunal insisted that all the witnesses presented by the objector, Noel Ciantar, were not relevant to the appealed case.

According to the law regulating the procedures of the tribunal, it is up to its members to decide whether or not to accept the hearing of witnesses.

The list, produced by Mr Ciantar, included the then chairman of the Commission Against Corruption, Judge Lawrence Quintano, which had also investigated a related development permit given to Dr Borg and members of the planning boards granting the minister the permits.

The permit in dispute is related to a field which Dr Borg bought for €11,000 a few years ago. The field is adjacent to his newly-built dwelling in an Outside Development Zone in the hamlet of Santa Katerina.

Mr Ciantar is arguing that the swimming pool permit is abusive and against the law.

While the minister is arguing that the fact he already has a house in the area makes the permit compliant with current polices, Mr Ciantar claims that even the first permit, issued in 2014, for the building of Dr Borg’s residence was illegal and abusive.

The witnesses presented were not relevant to the appealed case

In 2014, a few months after being elected to Parliament, Dr Borg was granted an ODZ permit to turn a decrepit rural dwelling into a 400 square metre matrimonial home.

Following an investigation, the Ombudsman had found that the granting of this permit was “a grave error” on the part of the PA and should not have been issued.

Despite the Ombudsman re-commending a review of the permit, nothing was done and the minister continued with the development of the area.

Dr Borg had originally applied for the permit using the name of a third party, an action that was condemned by the Ombudsman.

Investigating the case separately, the Commission Against Corruption had fully endorsed the Ombudsman’s recommendation but found no corruption on behalf of (then parliamentary secretary) Ian Borg.

The tribunal is now expected to submit a final decision on this appeal next month.

A final decision by the tribunal can only be challenged in court.

Ivan.Camilleri@timesofmalta.com

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