Updated at 6pm with PD reaction
Planning Authority executive chairman Johann Buttigieg has assumed responsibility for a decision to fork out thousands of euros to fly a PA board member to and from Malta by private jet.
In a statement issued on Wednesday afternoon, the PA said that it had spent €8,750 on flying PA board member Jacqueline Gili from Sicily and back. This was (see receipt attached below) “within the limit that can be authorised by the executive chairperson” and that therefore “no further endorsements were required by government," it said.
The PA statement included a copy of a Bank of Valletta payment order of €8,750 to Swiss-based Lunajets, which it described as a "receipt of payment".
Ms Gili interrupted a family holiday last week to hop aboard the private plane and make it to a controversial PA board meeting concerning db Group’s City Centre mega-development in Pembroke. Ms Gili remained silent throughout the hearing, voted in favour of the project and was then flown back to Sicily by private jet.
The project was approved by 10 votes to four.
The government has denied any knowledge of the private jet hire and Opposition leader Adrian Delia has called for an inquiry into the decision.
In its statement, the PA said Ms Gili had informed board members she would be overseas on a family holiday when the application hearing date was set two weeks prior.
The authority justified the decision to hire a private jet to bring her back for the vote by arguing that it would have been “inconvenient” for Ms Gili to cancel her holiday and have her expenses reimbursed.
It argued that it wanted all PA board members to be present for the vote after it had come in for criticism following a 2016 vote to approve a high-rise application in Mrieħel. Environment and Resource Authority chairman Victor Axiak had missed that vote due to serious illness and the project was approved by a single vote.
Criticism had centred on the fact that the ERA had not been allowed to nominate a replacement, and that a memo Prof. Axiak had written criticising the project was not read out during the hearing.
“The authority felt that the City Centre project was a high profile case and carried the same magnitude and importance as that of other high-rise projects. For this reason, the authority wanted to make sure that all the Planning Board members were present for the public meeting,” it said.
It is extremely rare for all PA board members to be present for votes. Several daily flights as well as a ferry service connect Malta and Sicily.
The PA statement contrasted the €8,750 spent on Ms Gili’s private jet to the €1.2 million application fee developers db Group must pay as part of the project application process.
Costs for the public meeting during which the project was approved “did not exceed €25,000,” it said.
'Project should be halted' - PD
Partit Demokratiku was left distinctly unimpressed by the PA's statement and said the project should be halted due to the myriad concerns of irregularities that surrounded it.
"Johann Buttigieg has no right to use public funds in the way he has," the party said.
It noted that Ms Gili had missed 29 out of the previous 75 PA board hearings, and also highlighted conflict of interest concerns about fellow PA board member Matthew Pace, who is allegedly involved in "the sale of luxury apartments from the planned ITS mega complex."
"Developers are not clients of the PA, and should not be treated as customers at the expense of the general public," it said.