Updated at 5.40pm with Delia press conference
Planning Authority executive chairman Johann Buttigieg has defended his decision to fly a board member down on a private jet for a vote on the City Centre project, insisting it was done “with good intentions”.
Mr Buttigieg told the Times of Malta on Thursday he still believed, despite widespread criticism, that his decision was correct, but added that it would not be repeated now that he knew there was no “political backing”.
“The minister and Prime Minister made their position very clear [that they disagreed with the decision], so I’d be quite an idiot to go against that opinion,” he said.
“What I did was to be sure no one could come back and say the vote would have changed if one person or another had been present.
“Whether it was €5,000 or €15,000, it was better than having a dubious vote,” he said.
“It’s a double-edged sword: you take a decision to ensure things are done in the best way possible, and it blows up in your face.
“You live and learn.”
Asked about calls for his resignation over the incident, Mr Buttigieg said: “If people resign because they do things with good intentions, it’s one thing; if they do them with bad intentions it’s another.”
I’d be quite an idiot to go against that opinion
Mr Buttigieg has been under fire since the PA confirmed it had paid €8,750 to fly board member Jacqueline Gili from and back to Sicily, where she was on a family holiday, to attend a hearing on the 38-storey St George’s Bay tower last Thursday.
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has criticised the move, which he said he was not informed of, and Opposition leader Adrian Delia has called for an independent inquiry, while Planning Board chairman Vince Cassar has said the decision was “unprecedented” and that there was no reason for every board member to be present.
Mr Buttigieg reiterated on Thursday that the decision had been made to avoid criticism the authority had faced in 2016 over the Townsquare project in Tigné, when Environment and Resources Authority chairman Victor Axiak missed the hearing due to medical reasons as the application was approved by a single vote margin.
He acknowledged it was extremely rare for the entire board to be present – the Times of Malta found only two such instances in the last two years – but said he felt it was necessary in this case as the City Centre decision was the most significant the authority had faced since Townsquare. Mr Buttigieg rejected the suggestion that flying Ms Gili back was an attempt to influence the vote, adding: “If anyone knew which way the vote was going to go, there would have been no need to bring Ms Gili.”
He said he had returned from a holiday of his own two days before the hearing, and was informed that Ms Gili and another board member were unlikely to attend.
He said he contacted both members: one, who was expected to miss the hearing due to medical issues, agreed to attend, while Ms Gili was already on holiday, and was asked to return.
“Because her family was there, and because of the inconvenience we were causing her, we wanted her to be away for the shortest possible time,” Mr Buttigieg said of the decision to hire a private jet.