The Ombudsman’s office has criticised the hiring of a private jet for a Planning Authority board member to attend a hearing on the db Group’s controversial 37-storey St George’s Bay tower.

Environment commissioner Alan Saliba said the extraordinary intervention “can be interpreted as if there were an unwarranted influence on the said member of the board”.

The investigation came after a complaint by former Alternattiva Demokratika chairman Arnold Cassola, who asked the Ombudsman to examine whether the decision was a case of maladministration and whether it was discriminatory towards applications and objectors in other cases when no such measures were taken.

“Neither the Authority or even more the Executive should intervene so that Members of the PA Board are present for meetings,” the environment commissioner said.

“This is in conformity with the basic principle that each member of the Planning Authority Board should be left in liberty to attend the meeting and to listen to the various representations and finally decide when the vote is taken.”

PA executive chairman Johann Buttigieg confirmed he had requested the €8,750 jet to fly board member Jacqueline Gili from and back to Sicily, where she was on a family holiday, to attend the hearing on September 20. Ms Gili voted in favour of the project.

Mr Buttigieg said he did so to avoid criticism of the vote if any board members were not present.

The environment commissioner said in his response that the executive chairman’s role should be limited to making recommendations and to answering questions from the board, and should not be seen as having any part in the board’s final decision or in any single vote.

Moreover, he said, board members should do their utmost to be present for all meetings and should give sufficient notice of their absence, but should under no circumstances accept any insistence to attend or not attend a particular meeting.

The commissioner said the PA executive council had indicated that it had accepted the two recommendations and that it would put them into practice.

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