In an open letter, addressed among others to the Prime Minister and to Mr. Austin Walker, MEPA chairman, the Ramblers’ Association (RAM) have reminded the public that in June 2005 Mr. George Pullicino, then Minister responsible for MEPA, issued a statement declaring that “up to now not even an outline application for development has been submitted to MEPA” for the Bahrija area, when, it later transpired that in fact, in the Special Area of Conservation of Bahrija, MEPA had already issued development permits to Ms Marthese Said (Victor Scerri’s wife).
RAM therefore argue that the Hon. Minister either never sought information from, or else was given incorrect information by, MEPA. Otherwise one would have to conclude that the Hon Minister was knowingly concealing these applications, and thereby making a false declaration, thus misleading all those who care about our natural environment and preventing their taking action. These facts, RAM felt, warrant the withdrawal of all the aforesaid permits.
In a reaction to RAM’s letter, Mr. Pullicino's ministry said that his statement was being misrepresented, as he was then referring to alleged “large-scale developments such as a 5-star hotel or a golf course in the area, not simply to any development” (quoted from di-ve.com). They did not mention whether or not the Minister had sought information from MEPA before writing or whether he had been given wrong information. And they did not mention whether or not he was aware of Mrs Said’s three applications (2000, 2002 and 2004).
One therefore can easily understand why this reaction did not come from the Minister personally but from officers of his Ministry. What minister can keep an honest face while making this kind of public statement about the most protected site on the island?
RAM’s communication did not allow him the luxury of silence; the bold assurance he had given did not leave him a leg to stand on and he had no easy answer. But neither did one expect the shallow and shameless answer his ministry has come up with. It puts into question not just the Minister’s but the whole government’s honesty, integrity and morality.
Let Minister Pullicino read again what he said: “As the minister responsible for planning and as a Maltese citizen, I am confident that the planning system is sufficiently robust to provide important countryside areas such as Bahrija and Fomm ir-Rih adequate protection from insensitive development.”
Does he honestly consider Dr Scerri’s project a “sensitive” one to this highly protected area? Can the government and its planning system now be trusted to provide ‘any’ protection to countryside areas which the EU itself has labeled as untouchable? When the preacher does not practice what he preaches, what faith can survive?
In the meantime, as can be seen in the attached photos, work on the Bahrija site is still proceeding, wreaking havoc on this natural gem. It is totally unconscionable that the government is still allowing this in-your-face development, in breach of innumerable regulations, policies and guidelines, under the guise that the MEPA is an independent authority.