From the Times Online - Saturday, 10th July 2010 - 14:23CET
Rampant abusive land seizures must be terminated - NGOs
Rampant abusive land seizures must be terminated, four environmental non-government organizations said in a statement.
They referred to the proposed White Rocks project saying that, as many had pointed out, the public land was being offered to the developers was worth millions of euros.
Moreover, the processing of the project so far has been opaque.
The organisations said it was in this context that the Armier squatters’ situation had to be judged.
“Their ferocity in bargaining, their electoral arm-twisting, and their instant initiative in organising themselves is better understood when the millions of real estate value at stake on this public land is revealed.
“The Armier tract of land is thought to be much larger in size than that of the White Rocks project, and is also seafront public real estate. Worth millions of euros, it is about to be written off for a pittance due to political blackmail.”
Rambers’ Association, Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar, Friends of the Earth and Nature Trust said that the affront to the law-abiding public should not be underestimated.
In addition to the illegal shacks, caravaners were now insolently demanding alternative sites in locations convenient to them in order to move off the land they illegally occupy.
“It beggars belief that the leaders of Malta’s main political parties should pander to land grabbers by offering them property that rightfully belongs to the nation. Such an agreement would legitimise these squatters’ claim to the value of the land they have squatted on. This property is already being speculated and will continue to be bartered for clean and legal real estate.”
The NGOs referred to the squatters’ claims that they have paid €93,000 in expenses, which works out to €4,650 per year for a minimum of 20 years of illegal possession. Divided between some 800 illegal households, this was less than €5.81 per year, the NGOs said.
“If that is not theft, we don’t know what is. Not only have the squatters had it obscenely good enough for far too long but they have made outrageous claims also for the future.”
The NGOs said that the agreement signed with the Nationalist government on the eve of the 2003 election, would extend the existing 67,000 square metres to around 231,000 square metres or 230 tumuli of public land which amounts to no less than 0.08 per cent of Malta’s land surface, against an annual rent of €350,000. The pledge was renewed by the leader of the Nationalist Party just before the 2008 elections, by committing himself to consult with Mepa on the pending applications.
Presented in 2004, the applications submitted by Armier Developments, the squatters’ company, proposes the development of 1,589 rooms, five playing fields and a bowls pitch, a mini market, three restaurants, a two-storey garage, three community centres and a clinic in an area spanning Ramlet il-Qortin, Ta’ Macca u l-Armier, the Barriera tal-Ahrax quarry, Little Armier and the Torri l-Abjad zone.
The NGOs said that the Mepa chairman had now claimed that part of the development proposed was unacceptable because of environmental, agricultural and land ownership issues.
However, no refusal of the squatters’ basic claims was forthcoming from either political party in Parliament or Mepa.
The NGOs said their position was crystal clear.
“Rampant abusive land seizures, such as that along the Valletta harbour, Gnejna, San Tumas, Ghadira, all of Armier and in Gozeo such as in Dwejra and ix-Xatt l-Ahmar, must be terminated.
“Turning over such a large expanse of countryside for building, in addition to that lost in the rationalisation plans, encourages further abuse, and makes a mockery of the government’s promise of ODZ is ODZ.
“The abuse of partisan politics, the clear source of these illegalities, is corroding the public’s faith in Maltese politicians’ ability to embrace the 21st century and rise above vote-catching tactics to build a political career built on sound ideology and practice,” they said.