UPDATED (2): Court revokes permit for DB Group project in St Julian’s because of conflict of interest
The Court of Appeal has revoked the permit of the DB Group for its City Centre project in St George’s Bay, St Julian’s.
The decision was taken in a court case which was filed by three local councils, NGOs and individuals who insisted that a member of the Planning Authority Board who voted in favour of the project had a conflict of interest.
The Court was told that Matthew Pace is the owner of the Remax Alliance Swieqi agency, which is in partnership with the Remax property sales and rental company, and which company had started to advertise the sales of property forming part of this project when the Planning Board had not even voted on it.
The Court, Mr Justice Mark Chetcuti presiding, noted that Pace was in a position to earn commissions from property in a project which had not yet been approved by the board of which he formed part. The Court declared that this interest should have been declared at the very beginning, and that Pace should have recused himself.
Referring to the fact that the project was approved by 10 votes to four, and therefore Pace’s vote was not decisive, the Court declared that this was not important, as once the principle of responsibility linked to the position is relaxed, the certainty of transparency and impartiality collapses.
The Court was critical of the Tribunal’s arguments, wherein it had been declared tht the project had public notoriety, and that there were members who had publicly declared their voting intentions. The Court added that one mistake is not cancelled out by another, and in this case the fact that members of the board had declared their voting intentions on the project before the vote showed lack of seriousness and impartiality.
For this reason the Court acceded to the first objection by Local Councils and NGOs and revoked the decision of the Revisions Tribunal taken on 28 February. Additionally, the Court also rendered null the original permit issued by the PA Board on 28 September 2018, and the application now has to start all over again.
The Court stated that in this context it would not give consideration to the other objections, as its decision should serve to guide all board members to consider carefully whether their position is tenable when they are again called upon to decide on the project, so that this issue will not be repeated.
In comments to TVM, lawyer Claire Bonello who, together with Dr Ian Vella Galea and Dr Malcolm Mifsud, initiated this case on behalf of the Pembroke, Swieqi and St Julians local councils, as well as a number of NGOs and individuals, described the sentence as a great victory for civil society.
She explained that the case ended up before the Courts after the decision by the Revision Tribunal had not been satisfactory.
Dr Bonello explained that the Tribunal had acceded to a number of points raised by appellants, but not to all of them, among which was that of a conflict of interest.
Dr Bonello praised the way that the involved councils had set aside their political differences and joined forces with the NGOs and residents to protect the interests of their localities. She added that with this judgement, the Court has recognised that the decisions of the Planning Authority should be taken without any hint of conflict of interest by its members.
Television Malta also requested a reaction by the DB Group, but a spokesperson for the company replied that he has no comment.
UPDATED: Permit for Db project in St George’s Bay confirmed – changes ordered on designs