Fabrication against the Ramblers’ Association
The following is a right of reply received by this newspaper from the Ramblers Association that is being published in terms of the Press Act
The Ramblers’ Association hereby rejects with disdain the allegations which were made by Noel Ciantar as reported in the article “Whistleblower claims discriminatory and selective campaign linked to Ian Borg”, that appeared in The Independent on Sunday the 24th July 2016.
The article, whose logic is confusing and deliberately misleading, aims to associate in some way the campaign run by the Ramblers’ Association for public access to the medieval settlement of Simblija, with unrelated issues centered around Parliamentary Secretary Ian Borg, with whom Ciantar apparently has an axe to grind.
For the benefit of the readers of this article, it should be remarked immediately that the medieval hamlet of Simblija is a Grade 2 and Class B Scheduled National Monument located on public land. In order to make this piece of Maltese heritage accessible to the public, the area was restored, and the troglodyte caves and chapel were cleaned out. As some of the caves were being used for agricultural storage, two garages were built near the site to be used as alternate storage by the family concerned. These garages cost approximately Lm20,000 (€46,587), of which Lm5000 (€11,647) were obtained from EU funds under the Raphael project
(PQ 31860 of 2012 http://pq.gov.mt/PQWeb.nsf/7 561f7daddf069ac1257d1800311f18 /c1257881003b3b78c12579aa0049 83ab!OpenDocument)
The site was then formally opened to the public in 2003, accompanied by the usual commemorative plaque (above), several interpretative panels round the area, and signs guiding people to Simblija from as far away as Rabat.
Over the years the information panels were removed without trace. On the eve of the last election the marble plaque disappeared as well. A padlock was placed on the door of the medieval chapel, renowned to be the lost Santa Marija ta’ Callus. And today the troglodyte cave next to the chapel is full of trash including empty fruit boxes posing a real fire hazard.
Now hardly a fly escapes Noel Ciantar’s attention in that area, with his dogs and careful watchout! Did he, as a self-declared “whistleblower,” blow his whistle about these irregularities? How can one be blamed for doubting whether Mr Ciantar had a hand in it!
When Mr Ciantar is asked what happened to these signs, his answer is “Ask MEPA”. We leave it to your readers to judge whether MEPA would take it upon themselves to uproot these signs themselves or pay someone to do it. Mr Ciantar has made it his personal crusade to keep the public away from the area by putting up warning signs and “private property” signs all around Simblija (photo above). In the eventuality that any person actually dares to enter his “sanctum”, Mr Ciantar then resorts to intimidation and bullying, as has been evidenced by many a visitor.
Mr Ciantar does not hold a legal title of property on this land, but only a title of agricultural lease to his family, as well as to various other tenants. Research carried out by the Ramblers’ Association has shown that for the last few years the Lands Department refused acceptance of the lease rate. It was also recently announced that the other tenant farmers have petitioned the government to revise the lease because, unlike Mr Ciantar, they want free access to the Simblija area as it had been historically.
The Ramblers’ Association has never attacked Ciantar’s title over the surrounding agricultural land as he is claiming, but focused only on ensuring the right of public access to the National Monument itself.
With respect to all the other issues mentioned by Mr Ciantar, one can conclude that he made up all these fabrications and red herrings to deviate the reader from the central point - that he is capriciously and unscrupulously barring the public from national heritage that was restored using public funds. The beauty of this site and its cultural consequence are unique and everyone should have the right to access it.
Regarding the Dingli Interpretation Centre mentioned by Ciantar, it was clear from the start that this so-called interpretation centre was simply a front for a restaurant on public ODZ land, something which unfortunately has become common practice in this blessed land of ours. We have no idea at all why Mr Ciantar is using this clear malpractice to justify his hold on Simblija. Except possibly to confuse the issue even further.
The rest of the veritable conspiracy theory spun by Mr Ciantar, consisting of a series of insinuations based on a bizzare assortment of unconnected facts, only serves to conceal the ulterior motive for his attack: that he has arrogated upon himself the right to keep the public away from a National Monument restored using public funds, that he has been allowed to get away with his attitude for so many years, and that he is hoping that people will give up and won’t access the site.
Unfortunately Mr Ciantar’s attitude is quite common in Malta where people take over and do as they please upon public land with seeming impunity. Therefore it is no wonder that like many others Mr Ciantar is getting away with it.
After his latest botched attempt at defaming the Ramblers, one wonders whether another ten years have to pass before access to Simblija is justly restored to the public. It is important to note that there is nothing official which bars any access to this property except Mr Ciantar’s allegations and pretended rights. It seems that this administration, just like the previous one, is not taking the matter seriously. However since it is Government Land and a cultural site, the Government should ensure possession and protection of this property and that access to the public in general is not denied.
Lane leading to Simblija