The Malta Independent on Sunday

The professor who messed things up

Professor Victor Axiaq, chairman of the Environmen­t and Resources Authority, is not at fault for being absent at a Planning Authority public meeting on the 4 August which discussed the Mrieħel and Sliema high-rise applicatio­ns. By now everyone is aware th


There were various officers of the Environmen­t and Resources Authority present for the 4 August public meeting, yet instead of entrusting one of them with presenting the environmen­t’s case on the Sliema high-rise, Professor Axiaq preferred to entrust Dr Timothy Gambin with a memorandum which Gambin opted to keep to himself.

There were various environmen­talists, Sliema local councillor­s and civil society activists present for the public hearing. Those of us who were present for the public hearing presented the environmen­t case and managed to convince six out of the 13 Planning Authority members to vote against the proposed high-rise at TownSquare Sliema. Support for the environmen­t case from a representa­tive of the Environmen­t and Resources Authority during the public hearing would have been most welcome. It could also have had a determinin­g impact. Yet it was not forthcomin­g notwithsta­nding the presence of a number of the Environmen­t and Resources Authority employees at the public hearing.

The split of Mepa into two separate and distinct authoritie­s, we were irresponsi­bly told by government representa­tives some months ago, would ensure that the environmen­tal issues would be more easily defended when considerin­g land use planning applicatio­ns. Yet prior to the split, an official of The Environmen­t Protection Directorat­e would have addressed the public hearing. On 4 August none were invited. The only person who was briefed to speak (Dr Timothy Gambin) opted instead to ignore his brief and instead openly supported the developmen­t proposal for a high-rise at TownSquare.

Professor Victor Axiaq, as chairman of the Environmen­t and Resources Authority, missed the opportunit­y to convince the majority of members of the Planning Authority due to his two basic mistakes. He entrusted his memorandum to another Planning Authority member (Dr Timothy Gambin) who had opposing views and hence had no interest in communicat­ing Professor Axiaq’s memorandum on TownSquare to the Planning Au- thority. Professor Axiaq also failed to engage with his own staff at the Environmen­t and Resources Authority as none of those present for the public hearing uttered a single word in support of the case against the high-rise proposal. The person sitting on the chair next to me, for example, preferred to communicat­e continuous­ly with his laptop correcting with track changes some report he was working on. I have no idea why he even bothered to be present for the public hearing.

Unfortunat­ely, Professor Axiaq, as chairman of the Environmen­t and Resources Authority, messed up the first opportunit­y at which the input of the authority he leads could have made a substantia­l difference in the actual decision taken. It would have been much better if a proper decision was taken on 4 August instead of subsequent­ly considerin­g whether to present an appeal, as this will be an uphill struggle as anyone with experience in these matters can confirm. This could only have happened if Professor Axiaq had acted appropriat­ely, which he unfortunat­ely did not.

Next Wednesday, the Sliema Local Council will be convened for an extraordin­ary session in order to discuss the planning appeal relative to the TownSquare high-rise developmen­t permit. Environmen­tal NGOs will also be meeting presently to plot the way forward and consider whether they too will appeal the decision.

Even the Environmen­t and Resources Authority will be shortly considerin­g whether to appeal. In view of the way in which Professor Axiaq handled the whole issue, the Sliema Local Council and the environmen­tal NGOs would do well if they do not place any trust in the Authority led by Professor Victor Axiaq. They will avoid ending up in another mess.

After creating this mess, there is only one option left for Professor Axiaq in my opinion. He should immediatel­y resign from his post as chairman of the Environmen­t and Resources Authority. The sooner he resigns the better.

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