PA executive chairperson Johann Buttigieg had authorised the controversial payment
The Planning Authority has defended its decision to fork out €8,750 on a private jet to fly one of its board members from Sicily to Malta to vote on the db Group’s high-rise project in Pembroke.
In a statement, the PA argued it was responding to criticism aired at it in 2016, when Environment Authority chairman Victor Axiak was absent from a vote on the Townsquare high-rise in Sliema for medical reasons. In that case, Axiak’s vote was critical as the project passed by a single vote and indeed the Environment Authority chairman said later on that he would have “crawled to the meeting against his cardiologist’s advice” had he known his vote would have made such a big difference.
In last week’s case, PA board member Jacqueline Gili was one of ten board members who voted in favour of the db Group’s project, compared to four who voted against.
“When a similar high-rise planning application was approved in July 2016, much criticism had been levelled at a board member who for medical reasons was not able to be present for such an important project,” the PA said. “The authority felt that the db Group project, known also as the City Centre development, was a high profile case and carried the same magnitude and importance as that of other high-rise projects. For this reason, the authority wanted to make sure that all the Planning Board members were present for the public meeting.”
The PA had communicated the hearing date for the City Centre Project to its members 15 days in advance and Gili had informed the Authority that the date would clash with a family holiday.
“Instead of requesting her to inconveniently cancel her vacation and re-imburse her all the expenses of her family’s holiday, the Planning Authority opted to look into making the necessary arrangements for her, being the only board member abroad, to be flown back to Malta for a few hours to attend the meeting in public,” the PA said.
Moreover, the Authority argued that the €8,750 expense on the private jet, as well as the €25,000 cost to arrange the public meeting at a school hall, was more than covered by the €1.2 million application fee it had received from the db Group.
“In view that the amounts were within the limit that can be authorised by the executive chairperson, no further endorsements were required by government,” the PA said.
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has said he disagreed with the Planning Authority’s line of action, while Opposition leader Adrian Delia has called for an independent inquiry into the incident.