The CEO of RE/MAX Malta has dismissed concerns that one of the real estate agency’s investors had a conflict of interest when he voted in favour of the controversial Pembroke high-rise project.
Matthew Pace was one of ten PA board members who voted in favour of the project, outvoting four critics. However, The Shift News flagged a potential conflict due to his being a co-owner of the Swieqi branch of the RE/MAX Alliance, one of several agencies which are finding investors and residents for Silvio Debono’s mammoth project.
Yet RE/MAX Malta CEO Kevin Buttigieg insisted this was not the case, arguing that Pace is a non-active partner, one of three investors in one of RE/MAX Malta’s 29 offices.
“It’s very stretched to suggest he had a conflict of interest,” he told Lovin Malta. “He was one of ten people who voted in favour of the project, and the Swieqi office from which he gets his dividends has not sold any db properties.”
“He isn’t a developer and isn’t gaining anything personally by db obtaining a permit. RE/MAX doesn’t have an exclusive agreement with db to sell their property, but are selling it just like 250 other real estate agencies on the island are. If we had sold €100 million worth of db’s property, then maybe you could argue he had a conflict of interest, but other agents have sold way more of it than we have and we’re not concentrating on it actually.”
PA board member Matthew Pace
Indeed, he said RE/MAX had last year advised a client against placing a €50,000 deposit for one of the db apartments due to the project’s publicity and due to doubt over whether the permits were going to be issued.
“If you argue Pace has a conflict of interest in this case, then he also has a conflict of interest when voting in favour of all other properties,” he said. “I believe it’s a very slim argument to suggest he has a conflict of interest.”
According to the Development Planning Act, no member of the Planning Board can be appointed if they have a “financial or other interest in any enterprise or activity which is likely to affect the discharge of his functions as a member of the Planning Board” unless they obtain an exemption from the planning minister.
Nationalist MP Simon Busuttil, who had clashed frequently with Silvio Debono during his tenure as Opposition leader, said this requirement has been breached in Pace’s case.
“This shocking revelation should, on its own, put in doubt the validity of the PA decision on this project,” Busuttil tweeted. “When someone has a conflict of interest the decision he takes is, by definition, vitiated.”
This shocking revelation should, on its own, put in doubt the validity of the PA decision on this project. When someone has a conflict of interest the decision he takes is, by definition, vitiated. @The_Shift_News https://t.co/JG9vDPkejj
— Simon Busuttil (@SimonBusuttil) September 26, 2018
The Planning Authority has not responded to a request for comment as of the time of writing.
Meanwhile, Labour MP Clayton Bartolo, the government’s representative on the Planning Board, has also denied having a conflict of interest when voting in favour of the City Centre project.
The allegations stems from the fact that Bartolo’s father and uncle are shareholders of a water sports company that operates from Silvio Debono’s Tunny Net complex in Mellieħa.
“I have no financial interest in the company, which has existed since 1985 before I was even born, and the company involved simply rents its premises from Tunny Net and does not receive any payments from it,” Bartolo told MaltaToday.
‘I have no doubt City Centre will be a success’
What the bedrooms inside the db tower will look like
Kevin Buttigieg said he has no doubt the luxury apartments in the City Centre project will be snapped up by investors and home-buyers.
“The supply shortage of high-end property on the market is a big problem,” he said. “Ten years ago, I could show 20 ready-built apartments to a client with a €2 million budget, but today he’d be lucky if I were able to show him five or six. There is a lack of supply when it comes to luxury lifestyle developments.”
Buttigieg described the Pembroke project as “lovely”.
“It has everything – loads of facilities, a shopping mall, a beach club. You can just go straight home from the airport and not need to go anywhere else.”
And with other luxury residence developments earmarked for Manoel Island, the Corinthia hotels and Villa Rosa, the real estate agency owner dismissed any concerns that demand will dry up in the near future.
“Around 75% of these property owners will be Maltese investors,” he said. “The Maltese are very strong financially, we believe in property, and we have a very stable economy and property market here. Rich people often live in European countries with high interest rates or in countries in turmoil like Turkey and South Africa. Malta is a stable and English-speaking country with low interest rates and a good tax regime. We’ve got it going for us.”