The CEO of db Group, Arthur Gauci, is currently on a campaign to whitewash his company’s failure in bulldozing citizens’ rights. The attempts to manipulate, cajole and bully the public into viewing the project in a positive light would be laughable if the consequences were not so dire for the peace and happiness of thousands of residents.
Unfortunately, db Group’s pockets run deep, so we all have to put up with seeing their ads plastered all over the media and Facebook. But their claims should not go unchallenged.
Make no mistake, this project will still leave a profound negative impact on the Pembroke community, whatever db says. The wolf may be covered in wool, but it remains a wolf. So without further ado, here are six important points to keep in mind about the db Group’s “City Centre”.
1. It’s still too darn big.
The residential tower will be around 6 and a half times as tall as the nearby residential blocks. Think about that. Go to your window, look across the street, and imagine your neighbour’s place being not twice, triple, or even quadruple its actual height – but six and a half times it. Now imagine a hotel built like a cruise ship parked next door to it, rising to over three times your own building’s height. It’s simply a gargantuan project which has no place in a residential town like Pembroke. Which brings us to the next point…
2. Residents have rights too.
And that includes the right to a peaceful life.
Pembroke residents already have to deal with the fact that Paceville is next door, making their town a popular parking spot for people on a night out, with all the trouble that brings with it. What they don’t need to deal with is a decade of construction that ends with the extension of the entertainment area to their doorstep. That means noise, light, traffic, and dirt, in what was meant to be, and remains to this day, a residential area.
At that memorable PA board meeting at the Liċeo, I had asked the Debono family, their CEO Arthur Gauci, and their communications consultant Lou Bondi a simple question. “Would you want to live next door to your own project?” Their expressions that day said it all.
3. “We listened. We acted.” ???
This contempt for the public is as evident in their current media blitz as it is in their very project proposal. The slogan chosen is a transparent attempt to hoodwink people into thinking they care. Like they listened when their project was condemned by residents, every local council involved, ten NGOs, and a record-breaking number of objectors.
Oh wait, they just organised minivans for their workers to come to support the project in a ploy to turn workers against residents. Or like they cared when they found a Cold War bunker on the site. Ah, no, it was NGOs who published that finding – db just tried to hide it. But surely they acted in a spirit of public good when they started work…. Wrong again – they had to be forced to stop works by the authorities after ignoring the constraints of their contract.
Turns out, Mr Debono, Mr Gauci, that you did not listen. You were forced to stop, thanks to the expensive actions carried out by objectors through legal means. You did not listen – you attempted to ride roughshod over people and the law. And you would have gotten away with it too, aided as you were by an obsequious Planning Authority, if it weren’t for the historic campaign by thousands of (pesky) citizens to raise funds to fight you in court. Phew, making you “listen” sure is expensive.
But that’s not the only thing db Group is making us pay for…
4. We’re paying for their tunnel…
Much hinges on this tunnel. What tunnel, I hear you asking. Well, no tunnel, so far. There’s no application for this tunnel, much less a permit. Yet the whole project depends on there being an effective solution to the increase in traffic generated by the project. A solution that will bypass the residential area to provide direct access to db’s project, leaving the current gridlock unchanged while destroying a natural area in the St Patrick’s zone of Pembroke. Not to mention that it would pass directly below a Natura 2000 site, despite the negative effects on the protected flora and fauna there. Money well spent? Yes, for db. Problem is, it’s our money.
5. … and much else besides.
Lest we forget, the taxpayer has already been lumped with plenty of costs. We paid for PA Board member Jacqueline Gili to be flown in by private jet so that she votes in favour of the project. We paid for the National Audit Office to write a 247-page report denouncing how the land was granted to them. And we’re paying for the relocation of ITS to Smart City – to the tune of €80 million.
These costs dwarf the payments db Group will be making to the public treasury, which amount to a paltry €15 million premium (payable over 7 years without interest). The rest of the much-touted €60 million figure will be paid by those purchasing the apartments to be built.
If this sounds like a bad deal, it’s because it is. Which is no surprise, when you realise that….
6. This deal has disgraced ex-Minister Konrad Mizzi’s fingerprints all over it.
That’s right, the man at the centre of half the scandals in the country, from the sale of public hospitals for €1 to the €1 billion deal to buy gas from a dictator to the recently-uncovered transfer of millions of public funds to murder suspect Yorgen Fenech’s secret account via Montenegro, is also responsible for this one.
Mizzi is involved because the tender offer for the ITS site was issued by Projects Malta, which could not even legally issue tenders at that point in time. What’s more, the issued call for proposals in the EU’s official gazette was misleading, titled simply “Hotel Equipment”. One can imagine (not) the surprise on Silvio Debono’s face when this contract for what one would imagine to be beds, lift and catering equipment turned out to be for a massive stretch of prime land. Lucky find!
This is why Moviment Graffitti has been calling for this deal, like all the others he was involved in, to be revoked and investigated.
If all this is enough to make you sick to your stomach – whether it’s because of the negative impact on residents, because of the incredible cost to the taxpayer, because of Mizzi’s involvement, or simply because of db Group’s arrogance, register your objection to the proposal in just 10 seconds by clicking here.
Robert Louis Fenech is a Moviment Graffitti and Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar activist