Discrimination in building permits

In Malta they also get the hotch-potch development and the skyline they deserve

After my opinion piece last Sunday, a friend of mine remarked that it seems that the PN lost votes from people who did not get the building permits they wanted while the subsequent Labour administration opened the floodgates and everyone got the permits they wanted.

Now the complaints are about over-development... but how many votes will Labour lose about this? Probably zilch, I reckon.

When deciding whom to vote, people – all over the world – look at their personal interests, not at the common good. The common good does not vote and political parties in power often have to choose between the common good and individual greed. Remember that individual greed has power at the polls while the common good does not.

And so it goes on.

According to my prejudiced view of the history of planning in Malta, most people hardly understand the process that development planning should go through.

Let me be practical and give just an example, instead of touting abstract notions.

Recently the Planning Authority decided that hotels are to be allowed an extra two floors over the legal limit of other buildings in the same area. This is a revival of a policy that was prevalent much before the Planning Authority was set up. Is this across-the-board relaxation of the height limitation in the case of hotels justified or not? Serious planning would require an in-depth study on the effect of such a policy being applied everywhere except for UCAs.

Such a study would have to consider reliable predictions of the number of tourists planning to go to hotels in the future, including which category of hotel; the way the existing infrastructure (water electricity and drainage) would be affected; the way the skyline would be affected if this issue is not a condition to the relaxation; the viability and competitiveness of existing hotels as compared with having two more floors; and other aspects that I must have left out.

Have such studies been made before the decision was taken? I doubt it.

The answers from such studies are what makes planners decide for or against the decision. Many times such studies do not lead to clear-cut policies and the issue would remain controversial one way or the other. Planning is not a rigid process and all the attempts to make written rigid policies applicable in all residential zones except UCAs – in order to eliminate the PA’s own discretion and satisfy the Maltese psyche – lead to many short-sighted decisions in the issuing of some permits. This is where we have arrived.

And the complaints go on. The Planning Authority defends itself by saying that a particular permit – viewed as controversial by people using common sense – is according to the written ‘one-size fits all’ policies that have been drawn up.

The discretion that the Planning Authority should have to refuse to issue insensible permits has been rejected by the government and the PA that defends itself by quoting its own policies that could make sense in 80% of cases but not in the other 20%.

Why should the other 20% applications be refused, argues the Maltese psyche.

This sort of discrimination is based on the nature of the site rather than on the political colours of the applicant – but most common citizens neither believe, nor accept, this. For quite some time, there was even the popular idea that discrimination and mulishness is the favourite sport of a monster created by yours truly!

Discrimination because of different site conditions – justified as it may be – will lead to loss of votes, as the PN well knows.

On the other hand, I know of cases during the PN administration, in which MEPA acted mulishly and refused applications that it should not have. MEPA promptly issued these permits as soon as Labour was in power. In an ideal world, that sort of thing should not have happened. But even though Malta is the best in the world (sic), idealism does not come into it...

The independence of the PA from the political masters of the day never actually happened. Those who believe that it can happen do not have their feet on the ground. Is the difference between PN and PL governments actually the extent of political interference accepted by MEPA/PA? Or was there more than just this?

By showing off its independence under a PN government, the PN lost votes and by acquiescing to the political masters under an PL government the PN continued to lose votes.

Is the PA full of Labour supporters that help Labour under a PN administration by purposely taking stances that led to an increase of the popular disgruntlement under a PN government? I am not so sure, but it could well be.

As in other parts of the democratic world, the Maltese people get the government they deserve.

In Malta they also get the hotch-potch development and the skyline they deserve.

Fairy tale stuff

The Nationalist Party has pledged to immediately rescind the country’s contract that privatised the management of three hospitals, including the Gozo hospital.

Announcing this, Gozitan Nationalist MP Chris Said last Wednesday said that the National Audit Office had given a scathing assessment of the deal and found that there was “collusion” between Vitals Global Healthcare (the initial concessionaire) and the government, and that this in itself should render the contract null and void.

The concession was subsequently ‘sold’ by Vitals to Steward Health Care.

He also said that the millions which the government is paying to Steward as part of the concession will then be used to create other new healthcare services across Gozo.

Whether the alleged ‘collusion’ renders the contract null and void, as Chris Said claims, is a moot point. It is certainly not an insubstantial matter as he practically implied.

I have no doubt that Steward will fight tooth and nail against their losing the concession. They are even resisting changes that the current government wants to make in the contract they took over from Vitals. And the US embassy in Malta is helping Stewards because it is a US company.

Rescinding the contract will involve a mighty legal battle and worsen our relations with the USA.

Thinking that it will not cost anything to the Maltese exchequer is fairy tale stuff.