The Malta Independent 16 December 2018, Sunday

Guardian

Alfred Sant Monday, 24 September 2018, 08:00 Last update: about 4 months ago

In a public statement, the Guardian for Future Generations assessed negatively the big project that is being proposed for Pembroke. The company on which he serves as director then disassociated itself from his statement, although it was not really clear whether this really meant that it disagreed with his verdict, or that it had no share in it.

If the latter, I cannot see how anybody could have imagined that the company was involved in the Guardian’s assessment. If the former, then the episode demonstrates the problems that prevail in a small society like ours when it tries to establish modern institutions to ensure transparency and accountability in public management.

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One can have no doubts at all about the personal integrity of the Guardian. It is certain that he respects the distinction that should exist between his public role and the activities he carries out in his company. However it seems like the latter has concluded that the opinion he expressed in his public role could adversely affect its trading position.

Beyond this point, the incident raises doubts about the relevance of the Guardian’s role. He publishes his assessments and life goes on, as if nothing had happened. 

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Huge mistake

The decision taken about the “tourism” development at Pembroke is a huge mistake, and not just because land allocated to it has been valued in cents. It seems that no Maltese government is prepared to learn from experience. The project will form part of a series of disasters in terms of the public interest, that have included among others Chambrai, Tigne Point and Smart City.

Such projects are cooked up according to the following model: the government hands over land very cheaply, indeed at a pittance, against a commitment to create a touristic masterpiece that will generate jobs and tremendous economic activity. The crucial test of such commitments has been and remains: will the project stand on its own? One quickly discovers that it will not. It also covers a proposal to build “luxury” apartments for rich clients on land that has been transferred to the developer for peanuts.

Meanwhile, the consequences on the environment, the infrastructure, the historical heritage and other qualitative aspects of contemporary life are totally ignored. Some people though end up making huge profits from the whole arrangement.

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Tourism projects

As I see it, the time has come to go back to an incentives policy for tourism similar to the one that was in force during the 1960’s and the 1970’s.

If public land is going to be delivered on the cheap and under favourable conditions for a tourism project, this has to consist exclusively of a tourism proposal and should not be attached to the additional establishment of residential or commercial development. Land for the latter should be paid for at full market rates.

Whoever insists that with such an incentive, we will neither get new tourism facilities nor see those which already exist get refurbished, is really claiming that tourism in Malta is only viable if it is doubly subsidized. That is hardly an encouraging conclusion for an economic sector which happens to be the second largest in the country.

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