The Malta Independent 11 December 2019, Wednesday

TMID Editorial: Conflicts of interest aplenty - PA board needs to go back to drawing board

Thursday, 20 June 2019, 09:42 Last update: about 7 months ago

Yesterday’s court verdict on the highly controversial City Centre project being developed by the db Group was shocking news, not necessarily insofar as the fact that the group will need to start all over again from square one is concerned, but, rather, because of the veritable hornets’ nest the issue has stirred up.

And, it must be noted, it is high time that an issue like this was brought to the fore so that it, and who knows how many other similar situations can be addressed for this, too, weighs heavily on the country’s rule of law, or lack thereof.

In a nutshell, one of the Planning Authority’s board members who voted on the City centre project was also the co-owner of a real estate agency that was advertising the project’s apartments.

As if that was not bad enough, the real estate agent should not have even been appointed to the board in the first place, given his profession and the fact that he had a direct and clear interest in an activity that may have conflicted with his position on a board with quasi-judicial powers.

And it beggars belief that he had been allowed to sit on the board as he has since 2013.  The man should have been disqualified from the get-go but somehow he had been appointed after the Labour Party was swept to power.

And in this particular case, this individual should have seen the problem, declared his gross conflict of interest and recused himself from the decision-making process altogether.  That, for one reason or another, did not happen.  And it did not happen because the person either saw no conflict of interest, meaning his suitability for a position on the Planning Authority’s board was untenable, or he knew there was a conflict of interest and ignored it for the sake of convenience or connivance – take your pick, but either way the result is the same.

This conflict of interest could not be more glaring and one should right about now be questioning how and why this particular person had been appointed to the board in the first place.

Not only that, but perhaps every decision in which this particular individual was involved, since 2013, warrants a review. Will this individual be allowed to continue to sit on the Planning Authority board?  We should think not.  Should the Planning Authority say something about this gross conflict of interest?  Of course it should.  But has it?  Evidently not.

The Planning Authority should also carry out a stock take of all its board members so as to root out any other conflicts of interest because at this juncture, some faith needs to be reinstalled in the Planning Authority’s competence.

But the most concerning thing here is that such conflicts of interest are, as they say, a dime a dozen.  We even recently had an investigation by the National Audit Office that found that an employee of Nexia BT was even on the selection committee for the Delimara power station.  Need we say more?

The situation is not only pervasive at the Planning Authority but, rather, across the board.  It is understandable that the country is a small one, that many people know each other and that the pool of qualified and competent people is limited.

This is, however, no excuse for these kinds of conflicting interests.  But the question is how many other similar conflicts of interest is the country plagued by?

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