The Malta Independent 29 February 2020, Saturday

Aaron Farrugia to log all meetings with lobbyists, stakeholders, publish Transparency Register

Neil Camilleri Sunday, 19 January 2020, 08:30 Last update: about 2 months ago

Environment and Planning Minister Aaron Farrugia has told The Malta Independent on Sunday that he will start publishing a register of all meetings he has with stakeholders, in a move aimed at promoting transparency and good governance.

Meetings between his Head of Secretariat and stakeholders will also be logged and published.

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While all meetings will be logged, the move is most crucial when it comes to the planning sector.

As minister responsible for planning, Farrugia will have meetings with lobbyists and other stakeholders, including NGOs.

Farrugia said good governance in urban planning will be one of his top priorities.

“As both an economist and an environmentalist, I think that, while this Government has made massive leaps forward in terms of economic growth, the time has come to shift the focus on socio-economic elements, promoting justice, good governance, and environmentally sustainable practices.”

In planning, the Minister believes that good governance and complete transparency are necessary for its proper functioning and for the balance between development and environmental concerns to be struck.

"I am committed to the highest levels of transparency in decision-making.  In the interest of good governance, as a Ministry, we shall regularly publish the list of all meetings held by the Minister and his Chief of Staff with lobbyists, social partners, businesses and non-governmental organizations,” Farrugia told this newspaper.

“This Transparency Register is in line with the 2017 Labour Party Electoral Manifesto, the European Commission’s 2016 proposal for a European Transparency Register, as well as the best-practices learned from other Member States of the European Union," he said.

Aaron Farrugia, previously Parliamentary Secretary for EU Funds, was promoted to Minister by new PM Robert Abela. The decision to bring the environment and planning back under one ministry has been welcomed by environmental NGOs.

Previously, the planning portfolio was under Ian Borg, who was also responsible for infrastructure and capital projects. Borg’s ministry often clashed with the environment ministry, then headed by Jose Herrera, who has now been made Minister for National Heritage, Arts and Local Government.

The planning sector remains a hot potato in Malta, with politicians often being accused of giving in to pressure by developers or of acting in the interest of the construction lobby. The Labour Party has been harshly criticized over the infamous ‘fourth floor’ meetings, held at the party headquarters in Hamrun before the 2013 election. Anglu Farrugia, now Speaker, had famously revealed how contractors and other people from ‘big business’ would hold meetings with party officials. Farrugia was asked about the meetings last week, when testifying in the Daphne Caruana Galizia public inquiry.

He said that Keith Schembri had access to that floor, which needed a special code to enter. Farrugia said that whenever he tried to go there, he always found it locked. The former PL Deputy Leader named Sandro Chetcuti, the President of the Malta Developers Association (MDA), as one of the people who would regularly be seen entering the PL headquarters at the time.

Chetcuti insisted last week that he had never gone up to the fourth floor before the 2013 election and that he had never attended any meetings there.

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