The Malta Independent 16 May 2021, Sunday

Protected 19th century Fort Binġemma still being used as illegal private residence

Giuseppe Attard Sunday, 18 April 2021, 10:00 Last update: about 28 days ago

The Buttigieg family has called Fort Binġemma home since 1981 even though their legal lease on the fort has been terminated since May 2009.

Fort Binġemma has since become synonymous with the illegal occupation by members of the family, even after numerous attempts by both Nationalist and Labour governments to settle the dispute of the land.

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The fort was built by the British in 1878 as part of the Victoria Lines fortifications to protect the North of Malta from a land invasion. In the early years of the 20th century, however, the fort was abandoned as the value of the Victoria Lines became questionable, to say the least.

After the Second World War the fort was used once again for training purposes, but it was again abandoned after a short while. In 1964, when Malta was granted independence, the fort became property of the government.

In 1981, shortly before a general election, the Labour government at the time leased the property to Gaetano Buttigieg, who would go on to use the fort to rear cows and subsequently construct a private residence for his family in the fort.

The lease of the Buttigieg family was set to expire in 1997 but was renewed on an annual basis by the Labour government, and then also by the successive Nationalist government until 2009.

Although multiple government entities have asked for the fort to be vacated in order to be restored as part of the Maltese national heritage, the Buttigieg family have used the defences of the fort to their advantage in order to keep the relevant authorities out of what they claim to be their property.

To make matters worse, the Buttigieg family have also built a pool illegally in the fort and reports also show that a restaurant run by the family was operating without any permits or legal remit.

Although people who have dined at the restaurant did not speak highly of the food, the sights which the fort has to offer more than make up for the disappointing culinary experience. There are also concerns of tax evasion.

The idea of a family occupying a fort, claiming the land to be rightfully theirs and then using the Grade 1 heritage site to keep the government out may seem ridiculous, but this is exactly what the Buttigieg family has done.

Over the years, multiple ministers from both political parties in government have tried to vacate the fort. The Planning Authority had also said that the “illegal development on site is already by an enforcement notice which is subject to daily fines.”

The enforcement order is still active, and the case is listed on the PA website as being “referre for Direct Action Vetting.”

The Buttigieg family however still occupies the fort and claims it to be their land. The family also still deposits rent in court, years after their lease was terminated.

The justification of their claim to the land is that the original family members who occupied the fort in 1981 have grown old and they do not have any other place to go.

In response to this, in 2012 the Nationalist government of the time went out of its way in order to provide an alternative residence for the Buttigieg family. Although the government had no legal obligation to do this since the Buttigieg family were illegally residing in the property, they did so anyways.

This offer however was declined by the members of the Buttigieg family. Gaetano Buttigieg has since passed away, but his wife Josephine still occupies the fort with no apparent intention of leaving.

Questions have been sent to the Lands Authority, the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage and the Culture Ministry.

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