The Malta Independent 8 May 2021, Saturday

TMID Editorial: Illegal occupation - Fort Bingemma belongs to the people

Thursday, 22 April 2021, 08:56 Last update: about 15 days ago

A protected 19th century fortress that is in desperate need of repair has been occupied illegally for decades and the authorities seem to be powerless to do anything about it.

We are speaking about Fort Bingemma, which has been occupied by the Buttigieg family since 1981.

The fact that the fort was leased to the family to use it as a cow farm is already bad enough.

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The fact that the lease was renewed by successive Labour and Nationalist administrations in the following years is reprehensible.

And the fact that the family still calls the fort home despite the termination of the lease in 2009 – 12 years ago – is simply disgraceful.

All this shows how toothless the authorities can be or, worse still, how toothless they can be in specific cases.

We say this because the government found no problem in kicking out property owners or expropriating privately-owned areas to make way for infrastructure projects like Central Link and Maghtab. Farmers who have worked their fields for years had no say in the matter and were made to give up their land in return for a measly compensation.
Yet a family who has illegally occupied a protected fort – part of our collective national heritage that is in dire need of restoration – seems to always get its way.

To make matters worse, the family has, over the years, carried out illegal works inside the fort. The Planning Authority website, for example, shows that an enforcement order was issued with relation to works carried out within its walls. The case, in fact, is supposedly subject to daily fines but information about whether these fines are being issued, and paid, remains a mystery.

It has also been reported over the years that the occupiers have turned a water reservoir into a swimming pool, and a restaurant was opened at some point inside the illegally occupied fortress.

The family, according to reports, has refused offers to be given alternative accommodation, even if the government has no obligation to do this.

In this case, more than one law is being broken, yet the fort remains in the hands of the family. The full force of the law has been brought down on other landowners and squatters, yet, for unknown reasons, this case seems to be different.

While it is true that the government has faced legal challenges from the family along the years, we fail to understand how all the authorities involved have failed to retake the fort despite an expired lease and illegal works carried out.

The authorities should wake up from their slumber and take all available means to evict the family.

If any permanent damage has been caused to the fort, the occupiers should be made to pay.

Then, the government should allocate resources to restore the fort and to open it to the general public.

The irony is that the government is currently boasting about the rent reform which, it says, seeks to protect the rights of tenants and landlords. Perhaps the law should also address instances like this one, and give the government the power to take back property that rightfully belongs to the public.

 

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