The Malta Independent 17 June 2024, Monday
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TMID Editorial: We want our forts back

Saturday, 27 May 2023, 08:46 Last update: about 2 years ago

In the list of most absurd responses by a government minister in the past decade, Economy Minister Silvio Schembri’s replies to this newspaper on Thursday surely rank quite high up.

Asked by The Malta Independent earlier this week why squatters who have occupied historical fortresses at Bingemma and Benghajsa have not been evicted, Schembri said that the situation has been going on since 2011 and he cannot understand why the “panic” has erupted in recent weeks.

He said that the Lands Authority has already issued eviction orders and discussions have started through the Housing Authority for alternative accommodation to be found for the squatters.

In a parliamentary question last week on Benghajsa the minister went into detail about a 2019 investigation on the property, where in total there were two eviction notices dating back to November 2011 issued by the Commissioner for Lands in accordance with the Land (Compulsory Eviction) Act.

“Nobody wants them out in the streets” he said when answering questions about the people using the forts, adding that he cannot “understand the persistence on evicting them.”

He said that these people cannot afford private accommodation.

Asked when such discussions on alternative accommodation took place, he said that the situation has been tackled for several weeks. But when pressed to say what other steps had been taken, the minister said that there were “other priorities.”

It is incredible and quite frankly beyond the point of absurdity that a government minister – and the one responsible for Lands, to boot – does not consider the recovery of two historical forts from people who are living in them or using them illegally as being a priority.

One must start to question: what is the reason for this?  The matter is quite simple: a person or family is living inside or using public property illegally – and so they should be evicted and the property be given back to the public.

Yet here we are, seeing the minister responsible saying with a straight face that the matter isn’t a priority and that he doesn’t understand all the fuss as to why the general public could possibly have the audacity to ask the government to take back what belongs to the state.

Then there is the message that Schembri, as Lands Minister, is sending on this whole subject.  One has to consider that every time a Minister speaks, then it is a message to the nation on what is expected of them.

Schembri’s message here is that anyone can basically go and squat in government property, refuse to leave when they’re told to leave, and then drag the government to the negotiating table, ask for alternative accommodation in order for them to leave where they are occupying illegally – and the minister would shrug and say there are other priorities.

Should people do that?  Absolutely not – but this is the exact message that Schembri is sending.

The remarks were greeted with anger and derision from the public, and one can only hope that someone above Schembri took him aside and told him that what he said is out of order – and that the process to take back what is rightfully the public’s should be accelerated.

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