The Malta Independent 25 May 2024, Saturday
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TMID Editorial: Proving what we already knew

Friday, 12 April 2024, 10:36 Last update: about 2 months ago

Earlier this week, the Ombudsman slammed the Planning Authority over the lack of action it took against rule breakers in a case, saying that the way the Planning Authority acted was an encouragement for contravenors to do as they please.

The basis for this conclusion was an investigation which the Ombudsman carried out after a complaint alleging lack of action by the Planning Authority against irregularities consisting of roof services and tables and chairs at a commercial outlet in front of the Mellieħa sanctuary was submitted.


The Ombudsman highlighted how the PA did not reply to a request by the Commissioner whether it considers the outside catering area as irregular and the services on the roof to run against the condition of the permit that states that all services shall not extend beyond the height of the approved parapet wall.

On noting the recent submission of a development application proposing an outside catering area and a minor amendment application to regularise the roof services, the Ombudsman’s office highlighted the fact that the proposed application does not include sanctioning and that any attempt to regularise the services through a minor amendment application does not in any way overrule the relative permit conditions.

After the Planning Authority failed again to submit an official reply, on 22 January 2024 the Ombudsman’s Commissioner recommended the issue of a stop and enforcement notice since no sanctioning application was submitted for the regularisation of the existing illegal developments consisting of an outside catering area and roof services that extend beyond the height of the approved parapet wall.

“Although the applicant changed the pending application to sanctioning on the same day that the Commissioner issued the recommendations, the Commissioner considers the way the Planning Authority acted in this case as an encouragement for contravenors to do as they please since the Planning Authority will not only take no action, but it will also help them in avoiding such action,” the Ombudsman’s office said.

It is a scathing assessment which goes a long way towards proving what many have already felt: that enforcement when it comes to matters related to planning is few and far between, and that many can simply do as they please without consequence.

This is but one case of the ‘better to ask for forgiveness rather than permission’ logic that has taken over Malta’s streets and streetscapes: some have simply opted for building or doing what they want to first, and then filing a sanctioning application if and when they are caught by someone.

The sanctioning application brings little to no consequence: while that is pending, the illegality is allowed to persist and Malta simply doesn’t have the enforcement culture to order anybody who has committed an illegality to dismantle whatever they’ve done brick by brick – so the outcome of a sanctioning application is most times a foregone conclusion.

The fact that the complaint received by the Ombudsman was also directed at illegally placed tables and chairs in an outside area should not be lost as well, particularly within the context of residents in various localities now rising up against this scourge which has taken over public squares and pavements.

As things stand, like a slow-moving virus, these tables and chairs continue to spread into more and more pavements and squares, taking over what belongs to the public and using it for profit instead. 

The appetite to fight this, clearly, is not there, and the Ombudsman’s office has proven this. Not that we needed the Ombudsman to prove it: the proof is already there for all to see.


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