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Yesterday, NGO Din L-Art Ħelwa Għawdex spearheaded a peaceful demonstration in which citizens walked along the idyllic road that leads to Marsalforn, tying up black ribbons around the trees which adorn the road ahead of their scheduled eradication for yet another road-widening project which nobody in their right minds would ever ask for.

The scale of the project is monstrous. 200 mature trees are set to be uprooted. 10,692sqm of agricultural land is set to be destroyed to make way for wider roadways, walkways, and a cycle lane. The project is set to cost €9 million, and the tender was awarded to a Gozitan consortium made up of the usual suspects: Labour Party insider and major developer Joseph Portelli and his associates, Daniel Refalo and Mark Agius, and a company named Gatt Tarmac Ltd, which is owned by an established, family-run business of Maltese contractors.

The tender was issued by Gozo minister Clint Camilleri, also known as one of prime minister Robert Abela‘s most trusted loyalists and appointed as his go-to man for all matters related to planning and hunting. One of Camilleri’s first acts upon assuming control of the planning portfolio was, in typical Labour Party fashion, to wipe out half of the previous planning board members and install his own close associates instead.

And in case you were wondering whether our Gozo minister bothered to ensure that his appointees are professional, serious individuals, well – one of Camilleri’s new appointees was directly responsible for a botched attempt at burying an old cave they discovered on an excavation site he was professionally involved in, so that should tell you all you need to know about where this sleazefest is going.

The Gozo minister’s track record when it comes to development projects carried out under the umbrella of his ministry leaves so much to be desired it would leave a Buddhist monk shivering with suffering. Coincidentally, the last time Camilleri announced a €9 million project was in 2017, when he announced the development of a sports complex.

We have now eclipsed the fourth expired deadline of this sports complex project and will be awaiting the fifth one (announced for later this year) with bated breath. Sources quoted by The Shift estimated that by the time the project is finished, its costs are expected to balloon up to €20 million.

That same news portal has dozens of stories featuring Camilleri or his eternal Gozitan rivals within the Labour Party, disgraced former Gozo minister Justyne Caruana and former Gozo minister (now agriculture minister) Anton Refalo. All of those stories point toward abuse of public funding in projects which almost always involve Portelli, one of his associates, or other major Gozitan developers and contractors.

The picture that emerges from this quick, simple analysis of the ongoing breaches of public procurement laws at the hands of the Gozo ministry is clear beyond any shred of a doubt.

There is, of course, no reasonable logic to the idea that a lightly-trafficked road which at most needs a fresh coat of tarmac is now suddenly going to become a thoroughfare that cuts through several football fields’ worth of agricultural land. The environmental NGOs present at yesterday’s protest were stating what is obvious to anyone with at least two functional brain cells to rub against each other: the loss of trees, agricultural land, and generally, our rural environment is something we absolutely cannot afford.

This is even more evident when one remembers that the government has made a whole trumpet-blowing affair out of its promises to preserve open spaces by spending hundreds of millions of euros on ‘greening’ our environment, as if Malta’s dwindling rural territory, overrun as it is with hunters, trappers, and fastidious land-owners who hire grumpy watchmen to bark at intruders, was waiting for the government’s intervention to begin existing and only did so because of the Labour Party’s benevolence.

So, if there is no reasonable logic to it, then what is happening here? Simply put, to arrive to the conclusion that a project is happening solely because everyone involved stands to make a tangible profit out of it, one must go through a process of elimination. To begin with, there must be the clear possibility that the key individuals who stand to take political flak from greenlighting the decision may also be doing so because they are abusing their office for kickbacks.

This, in a country that has been buried under the mafia architecture of the Labour government, is practically a given.

However, one must not hastily discard the possibility that there is some measure of justification for the project, and must look at the data at hand before drawing any conclusions. In the case of the Marsalforn road project, it is evident that there is no tangible justification for the environmental cost that is attached with it, so the reasonable justification outcome can be discarded.

The intersection between environmental crime and corruption


There is no practical, evidence-based justification for the project itself.

Given the tender winner’s history of blatant disregard for environmental laws, there is no practical, evidence-based justification for awarding them such an environmentally sensitive project.

Given the Gozo minister’s disastrous track record with major development projects, there is no practical, evidence-based justification for entrusting him with this process.

When the reasonable justification outcome is discarded, the only other explanation that remains is corruption.

Besides the huge amount of taxpayer money that is being dished out to the consortium for the roadworks project itself, one must also ask as to who else stands to benefit from the roadworks, especially when considering that they would not be serving the basic function of alleviating the traffic flows of a well-travelled road.

In fact, the lack of need is so explicitly obvious that the only other comparable example I can think of is the Dingli saga in which as Moviment Graffitti, we’d spent weeks in a stand-off with authorities who wanted to build a seemingly pointless road in the middle of nowhere. I remember we’d spent so much time racking our brains as to why the authorities were so insistent on it, only to eventually have our initial suspicions proven right by multiple development applications which were later filed when the road project went through.

Another investigation published by The Shift earlier this month shows how Joseph Portelli – yes, him again – had sold off a block of apartments months before a planning permit was issued, in the same exact street in Dingli which was developed by the authorities in spite of the furious resistance against building it.

In other words, we must be vigilant as to what happens next in Marsalforn, mainly because this pattern of abusing public funding to actively enable development which would otherwise never be acceptable is by now clearly established. This is a complex network of corrupt politicians and sleazy tycoons who prop each other up and have been at it for over a decade now.

The only way to deal with such a network is to be relentlessly opposed to it in every forum while committing to the long-term labour that is required to dismantle it.

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