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If you have any kind of attachment to the integrity of the fabric of our environment, today ought to be the kind of day that leaves you clenching your fists until your knuckles go off-white in colour.

Seeing how there really does seem to be no limit to the institutional failures of this broken nation, I will do my best to unclench my fists and adequately portray the severity of the injustices we are witnessing instead.

One of the longest civil society campaigns I’ve been involved in is the fight against DB group’s monstrous Pembroke project. You’ve all seen the glitzy artist renderings plastered across every news article on the subject for almost a decade now. You saw them once more this morning, when it was yet again used in news articles referring to the inferior court of appeal’s decision to greenlight this monstrosity, turning down a last ditch attempt at a retrial following an unsuccessful appeal in the superior court of appeal.

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If you are not up to speed on the twists and turns that brought us to this blot on our collective history, Times of Malta’s Jessica Arena wrote an excellent summary which you can read here, though I will hazard to suggest that the headline – ‘db group’s ITS victory is mired in controversy’ – was a bit too charitable with the use of the word ‘controversy’.

This case goes beyond controversy. It goes directly to the root of everything that is wrong with the legal frameworks which miserably fail to regulate an island that was, is, and remains a haven for pirates. The only thing that’s changed since the Carthaginians is that our brand of piracy evolved: back then, historical notes suggest we hosted pirate ships in exchange for their mercy. Today, the pirates are in charge, and mercy is hard to come by.

Just look at the way in which the formidable opposition to DB group’s project was completely ignored, first by the planning system, and later, by our justice system: even the list of appellants in the court cases against the project’s approval reads like an all-star cast of the country’s biggest environmental NGOs.

Moviment Graffitti, Din l-Art Ħelwa, Friends of the Earth Malta, The Archaeological Society of Malta, Nature Trust Malta, Rota, ACT, and Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar all used their collective firepower to oppose the project. Three local councils have been fighting the project since day one, too: Pembroke, St Julian’s, and Swieqi.

Thousands of people filed objections when the planning application was open to public consultation. Tens of thousands of euros for court appeals were raised within mere hours of initial unsuccessful attempts at getting the permit revoked.

And after all those years of campaigning, the court refused to even contemplate overturning the planning tribunal’s decision to green-light the project, twice, using the same exact reasoning: the planning tribunal’s interpretation and application of planning policies is a planning matter, not a legal one. Cue the sound of water splashing over Pontius Pilate’s hands.

One by one, all the safeguards which are meant to prevent the development of a massive commercial project just a few metres away from a residential neighbourhood failed, because they were designed to fail. Even getting the original permit revoked was not enough – DB group simply filed fresh plans, restarted the process, faced more opposition, and eventually steamrolled over everyone regardless.

Of course, they were keen to rub our noses in it, because there is nothing rich people like more than rigging a game in their favour and then gloating when they win. Insolently, they published a nasty press release which reads like a masterclass in gaslighting, thanking everyone for contributing to the planning process and promising that they will deliver a “world-class” project. I’d like to see them say that with a straight face to a Pembroke resident.

Not content with swallowing up half a locality, DB Group couldn’t even muster an ounce of humility when we called them out for illegally occupying public land in Mellieħa with one of their many obnoxious restaurants. Instead, they huffed and they puffed about how unfair it is for them to be singled out when others are also doing it, and that we were trying to influence the planning process by staging a protest on the eve of a hearing.

With a brass neck like that, I wonder how Silvio Debono – the DB Group clan’s de facto patriarch – even manages to walk around these days. There goes a family empire that built its fortune over four decades’ worth of dodgy wheeling and dealing and building grovelling alliances with both the Nationalist Party back in its heyday and the Labour Party on its present, hopelessly corrupt trajectory, claiming that the members of the public who are sick and tired of being ground beneath its boots are unfairly influencing the planning process.

A list of all the brands and companies associated with DB Group.

The one thing civil society must understand before all else is that there is no point in fighting the interests of these kinds of people on their home turf. Hoping to overturn a corrupt system’s decision in favour of one of the biggest oligarchs of the country is no longer enough, simply because it is so clear that there can never be any equality of arms – the disparity in resources and influence is unquestionable.

The only way civil society can take on these corporate giants is through unconventional, rule-bending dissidence that is supported by heavy, heavy numbers of people. There is absolutely no time left to waste pretending that there is any goodwill left on the government’s end of the negotiating table when it comes to planning policy or, quite frankly, literally anything else.

If your fists aren’t clenched yet, then you’re doing it wrong.

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