Times of Malta, Friday, 29th February 2008, by Mark Micallef – The Prime Minister has accepted the resignation of all the board members of the Development Control Commission A in the wake of a Mepa audit report describing their clearance of a supermarket in Safi on land outside development zone as a “gross irregularity”.

The board submitted its resignation on Thursday afternoon, moments after the report, penned by Mepa audit officer Joe Falzon, was released to the public by Alternattiva Demokratika, which had filed the complaint against the proposed development.

The project in question belongs to construction magnate Charles Polidano and forms part of the European Lidl franchise, a supermarket chain that operates about 5,000 stores in over 17 countries.

The board said it “felt aggrieved” by the stand taken in the report, adding in a statement yesterday that it had acted “with diligence, without any personal interests and with a clear conscience in the best of their abilities”.

Mr Falzon lambasted the board for unanimously approving the project, despite a recommendation for refusal by the Planning Directorate. Essentially the report concludes that such a permit should have never been issued on land that was outside development zone and that a project of this scale required an environment impact assessment, which was not called for.

In the circumstances, the Office of the Prime Minister said, Lawrence Gonzi felt it was prudent for him to accept the resignation given that the content of the audit officer’s report and the board’s reaction were diametrically opposed.

In effect, both the Prime Minister and Mepa in their comments on the incident steered clear of making judgments on the auditor’s report. It is not unusual for Mepa to openly hit out at such reports when these were critical of it, even accusing the audit office of unfair negative bias.

When asked to comment, the Prime Minister said the way the audit office functions was a clear indication that there was a level of transparency “which was certainly not present, say 10 or 15 years ago”.

“If re-elected and, assuming responsibility for the Mepa reform, the Prime Minister will carefully consider and eventually implement the recommendations made by the audit officer, within the context of other developments to have a more transparent planning system,” the OPM said.

Asked whether he shared the Mepa chairman’s full confidence in the board members who resigned, the OPM said the Prime Minister had no reason to doubt their statement that they acted in good faith and to the best of their abilities.

AD’s spokesman for sustainable development, Carmel Cacopardo, who had campaigned against the project all along, welcomed the decision. However, party chairman Harry Vassallo said in a press conference that AD’s work on the matter was not over yet.

Despite the fact that the law at present only allows the revocation of a permit in remote circumstances, Dr Vassallo said AD would be applying pressure on the Lidl mother company in Germany through the Green party there not to go ahead with its plans.

The party called on the Prime Minister and Environment Minister George Pullicino to assume responsibility for the decision, given that they had appointed the board members, and see to it that a remedy is provided.