Times of Malta, 13th March 2008, by Mark Micallef – The Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s decision-making process has been temporarily shut down by the Prime Minister as he prepares to take on the reform he promised before the election.

The government said all of Mepa’s public board meetings and those of the Development Control Commissions were “suspended until further notice” and that no planning decisions would be taken for the time being.

A spokesman for the Office of the Prime Minister told The Times the decision was made by the Prime Minister as a first step in the reform that was one of the Nationalist Party’s electoral pledges.

Mepa would still be reviewing applications. The measure also applies to the authority’s appeals board, which was also instructed by the President, acting on the advice of the Prime Minister, not to make any decisions. The President is legally responsible for that board. Initial decisions about the future of the beleaguered authority should follow shortly, the spokesman said.

Mepa, which has been a major vote-losing entity for the PN, featured prominently during the electoral campaign over two of the more high-profile controversies: That involving the development of a discotheque on ecologically-sensitive land that belongs to Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, who was elected from two districts on behalf of the PN, and the highly-criticised approval of the Lidl supermarket outside development zone in Safi.

The Labour Party, which brought to light the Mistra case, alleged that Mepa had stepped up its permit approval activity in the run-up to the election, a charge that was denied by the Authority. The Authority’s decision to approve the outline development permit for the project is being investigated by both Mepa’s audit officer and the police while the Lidl project was the subject of scathing criticism in a Mepa audit report.