Planning Emergency

Agriculture Minister and Gozo's foremost PN MP have a stake in seven-storey block of flats on Xlendi seafront

Agriculture Minister said when confronted with questions that he mistakenly did not include ownership in assets declaration

Agriculture Minister Anton Refalo has told this website – after being asked why he did not declare ownership of parts of building on Xlendi’s seafront – that he owns two flats in the block and that these were “erroneously not included in the last filing of Ministerial assets.” He added that he would be amending the declaration of assets.  

This website’s investigation has also found that the mother of the PN’s spokesperson for Gozo, Alex Borg, also owns part of the same building. The recently-constructed seven-storey building consists of 14 flats and 3 restaurants.

Plasterers working on the façade several months ago

In his answers, Refalo referred to the ‘last filing of Ministerial assets’ and wrote about the ‘declaration’ [of assets] in the singular. This website has checked Refalo’s declarations of assets over the past 10 years, and only found one entry that could possibly correspond with the site on Xlendi’s seafront, made on 16 April 2018, with the entry being “parti diviza min terran f’Triq Marina, Xlendi.” In common parlance, this means ownership of the ground floor, or part of the ground floor, of a building. Construction of the seven-storey building had not commenced at the time, and the site at the time held townhouses. Refalo did not answer a question on what location – or address – that entry referred to.

Land Registry records show that Refalo and his wife, together with Maryanne and Anthony Cauchi, had at one point owned part of the property on which the block of flat has been constructed. The Land Registry title of ownership of the Cauchis and the Refalos goes back to 2009.

It is understood that the Cauchis – who are longtime partners of the Refalos in property dealings – are handling the Refalos’ ownership interests in the Xlendi building. Refalo told a journalist in 2020 that he had “a management agreement” with “someone” on the Xlendi flats.  

In his reply to this website yesterday, he used the 2020 answer to a journalist to make a point that the omission of the flats he owns from the declaration of assets had been an error. In his reply, he ‘confirmed’ that he owns two flats, and added that while these “erroneously were not included in the last filing of Ministerial assets, as noted by you, I have already acknowledged publicly. Amendments to the declaration is being filed to ensure a full reflection of my holdings.”

He did not answer a question on whether the management agreement on the flats was with the Cauchis.

An application to build on site was initially made for two restaurants and four flats in 2003. One of the applicants was Anthony Borg, longtime foremost aide – and head of the Ministry secretariat – of then Gozo Minister Giovanna Debono. Anthony is the father of Alex Borg, the current PN spokesperson for Gozo, who was elected to parliament for the first time in last March’s general election.  

Alex Borg talking about agriculture with the Agriculture Minister at the beginning of last May - click to enlarge. (Source: Facebook)

The building was expanded via another application in 2008, which was eventually renewed in 2015. The site expanded again in an application in 2017, with the applicants in 2017 being Maryanne Cauchi – Minister Anton Refalo’s longtime business associate – and Anthony Borg as well as a third individual.

Yet another permit for further alterations was sought in 2020, and this time instead of Anthony Borg – who died in late 2018 – one of the applicants is Mary Borg, Anthony’s wife and Alex’s mother. Maryanne Cauchi also appeared in the 2020 application. Approval for the 2020 application was granted last year.

The building now has the highest number of floors along a stretch on the seafront. It has seven floors, the others rise to six floors, although they are all the same overall height.  

In various questions sent to Alex Borg, the PN MP and spokesperson for Gozo, attention was drawn to a media interview he gave last summer in which he said that the Planning Authority was destroying Gozo’s environment, but that he put the blame on the authority that delivers permits and not on the developers.  

This website asked Borg if he considered the multi-storey blocks in Xlendi as part of the destruction of Gozo’s environment. He was also asked what he would tell people who would be concerned that he may be framing the issue in a certain manner – of attacking the laws and the Planning Authority but not the developer – because of his family’s part ownership of the block of flats on Xlendi’s seafront.

He said that the “permits were issued a long time ago, way before I was in politics,” and that “I do not own or am involved in any property of my family, whatsoever.”

Borg, who is unmarried and one of two siblings, lives with his mother.

“I always attack PA [Planning Authority] for issuing permits as it is the pertinent authority in charge of development polices,” he said.

He added: “I ask you, if you had a piece of land and a permit is issued to build on it, would you leave it as is, or develop it? That’s why I never attack the developer but the PA.”

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