Anonymous allegations received at the National Audit Office on 25 January 2016 suggested that the former Parliamentary Secretary responsible for Small Business and Land used his influence to expedite the process for the payment by the former Government Property Division (GPD) of land expropriated for the Home Ownership Scheme (HOS) purposes in Santa Lucija. The letter also included an allegation that the former Parliamentary Secretary negotiated the purchase of a house, built on a proportion of the acquired land under the conditions of the HOS.
Although the information provided in relation to specific events was mostly correct, it did not consider the historic, legal and administrative context. All of these variables played a critical part in assessing whether the former Parliamentary Secretary had influenced processes related to HOS for his own benefit. To this effect, this Investigation did not reveal evidence to support the claims and implications made.
The former Parliamentary Secretary’s negotiations to purchase the property in question were subsequent to the declaration of Government’s intention to embark on a drive to settle outstanding HOS cases in Budget 2010. These negotiations also followed the GPD’s commencement of the administrative processes in November 2009 to settle outstanding dues with respect to HOS land acquisition cases in Santa Lucija.
This investigation also revealed that the processes undertaken by GPD and the Housing Authority to conclude the HOS land acquisition process with respect to the case in question adhered to legal and administrative requirements. The payment of dues to owners of expropriated land for HOS purposes followed GPD’s undocumented criteria, which considered funds availability in terms of the maximum number of HOS beneficiaries that subsequently would be in a position to sign ownership contracts with the Housing Authority. Moreover, GPD practically concluded the administrative and legal processes pertaining to all of the outstanding HOS acquired plots in Santa Lucija, at the same time.
The Investigation also identified administrative weaknesses that impinged on the land acquisition process. The absence of a documented policy concerning the prioritisation of settling outstanding dues with respect to expropriated land transgressed on the principle of transparency and deviated from good administrative practices. A documented policy reduces the burden of decision-making on public officials as it lessens the possibility of subjective decisions. Moreover, value for money considerations also arise through the prolonging of the land acquisition process since, the longer Government takes to pay owners their dues, the higher the costs incurred by the former due to the financial damages accrued.
The administrative shortcomings at the GPD also have a critical impact on the owners of the expropriated land since they expect to be compensated within a reasonable period. HOS expropriations were not holistically addressed over time as can be seen by both the various legal and administrative amendments and the limited annual budgetary allocations. Furthermore, the administrative shortcomings also prolonged HOS beneficiaries the opportunity to sign ownership contracts with the Housing Authority.
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