MEPA’s reform brought along a number of significant changes within the Authority’s structure and the way it functions. An integral part of the reform is certainly the recognition of enforcement as one of the authority’s main pillars. A year after the implementation of the reform and the establishment of a separate Enforcement Directorate, there is little doubt that the enforcement team within MEPA has worked and is already yielding results. OUTLOOK speaks to MEPA’s Enforcement Director Perit Alexander Borg on the achievements and objectives of the Enforcement Directorate.
Few people will disagree with the fact that the role of Alexander Borg as the Enforcement Director is indeed a very difficult and sensitive position to occupy. Undoubtedly, the man at the helm of enforcement has the tough challenge to enforce MEPA’s laws and policies on a daily basis and to act in time on reports of illegal development. Frequently, the role also means facing angry owners of illegal development who continue to resist the notion that action has to be taken against illegal developments. However, Perit Borg remarked that he has always been the type of person who felt the urge to do the right thing in the right manner, no matter how hard it proved to be. And it is precisely this trait that propels him to fulfil his duties on a daily basis.
Previously, explains Perit Borg, enforcement practices were taken on by different departments within MEPA, therefore the gathering of enforcement under one roof serves to centralise and streamline all disciplinary actions being taken by the Authority. The centralisation of enforcement efforts has also helped the Authority to take on a proactive stance when possible, rather than being reactive towards correcting illegalities. “Ultimately, it is very much thanks to the role of this Directorate that what MEPA decides upon, is translated into real form on the ground, and consequently MEPA can attain its policy goals,” explains Perit Borg.
“The increase in direct actions being taken on by the Directorate, which has garnered substantial media coverage, has positively led the public to self-disciplining itself, reducing the need of the Authority to have to resort to disciplinary action such as sanctioning or direct action. Regular media spots showing such exercises were purposely resorted to so as to encourage compliance by the general public itself,” explains Perit Borg.
He explains that a lot has been done over the past year, especially with regard to the consolidation of all the different measures concerning enforcement. “Now that we are managing enforcement in a centralised manner we have developed a stronger sense of synergy and co-ordination between the different offices, emphasizing that there is one enforcement process and that all involved are effectively pulling the same rope – namely ideally preventing illegal development and actions from happening, and the removal or cessation of same when unfortunately they do take place. The increased attention being given to compliance has also allowed us to nip problems in the bud, hence avoiding the actualisation of irreversible problems.”
Perit Borg explains that these developments are also bringing on a change in the staff’s mentality as they have a stronger sense of pride in that their hard work is now being recognised, which leads to better motivation. The establishment of Enforcement as a separate Directorate also leads to much stronger focus within the parent organization on specific tasks and needs related to enforcement.
A number of legal provisions will also come into force this coming year. Following a consultation process, Perit Borg’s office will seek to implement a legal notice which serves to impose a provisional daily fine on individuals who fail to remedy an offence. This disciplinary action will therefore increase efficiency and serve as a deterrent to discourage unlawful behaviour related to illegal developments.
In order to decrease negative impacts on people who, often unknowingly, ended up owning property that had some sort of illegality or other, often dating back a number of years, existing legal provisions that exempt such cases from enforcement action on certain pre-1992 illegal development, will be widened in scope. Furthermore, certain developments that hold specific forms of irregularities, can also start to be given certificates that allows for the provision of water and electricity services, and will be allowed to have permits issued for alterations and additions.
One of the main objectives for the coming year, Perit Borg explains will be the further integration of environment enforcement related issues under the Enforcement Directorate. “This year we will also merge the present development enforcement staff with an environment enforcement complement, which apart from helping consolidate the enforcement management arm, will also hopefully bring about an increase in uniformity and coherence,” explains Perit Borg. “This may prove to be no easy feat as the dynamics within the environment and development enforcement units may differ significantly due to the different permitting regimes in both, however this is where the challenge lies and I am confident that this exercise will ultimately lead to one stronger team with the same objectives“.
Perit Borg will also continue to work on strengthening enforcement practices, “direct action may not always be the right answer and we should therefore step up our level of criminal prosecution and introduce a stronger deterrence system, which will be implemented in coordination with our country’s court system”.