Private jets, helicopters and homelessness; we look back on 2018

With 2019 just around the corner, the Newsbook team is looking back at some of the stories which we’ve investigated over 2018.
These include human stories about homelessness, the work of Archbishop Scicluna , and more controversial ones about the use of private jets for public officials and the Gozo ‘missing’ helicopter saga.
The private jet, the Planning Authority and the invoice
With the Planning Authority expected to vote on the controversial db Group’s Pembroke development in September, issues of use of public funds arose when it was discovered that one of the Board Members, Jacqueline Gili was flown from Catania by private jet to Malta in order to attend the vote. Instead of paying for a regular flight through Air Malta at the cost of €210, the Planning Authority instead utilized the services of a private airline firm based in Switzerland called LunaJet.
This flight cost the Maltese taxpayers €8,750. According to the Transport and Infrastructure Minister, the request was a direct order and that PA’s CEO Johan Buttigieg did not need authorization for amounts below the financial limit of €10,000.   On the 26th September, the day following Newsbook.com.mt publishing news about the business jet hire, PA disclosed the invoice, numbered 13307. This was not actually published and Newsbook.com.mt has still not received a copy if it. The Ombudsman is currently  investigating the PA’s decision following Newsbook’s revelations.
Read more:
Illegal Dumping in Ta’ Qali
Newsbook.com.mt carried out a stake out, observing a illegal dumping at a site in Ta’ Qali. The Planning Authority acted on Newsbook’s information and sealed the site while the police said they were unaware of the activity. The dumping had been happening for several months over an area of around 10,000 sq.ms.  This also extended into large parts of the big factory, Southern Concrete Ltd.  It is understood that trucks deposited their waste and bulldozers would level the waste near the factory.
The police were contacted and it appears that they were unaware of the situation and it showed their ineffectiveness to act. In December, Newsbook reported that according to eyewitnesses, police were later spotted at the site questioning drivers and trucks that were appearing at irregular hours.
After contacting the Environment Minister Josè Herrera, the Minister explained that the blame should be put on the creators of the waste. The manufacturers should pay for the cost of recycling and disposing of it. It is understood that the police did act and the premises had been sealed off but the question remains if their response has been enough.
Read more:
Archibishop Scicluna in Chile
Appointed as Pope Francis’ special envoy, Archbishop Scicluna travelled to Chile in June to provide a healing mission to the country. For decades there had been allegations of child abuse committed by members of the Catholic Church in Chile.
Working alongside Spanish Mgr Jordi Bertomeu, the Archbishop compiled a 2,300 page report detailing the many cases and cover ups of abuse committed by members of the church. The evidence exposed to the Pope that the scandal was much larger than previously predicted.
The visit also allowed the Archbishop to meet and discuss with survivors and those who were investigating the allegations. The event prompted the Pope to remove prominent members of the clergy.
Read more:
Archbishop’s ideas included in Synod document
Servizio Fotografico – Vatican Media
In October, it was revealed that Archbishop Charles Scicluna’s statements about love would included in the final document of the Synod of Bishops. Speaking on the Follow up programme on RTK 103FM, the Archbishop explained that his focus on love had featured prevalently in the document.  He said that this was a key part of talking with young people, first about love and then about sanctity.
Read more:
The Gozo Helicopter Saga
Back in August, Newsbook.com.mt reported on the death of a patient at Gozo General Hospital, and the lack of a helicopter service to send the patient to Malta for treatment. Health Minister Chris Fearne launched an inquiry in the aftermath of the incident. In October, Opposition MP Chris Said referred to it as a ‘sham inquiry’ and a ‘cover up’ for the lack of a proper emergency helicopter service.
Newsbook.com.mt later found that the service, run by Steward Health Care, a US based private health care provider, was receiving €1.2m a year to operate the Emergency Air services.  In response to questions on the issue, it was gathered that the helicopter had been down for maintenance.
Then in early December, a second patient was rushed to Gozo Hospital with a condition that would normally be considered grounds for immediate medical evacuation. According to sources inside the hospital, the man was lucky to arrive at Mater Dei Hospital to receive immediate surgery for a pacemaker. The helicopter was once again ‘down for maintenance’. In response, Steward Healthcare’s spokesperson maintained that the condition was not life threatening.
Read more:
“I spent nineteen days living in a public garden.”
In September, Newsbook.com.mt reported on the experiences of two men that were homeless in Malta, Luke and Mark, not their real names.
What the story presented was both the visibility of homelessness in the country, the reasons it happens and the impacts it has on a person’s mental and physical health. Luke in this case explained that his life was quite reasonable at first, a job that supported him. But suffering illness and the greed of his landlord to demand more money in rent, he ended up on the streets, finding food where he can.
Then there is Mark, a former drug addict trying to straighten out his life.  Through the interview Mark explains the savageness of life sleeping rough and stealing food. Often the theft led to him spending a night in jail.
Read more:
Reprogramming cells to fight cancer
Newsbook.com.mt spoke to Dr Joanna Black (née Galea-Lauri), a Maltese medical professional that is working on a new cancer treatment using immunotherapy, what is being called CAR-T therapy. According to her research, the intention is to use medicines that reprogram and re-inject patient’s cells that are already there to deal with pathogens, to target specific cancer cells. The project was approved in the US and is likely to enter the UK National Health Service.
Read more:
A Yoga Cave, a hotel?
An application had been made for a cave underneath the former Gozo Minister, Anton Refalo’s home to be developed. What it would be developed into remained a question. Refalo said he was planning to turn the cave initially into a wine cellar, then a place for Yoga and meditation. However, the planning application made to the Planning Authority showed it had actually been made in his wife’s name and it showed grand plans for a seven room hotel.
Read more:
A hotel for Dwejra
In the Summer, Newsbook.com.mt discovered that the Environment and Resource Authority had only received one proposal for the development of Dwejra and this included the construction of a hotel by a Gozitan developer, Joseph Portelli.
The international call for proposals was supposed to last from September 2017 until January 2018.  Portelli’s plans span a decade long period focused on a Public Private Partnership. The developer engaged negotiation over the development of a Tourist Interpretation and Attraction Area, Transport Interchange, Diving Centre, Museum, Sky Observation Centre and hotel. ERA had said at the time that the board was not in favour of the plans and the government would not proceed with the proposals.  Worst still, the Gozo Ministry had not been included in the consultation on the hotel proposed for the site.  Partit Demokratiku also demanded the ERA and Ambjent Malta stand up for the area saying that it has been abused before.
Read more:
So that’s our list for 2018. We’ll be back in the New Year, bringing you more stories to your attention from across the Maltese islands.