The Malta Independent 26 February 2018, Monday

Resolutions

Alex Muscat Friday, 12 January 2018, 08:03 Last update: about 2 months ago

The beginning of January is normally the time to start making resolutions for the year ahead. We look back at what we think could have been done better during the previous year, and resolve to improve on that. The PN either does not believe in resolutions, or else, they believe that being even more negative and destructive than they were in 2017 will make them better.

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Unfortunately, the PN has not changed its behaviour. It is recycling the same negative attitude of the past by lashing out once again at major foreign direct investment projects; namely the American University and the hospitals public-private partnership. They want the Government to withdraw from these legal commitments. This was their position before the general election, and it still is. 

On the American University, the Opposition presented a motion in Parliament asking the Government to take the land back on the premise that the 4,000 students target had not been reached. The motion showed a lack of understanding of the public contract that Parliament had approved in that famous marathon session. It was either that or PN were simply trying to distort the facts. 

To be clear, the American University of Malta is moving ahead, according to plan, and abiding fully to the contract. Nonetheless, the Opposition wants us to throw the contract in the bin, forget what has been agreed to, stop the entire operation, and send away this investment. Now that would surely send a very good message out there to the queue of foreign investors eager to do business in Malta. What kind of country works hard to attract quality foreign investment, engages in discussions and negotiations that lead to a legal public contract, and then tries to breach it? Is this Adrian Delia’s new way of doing politics?

For the record, Parliament debated and approved the contract to be signed with Sadeen in December 2015. It was eventually signed in March 2016. By August 2016 Sadeen received the necessary planning permits to start construction works at Bormla. On 16th September of the same year they obtained University status from the National Commission for Further and Higher Education after a very rigorous process, and further due diligence from world renowned audit firm Price Waterhouse Coopers. On 11 September last year the AUM opened up its doors to its first students. This means that in less than one year they completed the works on part of Dock 1 in Bormla. They have also managed to attract students at a very early stage of the project. 

The PN wants us to believe that 4,000 students should have come all at once as soon as the project took off.  This has echoes of the 6,000 jobs that were supposed to be created at SmartCity. They also believe that Sadeen should have built the University with all five faculties and all amenities within months, and before getting all the planning permits. Again, this is exactly what happened with Manoel Island. The Opposition is judging the Government using its own yardstick. 

The reality is that Sadeen has a maximum of 24 months to obtain the required building and operational permits and 73 months to complete the project. Given these timeframes, the project should be entirely finished by April 2024, with the contract providing for a grace period of another year. From there on AUM has four years to bring in all the 4,000 students, meaning that the University is expected to be fully operational by 2028. It is envisaged that, once in full swing, the University will inject more than €80 million into our economy each year. This means a 1 percent growth in our GDP yearly from this project alone. For some reason the PN is doing itxs utmost to prevent this from happening.

Sadeen is contractually bound to use the land assigned to it for educational purposes only. They cannot change this, nor even the Government, since the concession was granted by Parliament. All the speculation that Sadeen will use the land assigned to it for other purposes that are not educational is pure hogwash. 

AUM and the hospitals public-private partnership are not the exception. The PN of Simon Busuttil was against the citizenship by investment programme, against Barts medical school, against the investment of Shangai Electric to save Enemalta, against the investment of Electrogas to lower energy rates and against the investment of Crane Currency. Adrian Delia had stated that the Opposition should be a constructive one, and not criticise for the sake of being critical. His Opposition is doing the contrary. All these projects have been initiated in the previous legislature, and Labour was very clear that if re-elected these projects would carry on as planned.

New Year resolutions come in many forms. Most people promise to change a bad habit. The first actions the PN took this year do not bode well. I am an optimist by nature, and had hoped that the new PN leadership would change its bad habits.  After all, we were promised a new way. It seems I was naive to believe that.

 

Alex Muscat is a Labour MP

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