The Malta Independent 21 February 2019, Thursday

TMID Editorial: White Rocks and Corinthia - Full transparency required

Thursday, 7 February 2019, 11:27 Last update: about 13 days ago

On Sunday this newsroom reported that the controversial White Rocks project is far from settled – in fact the government and the consortium chosen to develop the area into a mixed-use project are not agreeing on the price.

The government promised this project almost six years ago yet nothing has materialised so far, raising the serious prospect that this will be another white elephant. The Labour Party had derided the PN over its failure to attract investment to the area but now risks meeting the same fate.

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The Malta Independent on Sunday reported the government has valued the area in question at around €120 million, but the White Rocks Development Consortium is only offering to pay €25 million – almost a fifth of the real value.

The group had in the past pointed out that, apart from the premium it would be paying for the land it would also be investing millions in the actual project and the surrounding infrastructure.

It is very clear that the government cannot accept such a measly offer from the consortium, but on the other hand one can argue that the government has put itself in a weak position over its blunders at St George’s Bay.

It had already been harshly criticised over its deal with the db Group which, many say, has been given a prime piece of real estate for peanuts. But if that was bad, the deal that is being drawn up with Corinthia is much worse. The government has practically given the group a discount of over €700 million. Not only that, but it is also changing the conditions of the lease in such a way that makes the value of the land much higher.

Special projects Minister Konrad Mizzi argued a few days ago that the government would not make the Memorandum of Understanding public, at least not for the time being. But the Corinthia deal is so dodgy that the government should make the entire thing fully transparent – the public has a right to know what the government intends doing with a piece of land that is worth its weight in gold.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has said that the government is doing away with a controversial clause that would have allowed the developers to carry out land reclamation in the area. However, the government has so far said nothing about another equally controversial clause that says that the hotel group can sell parcels of land to third parties. This newspaper has already criticised this clause, saying that it effectively turns the deal into land speculation. We cannot have a situation where a private group gets a prime piece of real estate for peanuts and very favourable conditions and then starts selling off parts of that same land at much higher market prices.

Also worrying is that fact that the construction of the project will be spread over 25 years, which will spell a nightmare for residents in the area who have to put up with constant construction for decades – not just this one but many others too.

For all these reasons the government must exercise full transparency on both projects.

Indeed, full transparency must, once and for all become the order of the day. We, the people have a right to know how our assets are being disposed of, and right from the start, not after, when a big mess has been made and it is too late to back out.

 

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