The Malta Independent 3 December 2021, Friday

The University of Baksheesh

Daphne Caruana Galizia Thursday, 7 May 2015, 08:33 Last update: about 8 years ago

The government has rushed through a deal in which a huge parcel of public land, in an Outside Development Zone, has been signed away to a Middle Eastern building, contracting and hotel development company which operates extensively in Saudi Arabia. The company is called the Sadeen Group, and it has no links to education, still less higher education, but it does develop hotels and build under contract for clients.

The government has forced this deal through with no parliamentary scrutiny whatsoever, and with no indication that it understands its obligations of accountability to the public. The press, which has a duty of scrutiny on behalf of the public, has stood by and watched in a near-total daze, accepting the falsehoods and half-truths fed to it in titbits by a patronising government that doesn’t believe it has to explain itself at all.

What I find most shocking is that the government actually thought it could get away with falsehoods of that magnitude, insulting the electorate by selling it snake-oil and believing that nobody would question the snake-oil’s efficacy. And this even when the falsehoods were so obvious, the facts so easy to check without recourse to the government of Malta and its Department of No Communication.

The government has reached an agreement with an American university, the prime minister told us; see how clever we are. We are proud that Maltese students will be able to go to this prestigious university. It is an American university, an important one. We are doing business with Americans. Malta will be a hub of American investment and American education and everyone will benefit. Nobody – not the press and not the Opposition – challenged him to say which university this was.

Next thing we know, the government is signing a deal amid a great deal of pomp, with many people lined up behind the table for the photographs, none of whom were identified to the press. The people signing the deal were ministers Evarist Bartolo and Chris Cardona for the government of Malta, and a man between them, representing the other party, which wasn’t any kind of university at all, American or otherwise, but a construction and hotel development company called the Sadeen Group, which is owned by Middle Eastern businessmen, headquartered in Amman (Jordan) and a big operator in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The contract is between the Malta government and a Middle Easter construction company, but still the news headlines said ‘Government signs agreement with American university’. No university was mentioned during the press conference, no university is party to the deal, and there was no indication of how any existing university is going to be involved with the running of this university.

DePaul University of Chicago was mentioned in passing in a couple of newspaper articles up ahead, and two people from that university were at the press conference, having been flown in to stand alongside the prime minister behind the table at which the deal was signed. They were not given any contact with the press and they did not speak at the press conference. Nobody at that press conference had the initiative to ask who they were or ask them directly to explain exactly what their university’s involvement would be.

The print and broadcast media have been full of the strangest pieces of reportage in which something called ‘an American university’ or worse still, ‘the American University’ are referred to without any attempt being made to find out exactly what this American university is and what the relationship is going to be with the hotel development and construction company that is the actual signatory to the deal with the Malta government. 

In the end it wasn’t a journalist who picked up the phone and rang DePaul University in Chicago to ask some direct questions. To our shame, it was an academic at the University of Malta, Antoine Vella, who rang the communications office at DePaul University, introduced himself, and asked the questions which we journalists should have asked. He then sent the information in to my website. DePaul University is “emphatic”, he said, that it will not be involved with the running or administration of this proposed university in any way whatsoever. It will not be involved with teaching, with selection of teachers, with setting of standards or with accreditation. All it did was advise on the curriculum for different courses and now its job is done and it’s out of there. The university will not be permitted to use the DePaul name and it will not be allowed to suggest in any way that it has any connection whatever with DePaul University, because it does not.

There is no connection with America or with American investment or with an American university at all. The only reason the Malta government and the Middle Eastern construction company are calling it “an American university” is because it will have an American-inspired curriculum in certain subjects.

A prestigious university run by a Jordanian construction company? I don’t think so. The first thing they’ve got to tell us is who exactly is going to run that university because it’s not going to be a hotel development company that does it. It can’t.

The prime minister insults us all by saying that we should be glad that Maltese people will have the opportunity to go there. For a start, it is a fee-paying university and there are only a few mere places reserved for Maltese, presumably on a free scholarship basis. But most obviously, the University of Malta is far more prestigious. Anybody offered a choice between the University of Malta and a tacky fee-paying college – hardly university – operated as a business by a Middle Eastern construction company, and who takes the latter, will need his head examined. You can get into the best universities in the world at postgraduate level with a good first degree from the University of Malta. You won’t be able to do that with a piece of paper from the University of Baksheesh.



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