The Malta Independent 6 December 2021, Monday

TMIS Editorial: Another great year for the raiding of state assets

Sunday, 7 January 2018, 09:35 Last update: about 5 years ago

Last year turned out to have been yet another great year for the raiding of state assets by foreign business mercenaries who either have hoodwinked the government or have helped the government hoodwink the people.

To tell the truth, it is difficult as matters stand to say with certainty who has hoodwinked who, but the end result is the same: state assets are being stripped from the people through what appears to be a blueprint modus operandi that would not be accepted in any but the most far-flung of countries in the remotest of backwaters.

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And yet this government, a member state in a modern, democratic European Union has allowed this to happen time and time again. 

Public-Private-Partnerships can be a great thing. Yet in so many of the highly criticised deals this government has struck since 2013, the ‘public’ appears to be robbed, the ‘private’ appears to be making off with the loot, and the ‘partnership’ has left many out there thinking such PPPs have been no more than partnerships in crime.

First, we had the Delimara power station deal. This newspaper has reported extensively on how the lead developer of the project was a certain Gasol, a tiny company without a credible track record and which was ultimately controlled by a brass-plate company registered at Mossack Fonseca’s offices in the secretive jurisdiction of the Seychelles.

That company’s exact role in the consortium and in the project is still unknown to this day. The company exited the project as soon as the deal and its financing were arranged, specifically in the same week in July 2015 in which the financing package was finalised and signed. Nor is it known what liquidation Gasol pocketed from the disposal of its 30 per cent share on exiting the then taxpayer-guaranteed project. Several millions are believed to have been made. That company’s last press release on its website is in fact dated July 2015, and it refers to its pullout from the Malta project.

The country is now facing the prospect of another similar scenario with the suddenly-announced sale of Vital Global Healthcare’s concession it had been awarded by the government to run three state hospitals. 

Again, Vitals was a tiny, unknown company with absolutely no track record in healthcare, let alone in running state facilities. And again, the company is owned by persons unknown in the secretive jurisdiction of the British Virgin Islands, and that company, like Gasol, is exiting Malta by selling its concession after just 21 months of operations.

Moreover, like Gasol, the government appears to not be bothered about what it made from the deal. Nor does it appear to be concerned about who the beneficiaries of the deal are. Like the power station deal, the beneficiaries of the hospitals deal remain hidden in a shady jurisdiction’s secret corporate registry, and they will perhaps never be known save for a fortuitous Panama Papers style leak.

Now there is another situation brewing at the American University of Malta. It is hoped that the educational facility enjoys every possible success and that it is only suffering teething problems. However, one cannot but observe that the prime properties that have been handed over to a Jordanian developer for a relative pittance and for what has always appeared to have been a castle in the sky project; one that was, it has been argued, designed to fail.

While it is understood that the Jordanian developers of the AUM project are contractually bound to develop an educational institution, and that it cannot turn around and pawn off the dual developments at the scenic, seafront Zonqor Point and at Senglea’s historic Dock 1 as hotel or real estate developments, past experience has shown us to never discount any eventuality. The terms of a contract and its fine print can, after all, always be argued in court, especially when there are profits to be made.

Then there is the case of Crane Currency, which secured attractive subsidies and a foothold in the European Union, only to have turned around and sold out to another firm before the figurative ink had even dried on the contract. 

That deal led none other than former Prime Minister Alfred Sant to raise his eyebrows and question ‘what, exactly, is going on?’ Sant rightly pointed out how the deal Crane had finalised in Malta had driven its real value to a much higher level than that shown in its audited financial accounts.

As in the cases of Gasol and Vitals, the company appears to have entered into a deal, seen its value driven upwards by the attractive incentives offered by Malta, and sold out at a profit.

It appears that in all these deals, either the government has not done its homework, or it has done an awful lot of it.

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