The Malta Independent 30 May 2020, Saturday

Government to rely on NAO conclusions, PM says, signalling that db Group project can go ahead

Tuesday, 28 April 2020, 16:16 Last update: about 1 month ago

Prime Minister Robert Abela told Parliament on Monday that the government will rely on the conclusions of an NAO report on the ITS site transfer deal, signalling that the controversial db Group project can go ahead.

The report, while raising questions about the regularity of the transfer process and pointing towards the behaviour of some state entities, found that the price being paid by the db Group for its downscaled project is in line with market values.


The db Group had welcomed the report, saying that, "no allegations of whatsoever nature are levelled against the Group in its dealings with the Government appointed negotiation team."


Konrad Mizzi failed to attend meetings

Replying to a Parliamentary Question by PN MP Jason Azzopardi, Prime Minister Robert Abela also confirmed that former Minister Konrad Mizzi had not met with the NAO team. He told Azzopardi that he had learnt this fact from the report itself.

The NAO report says, in fact, that it was of "grave concern that the Minister for Tourism (Mizzi) failed to attend a meeting with this Office despite numerous attempts made."

Abela said that, despite this fact, the NAO was still able to draw up the report, which had conculded that,"the approach adopted in establishing this value was well-reasoned and sound in terms of the methodology adopted, which factors contributed to the safeguarding of Government's interests in securing a fairer return for the site."

The NAO also found that the transfer of the site "adhered to the provisions stipulated in the Disposal of Government Land Act," Abela noted.


Ministries assigned responsibility to each other

While clearing the role of the db Group, the NAO raised questions about the regularity of the transfer process, saying that it had been unable to establish which ministry had taken the decision to dispose of the site, with the Office of the Prime Minister and the Tourism Ministry assigning responsibility to the other.

It also found that Projects Malta had intentionally classified the transfer as a concession but failed to obtain the authorisation of the Department of Contracts prior to the publication of the RfP.

It also opined that, "the decision to dispose of the site was inappropriately prioritised over the relocation of the ITS, when reason would dictate that the inverse should have happened."

The false sense of urgency that drove Government to dispose of the site, despite the fact that no alternative premises had yet been secured for the ITS and that the development masterplan for the area had not yet been set, was of concern, the NAO said.

The project has angered residents and NGOs, who say it will cause "irreparable" damage to their quality of life.

Permits approved by the PA in 2018 were declared null and void by the courts last year, after it emerged that former PA board member Matthew Pace had a conflict of interest because of his involvement in real estate when he voted on the project. The court case had been instituted by a number of NGOs.

New plans for the €300 million project, which will include a 37-storey residential tower, a hotel and retail facilities were submitted by the Group the following month.

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