The Malta Independent 6 December 2022, Tuesday
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AUM’s red carpet, Part 1: Government pledges students, schemes and ‘other assistance’

Neil Camilleri & Albert Galea Sunday, 17 July 2022, 07:00 Last update: about 6 months ago

• Government promised to create schemes to benefit Jordanian investors • OPM and AUM discussed use of Casino di Venezia, Rialto by AUM • Promises to help university with planning permits, residency visas for students • Castille took care of AUM’s damage control after ‘media attacks’ • Government pledged to intervene to help AUM reach promised student levels • Revolving doors: OPM official involved in deal moved to NCFHE, and later to AUM • AUM ‘not a bona fide institution’, sacked lecturer had told PM Muscat

A number of side agreements which the Muscat administration had signed with the owners of the American University of Malta Sadeen Group shed new light on how the government rolled out the red carpet for the failing institution.

The newly leaked documents, seen by The Malta Independent on Sunday, show how the government pledged to help the struggling university on everything from obtaining planning permits, to sending it students so that it would be able to reach its full capacity.

The documents also show that the government and AUM were discussing the possibility of the use of the Rialto building in Cospicua, which is owned by the Labour Party, and also the Casino di Venezia in Vittoriosa.

Furthermore, Castille was taking care of AUM’s damage control, even writing an ‘open letter’ for Sadeen to use in the face of ‘media attacks.’

Email correspondence show the close ties between Joseph Muscat, Keith Schembri and other OPM officials, Adrian Hillman, who was appointed by Muscat to sit on AUM’s board of trustees as the government’s representatives, and the Jordanian nationals behind the project.

AUM was in the news recently after the government filed a Parliamentary resolution to take back the land it had given to AUM in Zonqor in 2015. This came after the university failed to reach its student targets and after The Malta Independent on Sunday revealed that it was continuing to make heavy financial losses.

AUM has now been given a similarly sized tract of land at Smart City in Kalkara.

23 October 2015

Agreement 1 (addendum) – Government Selected Students

In this addendum, the government promised to help AUM reach full capacity if it struggled with student enrolment by selecting students itself to enrol in the University.

The addendum (to the original heads of agreement signed earlier in 2015) was signed by Education Minister Evarist Bartolo, Economy Minister Chris Cardona and AUM founder Hani Salah.

“If there is a shortfall in the full intake of more than 5% for a period of three academic years the government shall be entitled to designate a number of students to make up such full intake for each year that full intake is not reached.”

The agreement continues that Sadeen would charge the government for the tuition given to these Government Selected Students (GSS).

 

26 October 2015

Agreement 2 – More land for Sadeen

The following day, another side agreement was signed, this time by OPM Chief of Staff Keith Schembri and Hani Salah.

The government agreed to give AUM an additional area of 3,022 square metres at Zonqor.

“Government shall also facilitate and assist Sadeen to identify parcel/s of land, yet to be identified, having such area as to allow Sadeen to develop and build dormitories which can house a further 1,000 students,” the agreement reads.

This contract was published last week by Nationalist MP Karol Aquilina. It has already been made public, along with other leaked documents, by independent journalist Lizzie Eldridge, who had published a series of articles on the subject on Manuel Delia's blog.

18 February 2016

Agreement 3 – ‘Other assistance by government’

This third agreement was signed by Economy Minister Chris Cardona and Ahmad Hasan Naji Salah for AUM.

Once again, the government promised to assign GSS students if AUM did not reach full capacity “for three consecutive years counted from the lapse of the fourth year from Date of Completion.”

The government also promised to help in other ways.

“The government shall, subject to the Laws of Malta, assist, facilitate and expedite the processing of applications related to residence in Malta, entry visas for employees and students.”

In a section titled ‘Other assistance by government’, the agreement states that “government shall, to the extent permissible by the Laws of Malta, and within its powers as direct owner, cooperate and assist Sadeen in obtaining all necessary planning and other permits required for implementation of this project.”

“Government shall also assist Sadeen in any manner so that all necessary permits may be issued expeditiously according to the Laws of Malta and with minimum bureaucracy and unnecessary delays.”

 

27 December 2018

Agreement 4 - A Christmas present

Despite its tumultuous start, the government was still intent on helping AUM succeed. The fourth agreement was drafted and signed by Chris Cardona and sent to Hani Salah for his signature.

“The government reaffirms its intention to develop and implement by not later than the 30th June 2019, such new schemes and incentives which result in an immediate and direct benefit to Sadeen Education Investment Limited of a minimum of €2.5m and a maximum of €3m.”

This implies that the government was ready to create schemes and incentives which were tailor made for Sadeen to benefit from.

 

Why the confidentiality clauses? – Rebekah Cilia

Some of the abovementioned agreements were highlighted in Parliament last week by Nationalist MP Rebekah Cilia, who said that AUM has only managed to attract some 200 students over the past 7 years.

Cilia noted that the OPM had stepped in to help AUM with its damage control. She also asked why all the agreements include confidentiality clauses.

The MP also asked how the government can be deemed credible when an OPM official who was on the AUM project team later moved to the NCFHE and then to AUM.


Read the full story, published in four parts:

AUM’s red carpet, Part 2: OPM helped university fight off ‘media attacks’

AUM’s red carpet, Part 3: OPM, university discussed Casino di Venezia, Rialto

AUM’s red carpet, Part 4: A warning to the PM, and an extreme case of revolving doors

 

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