A project to upgrade St John the Baptist Square in Xewkija, home of former Gozo Minister Justyne Caruana, ended up costing taxpayers double the original price tag.
Caruana, who lives in the locality, wanted to give her constituents a new look for their village square. The project was awarded to Carmel Portelli, by tender, to install new paving and embellish the area.
The designs were prepared by architect Frank Muscat who, during Caruana’s stay in office, was engaged on almost all the Gozo Ministry’s major projects through direct orders.
The project was budgeted at €554,000. Caruana spent additional funds on a lavish event to inaugurate the Square, complete with bands, fireworks and all.
Details recently tabled in parliament by Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri, who replaced Caruana following her resignation, showed the Xewkija Square project in fact cost more than €1 million – almost double the budget.
Camilleri, known to be a fierce political rival of Caruana, said his Ministry was constrained to get the approval for some €421,000 extra costs for the Xewkija project not envisaged in the original tender.
The additional expenses were related to “repetitive and additional works related to culverts and finishings,” Camilleri said.
Architects who spoke to The Shift described the overrun as an indication that “there is something very wrong in the way this project was originally designed and calculated.”
Architect Frank Muscat, who owns The Doric Studio, made a name for himself in Gozo since Caruana was appointed Gozo Minister by former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat in 2017, to replace Anton Refalo.
After working with Caruana on various projects during her stint as parliamentary secretary for the Ageing, the architect suddenly became a ‘permanent fixture’ in Caruana’s Gozo Ministry, sources said.
In 2019 alone, the last full year of Caruana as Gozo Minister, Frank Muscat was given a total of nine direct orders for some €100,000 on different projects. These varied from the Comino master plan, to the old people’s home Dar San Guzepp in Ghajnsielem (which remains closed) to the upgrading of roads and retrofitting projects at the Gozo Ministry.
Apart from Muscat, some architectural works were also diverted by direct order to architect William Lewis – the Labour Party’s Organising Secretary.
Last year, Lewis was paid tens of thousands of euro by direct order on works related to the Mgarr Harbour, Marsalforn road and ‘other’ services.
Lewis is also a regular beneficiary of direct orders from a number of other Ministries and government-related departments, particularly those related to road building.