A government project for an Olympic-size pool on a plot of land adjacent to the Gozo Sports Complex has inexplicably changed direction resulting in the recently renovated sports hall being dismantled, and with project costs expected to rise drastically.
A probe by The Shift shows that while the government had awarded a €9 million tender for the building of a Natatorium, the adjacent sports hall, renovated only a few years ago with the use of EU funds, has now been completely stripped and is being dug up as part of this ‘new’ project.
As works on the pool complex started a few weeks ago, the adjacent sports complex was closed and started being dismantled. Only a skeleton remains in place of what was the Gozo Sports Complex until a few weeks ago.
The complex’s ‘new’ roof, changed in 2012 through EU funds, and a €0.5 million new parquet floor completed four years ago, were stripped and thrown away, while the complex is now being excavated as part of the pool project.
Sources close to the ongoing works told The Shift that the original tender, issued by the government, did not include any work on the Sports Complex as the pool had to be built adjacent to the existing structure.
“Someone has now decided that the Sports Complex itself – the only such facility in Gozo – will be practically pulled down and form part of the pool project. One can only imagine how the €9 million original costs are going to spiral. This is outside the awarded tender’s scope and is most probably illegal,” the sources said.
So far, the Gozo Ministry, responsible for the project, is refusing to give details on what is going on and the sudden change of plans. Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri did not reply to questions sent by The Shift.
Camilleri was asked who took the decision to pull down the Sports Complex and whether this was included in the €9 million price tag of the original project.
Minister Camilleri is also refusing to explain why a new parquet floor, costing taxpayers some €0.5 million has been removed, and what increase in costs taxpayers will be facing for the project.
Industry sources told The Shift that the extensive change of plans is also expected to benefit the project’s contractors, a consortium made up of construction magnates Charles Polidano, known as Ic-Caqnu, and Joseph Portelli and his associates, Gozo’s largest property developers.
Polidano is meant to be precluded from participating in government projects due to an outstanding €40 million tax bill going back years. Yet, the law is largely overlooked.
Three Ministers, three different pool ideas
The new pool complex is still many months away from completion, but it already has a chequered history, reflecting the way the island has been run like each Minister’s personal fiefdom for years.
While the first application for the development of the site adjacent to the sports complex into a pool was made in 2008 and approved in 2011, Labour’s first Gozo Minister Anton Refalo was never given the funds by the Joseph Muscat administration to carry out this project. Instead, he had opted for a private public partnership and a request for proposals was issued and won by GNI Ltd.
Plans changed when Justyne Caruana replaced Refalo – the pool’s private developer wanted to change the plans and build a hotel on public land on top of the pool complex. While Caruana agreed, negotiations hit a wall and she then decided that the government would build the complex through taxpayer funds.
Following Caruana’s ousting from the Gozo Ministry earlier this year and the instalment of Gozo’s third Minister in seven years, the project finally took off last October.
Yet a few days after the diggers arrived, Clint Camilleri’s Ministry submitted a Dangerous Structure application to the Planning Authority to obtain a permit to also redevelop the Sports Complex. The Ministry argued that the structure of the recently renovated sports hall was suddenly “unsound” and had to be dismantled. The Planning Authority approved the permit.
In the meantime, Gozo sports enthusiasts have no replacement facilities on the island for many months to come. It is unclear whether some 50 full time government employees who normally manage the Sports Complex have been given other responsibilities while the sports hall is out of order.