Dozens of employees at the Gozo Ministry have started working from a 16th century retreat house in St Augustine Square in Victoria after the government decided to relocate various directorates following a direct order awarded to the Augustinian monks.
The Shift is informed that the premises, known as Kunvent Santu Wistin (which hosts three monks), has been transformed into fully-fledged offices serving as part of Clint Camilleri’s Ministry.
So far it is not yet known how long the premises will be used as a ministerial branch and how much money the Augustinian Province will receive for the lease of the premises.
The Shift is informed that negotiations with the monks were made on the orders of the Gozo Minister who also resides in the square where the retreat house is located.
Gozo Ministry spokesperson Leanne Bajada ignored questions on the matter when The Shift asked about the duration of the lease and the amount the public was paying.
Several parliamentary questions about this deal were also ignored, with the Gozo Minister promising to give details in some other parliamentary session.
Minister Camilleri only said that the lease of the premises is temporary, until a project concerning ‘retrofitting’ of the current building hosting the Gozo Ministry is completed.
Gozo Ministry employees who are working from the premises complained to The Shift that the 16th century building is not adequate to host offices and is bereft of basic facilities including lifts, fire escapes and parking facilities.
No Planning Authority permit has been sought by the monks to change the use of the premises to offices. The Planning Authority said the change of use did not require a permit as the use is only temporary, even though the duration of the lease was not specified.
It is also not yet known whether the Health and Safety Authority, controlled by Labour MP Manual Mallia, has sent its inspectors to confirm that the offices have all the safety features required by law.
The lease of such premises is not a one-off case. The Gozo Ministry is planning to spend tens of thousands more in annual leases to host other government departments in private premises.
Since January, another two private buildings in Victoria have been leased to host the offices of the government notary in Gozo, the public registry and the daycare centre. No details have been given so far on who owns these properties and the amounts taxpayers are forking out.
A public call for the lease of at least five other private properties is ongoing with the intention to move more ministerial directorates to leased buildings.
The government owns several vacant buildings in Gozo which can be easily converted into modern offices.