Millions in taxes are being paid for hundreds of tonnes of concrete produced through an illegal batching plant in Gozo and poured daily in a government project to construct a new €9 million public swimming pool and sports complex in Victoria, The Shift can reveal.
Pictures and footage of ongoing works on the Sports Complex in Gozo, placed online by Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri, unashamedly portray concrete ready-mix trucks belonging to Prax Ltd, the operator of the illegal batching plant in a government-owned quarry in Kercem. Ministers are now promoting infrastructure projects in full swing in the lead up to planned elections later in the year.
Investigations by The Shift show the same trucks being loaded with concrete from the illegal batching plant and driven to the project’s site in Victoria, pouring the concrete into the government project. Works on the renovation of the Sports Complex itself has also raised questions of abuse as the Gozo Minister shifted a renovation project to a complete dismantling of the facilities that received EU funding only a few years ago.
Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri and Prime Minister Robert Abela did not reply to The Shift’s questions asking for an explanation.
The Shift’s probe shows that while the prime minister keeps harping that “the institutions are working”, the same institutions have so far failed to control this blatant abuse for, at least, the last two years.
The Lands Authority, which owns the quarry in Kercem being used illegally by Joseph Portelli and his associates, as well as the Planning Authority and the police have not closed or sealed off the illegal concrete batching plant despite a number of reports.
Prax Ltd and the illegal batching plant
Prax Concrete Ltd – owned by Joseph Portelli and his long-time business partners Mark Agius known as Ta’ Dirjanu, and Daniel Refalo (the holder of a permit to rent deckchairs at Comino, turned developer) was formed in 2019, primarily to run the illegal batching plant.
Agius and Refalo’s names regularly appear on development applications hiding Joseph Portelli – the latest discovered by The Shift is a project for 125 flats near Ta’ Cenc cliffs.
In addition, a quarry at Qasam San Pawl, in Kercem, leased by the Lands Authority to third parties to be used specifically for quarrying, was taken over by the developer’s clan who started mounting an illegal second-hand batching plant imported from Sicily and transported on Gozo Channel vessels.
Despite media reports that the mounting of the illegal plant was ongoing, the Planning Authority closed both eyes and let the businessmen continue with the plant’s construction, while the Lands Authority failed to take any legal action for abuse of public property.
In June 2019, when the plant was fully functional and started producing concrete, the Planning Authority finally moved to issue an enforcement notice, charging Joseph Portelli a daily fine for the illegal plant.
At the same time, Mark Agius, on behalf of the businessmen, submitted a planning application, through architect Joseph Bondin, for the sanctioning of the plant.
The application has been left dormant while the batching plant continues operating, supplying a number of government projects in Gozo among other projects.
Daily fine capped
Until a few years ago, those ignoring enforcement notices were taken to court by the Planning Authority. This no longer happens.
No reports are filed to the police either so that the infringement is at least stopped, including sealing-off the illegal plant.
Instead, the Planning Authority imposes a €50 daily fine, which is capped at a maximum of €50,000 for the whole duration of the infringement.
Industry sources said this “ridiculous” action is a “government-sponsored sham” – an illegal plant as the one being run by Portelli makes thousands in profits every day.
Gozo Minister and illegal concrete
Last November, The Shift revealed that the government had assigned a tender of another €9 million to Prax Concrete Ltd (in a joint venture with Gatt Tarmac Ltd) to build a new road linking Rabat to Marsalforn.
Asked to explain how the company operating the illegal plant was given such a tender instead of being blacklisted and action taken against it, the Gozo Minister shifted responsibility onto the Department of Contracts.
Clint Camilleri told The Shift that his Ministry will ensure that the raw material used in the project, including concrete, is provided by authorised sources.”
No further assurances that the Minister would keep his word.