Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri has committed to pay €90,000 of taxpayers’ money to the Church in Gozo, through a direct order awarded to the Augustinian monks. The covert deal covers the ministry’s temporary use of part of the Order’s 600-year-old convent in St Augustine Square, Victoria.
Following last month’s revelations in The Shift that the monks had made an arrangement with the government to lease a section of their property to host some 50 ministry employees while renovation works are carried out at the ministry proper in St Francis Square, The Shift is now informed that the deal means the religious order will be paid €30,000 per annum for three years.
When The Shift first reported the pact a month ago, the government claimed that the relocation of part of the ministry to the convent was just a short term measure. Yet it seems the arrangement is already planned to last at least 36 months.
Ministry sources told The Shift that Camilleri, who lives close to the convent, personally insisted that officials should issue a direct order to his neighbour-monks, instead of publishing the standard competitive call for expressions of interest for the lease of premises. The demand was justified on the basis that it was required for ‘emergency’ works.
The Gozo Minister has ignored questions emailed by The Shift on 15 March.
Opposition MP Chris Said last week again raised several parliamentary questions about the deal, after his queries a month ago were ignored. In response, Camilleri said he would not publish the lease contract with the monks, citing “commercial sensitivity”.
The ministry has also turned down a request for the contract under the Freedom of Information Act, which The Shift is legally challenging.
The beneficiaries of this substantial direct order paid out of taxpayer funds, the Augustinian Order, also generate funds by offering low-cost accommodation to visitors, though it’s described by the monks as a retreat house.
The monastery, which was already extant in 1435, though believed by some researchers to date to as far back as 1260, was rebuilt and expanded twice in the 17th Century. It is currently occupied by just three monks.
Gozo Church and the Labour administration
This latest St Augustine convent deal between the monks and the government exposes a close connection between the two institutions which has flourished significantly since 2013.
During the past eight years, particularly when the Gozo diocese was under the spiritual leadership of Bishop, now Cardinal, Mario Grech, a number of significant agreements on the disposal of Church property were reached with the Gozo Ministry, mostly through direct orders.
Only a few weeks after Anton Refalo became the first ever Labour Party Gozo Minister in 2013, Cardinal Mario Grech gave his consent for a deal in which Dar San Gużepp – a historic building and land owned by the Church in Għajnsielem – was to be leased to the government and turned into an old people’s home.
Eight years on, although the government continues to pay the Gozo Curia an unknown annual sum for the lease, estimated to run into tens of thousands of euros, the old people’s home has yet to be established.
Both the government and the Curia have consistently rejected requests from The Shift to publish details of the lease contract, including the amount being paid by taxpayers and the duration of the agreement. They have also refused to explain what’s become of the planned old people’s home, which was meant to begin operating more than half a decade ago.
Collaboration between the government and the Gozo Curia on Church properties spread to other Gozitan villages, with several buildings in Fontana, Victoria, Xagħra, Għajnsielem, Kerċem and others – mostly left to the Church in wills by the faithful – being taken over by the government through unpublished lease contracts.
One example is the Għajnsielem parish hall, which was leased to the government for 10 years in May 2020 at a total cost of €120,000, to be used as a day centre for the elderly.
In Xagħra, an old religious centre was turned into a night shelter – Dar Ġesu Nazzarenu – financed by the Gozo Ministry. The ‘collaboration’ also comes with a direct order funded by taxpayers to a priest – Fr Anton Refalo Rapa – for the management of the same shelter.
None of these deals have been made public by the two institutions.
In recent months, the government has also agreed to fund various Church projects in many villages including the modernisation of the electricity system at the parish of San George in Victoria, as well as those of Fontana, Kerċem and Xagħra.