The government has spent tens of thousands of taxpayer euros on leasing a property it has failed to complete or use in Għajnsielem, Gozo. Works on the building – which was leased in 2013 and intended as the first residential home for the elderly in Gozo – have been left unfinished for many years, with no date set for when the facility will be ready to begin operating, an investigation by The Shift reveals.
In addition, the long stagnation on Dar San Gużepp project means the government has already lost half the duration of the lease. According to the unpublished 2013 contract, the entire project, including the complete new elderly facility, will have to be passed back to the original owner after the lapse of the secret 15-year agreement, sources familiar with the agreement told The Shift.
The Gozo Church, which owns the property, is on track to earn a substantial profit out of the arrangement: by the end of the lease in 2028, it will get back a state-of-the-art equipped 140-bed home for the elderly in place of the derelict building it handed over to the government.
Another disadvantageous deal for taxpayers
The project to transform the badly dilapidated property – a former Church youth hostel – into a government-run home for the elderly was announced in 2013 by then Gozo Minister Anton Refalo.
No details were ever published about the deal signed between Refalo’s Ministry and the Gozo Church, then headed by Bishop, now Cardinal, Mario Grech. However, works on the demolition of parts of the property and the building of a three-storey facility started in 2014 and were completed in shell form a year later.
Since then, works appear to have been abandoned and six years later, the building is still incomplete.
Despite repeated promises by Refalo’s two successors at the Gozo Ministry, Justyne Caruana and Clint Camilleri, the project remains at a stand-still, and the only progress made, the issue of a tender for the finishing of the shell building last year, also appears to have been stalled.
This despite the tender being dubbed as ‘urgent’ with very rigid timelines for those interested in finishing, equipping, and managing the residence. But instead of reaching a rapid conclusion, The Shift is informed, the tender’s adjudication process has been put on hold and, nine months after it closed, no results have yet been announced.
Tender reveals raw deal for bidders, too
Issued in July 2020, the tender called for interested companies to submit offers to ‘finish, furnish, equip, operate, manage and maintain’ Dar San Gużepp.
Four offers were received, with costs varying between €28 million and €38 million.
But the tender details reveal a fatal flaw in the project, the sources told The Shift. The documents specify that the duration of the finishing and management contract would cover just seven years.
After this period, the whole project will have to be returned to the owners of the property: the Gozo diocese.
This means that apart from receiving tens of thousands in annual leases for the property – with the exact value remaining a mystery – the Church will be returned a relatively new elderly’s residence, already up and running and fully equipped with costly modern facilities.
A project shrouded in mystery
While the government has turned down numerous calls from Opposition MPs to publish the agreement reached with the Church in 2013, a Freedom of Information request by The Shift was also turned down, with the government citing ‘commercial sensitivity’.
The Shift has put the issue to the Information and Data Protection Commissioner and reiterates its demand for total transparency and accountability on this deal, which involves millions of euros of public funds.
The Gozo Church has been equally opaque about the deal. In response to questions from The Shift, its spokesman replied, “the Church has no comment to make”.
Over the past eight years, the Gozo diocese has struck a series of property-leasing deals with the island’s Ministry, most of which happened under the radar and unannounced to the public.
The Church on Malta’s sister island owns vast amounts of property, most of it inherited from devout Roman Catholic testators and intended for the use of its mission and the common good.