A public tender for the finishing and running of the first-ever public residential home for the elderly in Gozo, Dar San Guzepp, has been left “under evaluation” for more than a year, fueling concerns about what might be happening with the multi-million project begun as long as eight years ago.
Industry insiders say this is particularly worrying given that six months ago Finance Minister Clyde Caruana indicated that the decision about this lucrative tender was just days away.
In a reply to PN MP Chris Said about the tender, which closed in September 2020, the finance minister said the evaluation board’s report was passed on to the Department of Contracts – which takes the final decision – in mid-April 2021.
However, The Shift is informed that, six months after Caruana’s declaration, the tender has not been awarded yet and the project – started in 2013 – is still in embryonic form.
In the meantime, the government is being forced to ‘buy beds’ in private facilities to manage the crisis of elderly Gozitans needing residential care, while millions of euros have already been ‘thrown away’ on its own, abandoned project.
Investigations by The Shift show that four bids were made in response to the July 2020 tender for the ‘finishing, furnishing, managing, maintaining, and transferring back” of Dar San Guzepp in Ghajnsielem.
The most expensive bid was of €38.2 million made by Prime Care Ltd – a company with limited experience in the sector which already runs St Elizabeth Home in Rabat, Malta. The lowest bid was an offer of €28.3 million by Golden Care Homes.
Care Malta – construction magnate’s Zaren Vassallo’s company and Gozo Healthcare JV, whose partners are still unknown, are also in the running with offers placed at €30 and €35.5 million respectively.
A project ‘built on sand’
The project, which is eight years late and has already cost taxpayers millions of euros, was the brainchild of former Gozo minister Anton Refalo.
Through a‘secret’ deal with the then Bishop of Gozo, now Cardinal, Mario Grech, Refalo announced in 2013 that the government had leased an old youth centre in Ghajnsielem, Dar San Guzepp, from the Church, to be turned into a home for the elderly.
Although this contract, paid out of taxpayers’ funds, was never published, despite various requests, The Shift is informed that it covers just 15 years during which time the church is being paid €60,000 a year.
This means that the property, with all the new infrastructure and improvements made, will have to revert to the church, lock, stock, and barrel, at the end of the 15-year period.
Works started immediately in 2014 with the building of a massive structure and various new floors for some 140 rooms. However, progress then stalled, and all works were halted shortly after the shell-form building was completed. No further work has been carried out on the site since then.
Despite several promises by the government, reiterated by Refalo’s successors in the Gozo Ministry, Justyne Caruana and Clint Camilleri, the site has lain idle, while more than eight years of the 15-year lease limit, negotiated between Refalo and the Gozitan cardinal, have been squandered.
Deal makes no sense
Industry sources told The Shift that the raw deal made by the government seems to be the main stumbling block of the project.
The government has already allowed more than half of the lease period to expire while paying the hefty annual lease cost to the Gozo Curia, which is causing the private sector to be wary; it doesn’t make sense to invest millions for just seven remaining years, they said.
“Through the waste of time by the government, the return on investment over this project does not make sense anymore and will mean a much higher price to be charged to the government making this home the most expensive on the islands,” one source said.
In this context, the sources said that the government is being pressured to re-negotiate a longer deal with the Curia before starting the final phase of the project.
However, according to people familiar with the issue, the Curia is resisting this effort and is requesting significant compensation in return for renegotiating the deal.