Eight years after the announcement of the building of a new state-of-the-art courthouse in Gozo in Labour’s first budget presentation in 2013, the project is still no more than a paper plan.
With court work in Gozo currently at a complete standstill, as lawyers have put their foot down refusing to continue working in a medieval setting, while the justice minister continues to give lip service to their concerns, The Shift News can confirm that the long-awaited project to build a new courthouse won’t even start next year.
According to the budget estimates published earlier this week by Finance Minister Clyde Caruana, no funds were made available for the commencement of this project in 2022, while the third Labour Gozo Minister in eight years, Clint Camilleri, told Parliament that “consultation is still underway on this project”.
The government has already spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ euros in ‘studying’ the new Gozo courthouse project with geological investigations, designs and plans and a whole Planning Authority process which resulted in a green light for a new building in 2016.
However, since then, not a single stone has been put in place, while new plans and designs were commissioned in 2017 by then new Gozo Minister Justyne Caruana.
New courthouse project caught in political ‘friendly’ fire
The decision to build a new courthouse in Gozo has been on the agenda for years – the current building hosting the court forms part of the Cittadella, and has long been declared unfit for purpose.
The first plans to replace the courthouse with a new building were announced by the PN administration in 2008 when a planning development application was submitted.
However, little progress was made during that legislature, and the plans were revived again in 2013 as soon as Labour’s Anton Refalo took over the Gozo Ministry.
An official announcement was made in Edward Scicluna’s first budget speech in 2013 promising that a new €12 million courthouse would be built in Gozo during the following two years.
Dubbing the project was “the government’s priority for Gozo”, Anton Refalo unveiled designs for an iconic building which was to be constructed in Victoria’s Victory Square.
Tens of thousands of euros were spent on it, until in 2016 the PA finally approved the new building and tenders were issued so that the works could start.
Enter Justyne, exit Refalo and ‘his’ courthouse
Anton Refalo’s much vaunted iconic project was the first to fall under new Gozo Minister Justyne Caruana’s guillotine in 2017.
As soon as Refalo was ousted from the Gozo Ministry by disgraced Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, to be replaced by Justyne Caruana, tenders for the construction of the new courthouse were immediately cancelled and the project scrapped.
While Justyne Caruana never explained her decision, it is widely believed in Gozo that during her years at the helm of the island’s Ministry, she halted all the projects started by her predecessor and main political rival.
Expressing her wish for a cheaper and more central project, Minister Caruana said that the courthouse planned by Refalo could not be built because it would have to be constructed on clay foundations.
After conducting a ‘consultation exercise’, Justyne Caruana instead came out with a fresh proposal of her own, with a new design and a new site – this time in the industrial estate of Xewkija.
Once again, this involved dishing out tens of thousands of euros in direct orders for new studies, designs and plans to Caruana’s ‘friends.’
Since then, no progress has been ever made and the court project remains just a plan.
In 2020, shortly after Robert Abela replaced Joseph Muscat, Caruana was forced to resign following serious revelations about her then husband’s (Deputy Police Commissioner Silvio Valletta) alleged collusion with Yorgen Fenech – accused of plotting the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Clint Camilleri, who was appointed as Gozo Minister by Robert Abela in 2020, has failed to provide any further information on the progress of the Gozo court project and has only ever referred to it with his stock-reply to various parliamentary questions that “the process of consultation is still ongoing”.