A new state of the art campus for the Institute of Tourism Studies (ITS), announced by the government in 2015, remains no more than a plan, although architect Colin Zammit’s Maniera Group was paid as much as €700,000 from public coffers to produce the design, The Shift has learned.
The architect, selected via a direct order awarded by disgraced former minister Konrad Mizzi in 2016, was paid in full years ago, even though there isn’t any permit yet for the new campus which was supposed to be built at Smart City.
At time of this decision, Keith Schembri – shamed ex-chief of staff at the OPM – was also on the Board of Directors of Smart City, ostensibly to represent the government’s interests.
According to the original 2015 announcement, the campus was to include a 14-storey 4-star hotel, to serve as a training location for the 2,500 students which the new campus was intended to attract.
However, bar the disbursement of the €700,000 in fees paid from state coffers to Konrad Mizzi’s selected architect, the project has since stalled. The PA is not even considering any development application related to this government project.
The Shift is reliably informed that the project has been effectively abandoned by Robert Abela’s government and there are no tangible plans for the project, which according to Konrad Mizzi and his successor Edward Zammit Lewis, was expected to cost some €80 million.
In the presentation of the latest budget for 2022, no funds were earmarked for the project, confirming that the new ITS campus project appears to have shelved.
Finance Permanent Secretary takes no responsibility
The 2016 award of a €700,000 direct order to Zammit was approved by the board of directors of Projects Malta – at the time the vehicle used by Joseph Muscat and Konrad Mizzi for many controversial projects, such as the infamous hospitals deal – and given the green light by the Finance Ministry.
Asked by The Shift to state who should bear responsibility for such a waste of public funds on a now defunct project, Alfred Camilleri, the Finance Ministry Permanent Secretary and also a member of the Board of Directors of Projects Malta, put the blame on other government officials.
“Neither I, nor the Ministry of Finance have ever been involved, at any stage, in the process covering the consideration, approval and award of the contract in question,” Camilleri told The Shift.
“This contract was approved, independently, by the Department of Contracts after submissions by the then executive chairperson, William Wait, of Projects Malta and the endorsement of the then Permanent Secretary, Energy and Projects (Ronald Mizzi).
At the same time, although no work has been done on the project since 2015 and no budget has been earmarked by the Finance Minister in the latest budget, Alfred Camilleri continued to insist that the project is still active.
“The ITS project has definitely not been abandoned and is still being actively pursued by the appropriate authorities at a technical and financial level. The project is still managed by the Tourism Ministry who will undoubtedly be in a position to provide a more detailed report on the current status of the project,” Camilleri insisted.
Asked for an update on the project, both the Tourism Ministry and the ITS Executive Director Pierre Fenech – another Konrad Mizzi appointee – weren’t in a position to reply to The Shift’s questions.
The last time that the new ITS campus was mentioned by the government was three years ago, in 2018, when then Minister Konrad Mizzi had inaugurated a ‘temporary’ ITS campus at an old building in Luqa which used to serve as Air Malta’s headquarters. On the occasion, he had announced that the new campus at Smart City would open its doors in October 2022.
How was Colin Zammit selected?
Few details have emerged so far on how Colin Zammit – known among architects as having close links with the current administration – was given the lucrative deal, without facing any competition, and for which he earned €700,000 for just a plan.
Finance Ministry sources said that Zammit was an acquaintance of Konrad Mizzi and was ‘pushed’ for the job by his permanent secretary Ronald Mizzi.
The latter, who was involved in every ‘suspicious’ deal concerning Konrad Mizzi, including the sale of the former ITS site in Pembroke, the 30-year concession on the hospitals, the new gas power plant contract and many others, has been retained by Robert Abela as Permanent Secretary at the Tourism Ministry, despite his dismal record.
Apart from being an architect, Zammit is also involved directly in development projects through a company called Maniera Group Developments Ltd. He is also renowned in the Planning Authority as ‘a very busy’ architect with tens of development permits approved every year – mainly apartment blocks located all over the island.
Featured photo: Disgraced former minister Konrad Mizzi with his permanent secretary Ronald Mizzi