The State’s Gozo ferry company is planning to spend another €500,000 of taxpayer funds to address severe structural problems in a building it leased more than two years ago and never used.
In addition to issuing a tender estimated at a value of over €300,000 to convert the premises into offices, Gozo Channel was forced to issue a new emergency direct order, costing taxpayers €150,000, so insert concrete piles beneath the former Ta’ Miema supermarket, to reinforce and stabilise the building, among other repairs needed.
The new expense, paid through public coffers, was issued through an emergency works contract (direct order), after the public entity appears to have failed to do the necessary checks before entering into a €100,000 annual lease contract with A&J Hili properties, to acquire the building and convert it into office space.
Sources at Gozo Channel told The Shift that while the company rushed to enter into a lease agreement in 2019, it left the place abandoned for at least two years until emergency works had to be carried out.
The direct order for “emergency civil works” was given to Road Construction – a Gozitan company that has been given repeated direct orders from different administrations during the past years.
“Instead of stopping the lease, or at least asking the proprietors to pay for the structural problems found at the premises, Gozo Channel decided that taxpayers are to foot the bill,” a senior company official told The Shift.
“The lack of respect for taxpayer funds is unbelievable and continues despite Gozo Channel being close to insolvency,” another commented.
Last January, The Shift revealed that the property which Gozo Channel leased was owned by former clients of Gozo Channel Chairman Joe Cordina.
The public company’s Chair – a former Labour mayor and an accountant by profession – admitted when confronted by The Shift that the property was owned by his private clients.
Yet he played down any conflict of interest, stating that the owners of Ta’ Miema had stopped using his services in 2016 and that he had nothing to do with the decision to choose their premises for Gozo Channel.
The state entity, always considered to be a political employment agency for hundreds of Gozitans, has increased its wage bill substantially during the past years, as dozens of new workers were added to its books.
Apart from the direct employment of staff, the company led by Cordina started farming out many of its needs, from seamen to cleaning and security personnel, indirectly employing more people paid by taxpayers.
The company has registered millions in accumulating debts during the past years, with the government earmarking a record €10 million in subsidies to keep the company afloat this year.
The adjudication process on the latest tender to convert the premises into offices is still ongoing.