A new underpass being constructed as part of the still-unfinished Central Link project, next to the MFSA building in Mriehel, will see taxpayers forking out an extra €5 million, despite previous declarations by Transport Minister Ian Borg that the new development was not going to increase the project’s costs.
The main financial beneficiaries will be developers V&C Contractors and the Schembri Barbros Group, whose owners are known to be close to Minister Ian Borg. They are now set to be paid an extra €5 million over and above the almost €30 million they had originally quoted to win the project’s tender.
While the Central Link project has already been officially inaugurated by Prime Minister Robert Abela in a rushed public relations exercise, the project is far from being ready.
As work on the main project was ongoing for months, Infrastructure Malta suddenly decided to add an underpass to the already approved plans.
Last year, following the sudden announcement of an additional underpass, The Shift had reported that the new works had been given the green light by the Planning Authority in a separate development process.
At the time, industry sources had complained that this was another way of increasing the value of the work for the contractors who won the tender by submitting lower prices.
Minister Borg had quashed these concerns and told parliament that the decision to build a new underpass would not increase the costs of the project as it was going to be part of the same package in the original tender.
Yet, only a few months later, Minister Borg has changed his mind. While the completion of the underpass, which was planned to be finished this month, has now been postponed to at least next June, Infrastructure Malta confirmed that the new underpass will add €5 million to the project’s bill.
“The underpass will be 60 metres long and will cost €5 million,” a spokesman for Infrastructure Malta confirmed, contradicting what Minister Borg had told parliament.
Infrastructure Malta justified the delays, saying the project’s completion was rescheduled “since some of the excavation works necessitated major alterations to the existing junction’s lanes, with diversions to adjacent service rads, to be safely carried out.”
While the government has spent millions on the construction of new roads, mostly through direct orders, it has become common practice for tenders to be changed once the project starts, increasing the original cost of the project once it has already been assigned to a contractor.