Gozo’s first ever public residential home for the elderly will have to wait longer, as one of the bidders in a multi-million public tender has asked for the revocation of the award due to claimed illegalities by the Department of Contracts. The home was supposed to open in 2013 but has been left abandoned for the past nine years.
Golden Care Homes Ltd, which posted the lowest bid (€28.3 million) to complete the residence and operate it for several years, objected to the government’s decision to award the lucrative contract to Zaren Vassallo’s Care Malta.
According to Golden Care, a joint venture between FM Core Ltd and Operations Holdings Ltd, Vassallo’s company did not satisfy the financial rules of the tender and should be disqualified.
The bidder is also disputing the way the evaluation committee decided on the award, claiming other irregularities including incorrect interpretation of procurement rules. According to the tender bids, issued almost two years ago and left dormant until the last election, Vassallo’s Care Malta posted the second lowest bid at €30 million.
The project goes back to 2013 when, following a ‘secret’ deal between then Gozo Minister Anton Refalo and Gozo Bishop (now Cardinal) Mario Grech, it was decided that an abandoned former youth centre in Ghajnsielem known as Dar San Guzepp would be leased to the government for conversion into a 140-bed residential home for the elderly.
Both the Government and the Gozo Curia have always refused to provide details on the taxpayer funded deal and declined to publish the contract. However, The Shift has revealed that the deal was for just 15 years, netting the church €60,000 per year from state coffers.
Work started in 2014 and the shell structure was built, but everything came to a complete halt due to lack of funds and the building was left abandoned. In 2020 – seven years after the promised project – the Gozo Ministry finally issued a tender for finishing and managing the facility until the contract with the church lapses.
The public has already paid the church hundreds of thousands of euros for nothing and, when completed, the new home will return to the Curia after just a few years, with the public having financed the church’s private project.
Industry sources told The Shift now that an appeal has been filed, the project will be put on hold again for several months until the issue is decided by the Public Contracts Review Board (PCRB), and possibly by the Court of Appeal.
In the meantime, the government continues to pay the church €60,000 per year for the lease of the unused property. According to the unpublished contract with the government, the church will regain possession in 2028.