Economy Minister Silvio Schembri continues to refuse to provide parliament with standard information about the lease of a bathroom showroom in Zejtun for use as the headquarters of the Malta Business Registry (MBR), which cost taxpayers a staggering €31 million.
Described by the Auditor General, after an investigation, as a ‘prohibitive’ deal, the questionable lease contract has been withheld from parliament by Schembri, who has avoided replying to parliamentary questions on the subject since November. He has been asked to state how many square metres have been leased out through the €2 million a year deal and to table the related contract.
While he insists that the 15-year lease contract is “commercially sensitive,” despite the fact that it’s being funded by taxpayers, Schembri refuses to share any details of the area of the lease the MBR is paying for.
Following up on four identical and consecutive questions from former PN MP Joe Ellis, asking simply for the size of the lease in square metres – to which Schembri repeatedly replied that “the information was still being gathered” – PN transport spokesman Ryan Callus has now asked the minister whether he has been able to gather the elusive information.
Surprisingly, seven months after promising parliament he would provide it, Silvio Schembri was still unable to give a reply, instead referring to a previous unrelated answer he gave last year.
Both Schembri’s ministry, as well as the MBR itself, have turned down various FOI requests made by The Shift for a copy of the lease contract. The issue is now being investigated by the Data Protection Commissioner as The Shift is insisting that the public has a right to be given this information.
The Shift has previously reported that when answering a question on the lease contract, Schembri had provided information to parliament that was different to that revealed by the Audit Office.
Schembri had told parliament that the lease was costing taxpayers under €500,000 a year, but the Auditor General found that the real true sum was four times as much.
It was found that apart from the €26 million that taxpayers will be forking out for the next 15 years in rent, the MBR also paid more than €5 million for the building to be converted into luxury offices.
During the last elections, the Luqa MP was one of the highest electoral campaign spenders in his bid to get elected from the two districts he contested.
His electoral expenses report to the Electoral Commission showed that he spent some €31,000, although a number of his activities were unaccounted for or priced significantly below market value.