The government has issued a €3.5 million tender for architectural services despite having already awarded a €700,000 direct order in 2016 to an architect for the same purpose.
Last June, in a bid to revive plans to build an extensive new campus for the Institute of Tourism Studies (ITS) at Smart City, the government issued a call through the Department of Contracts.
The call was for the interior design and project management needed for the construction of a new nine-storey ITS campus, which would include a hotel as well as the provision of services that were already covered in a €700,000 direct order issued by disgraced former Minister Konrad Mizzi in 2016.
The new tender has yet to be awarded. It is unclear how the value of €3.5 million was reached. The Planning Authority still has to discuss and issue a development permit for the project.
Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo did not reply to questions asking for explanations about the tender, and neither did he say what stage the project had reached (the campus was meant to be finished years ago).
Where did the money go?
In 2016, Projects Malta awarded a €700,000 direct order for the design and submission of plans for the new ITS project to Architect Colin Zammit of Maniera Group, an acquaintance of the former minister responsible for the entity, Konrad Mizzi.
A number of architects had questioned the direct order at the time, but the project never took off. After Maniera Group designed and submitted the plans to the Planning Authority in 2016, the project was put on the back burner.
Last year, The Shift sought an explanation about the direct order awarded to Colin Zammit in 2016.
The then Permanent Secretary for Finance Alfred Camilleri said that it was Projects Malta Chairman William Wait and Permanent Secretary Ronald Mizzi, assisting Konrad Mizzi at the time, who had insisted on issuing the direct order to Maniera Group.
The issue was even raised during the public inquiry on the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, where William Wait failed to clarify whether Konrad Mizzi had directed him to issue the €700,000 direct order or not.
A few weeks ago, after a separate deal to revise the supposed ICT city project was reached between the government and Smart City, the ITS project appears to be back on the cards and Colin Zammit presented fresh plans to the Planning Authority, which is now expected to issue its final recommendation.
The government is trying to use EU funds for the project, but this move has yet to be approved, due to possible state aid issues related to Smart City and ITS New Campus Ltd, an ITS commercial state entity established to coordinate the project.
Making way for a controversial development
Initially set in the heart of the tourism industry, the ITS had to move from Pembroke to make way for the DB Group City Centre Project, incorporating a hotel and a residential tower engulfing St George’s Bay.
This prime public property, with a market value of hundreds of millions, was passed on to entrepreneur Silvio Debono for only €15 million to be paid over seven years following a controversial tender managed by Konrad Mizzi and disgraced former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.
Following an investigation, the National Audit Office (NAO) raised several questions about the deal, including the procurement process and the closed-door negotiations that led to such favourable terms for the DB Group.
The DB Group project has not started. A Court decision on its controversial permit issued by the Planning Authority is expected shortly.