Taxpayers will be forking out over €1.5 million for the government’s primary schools in Safi and Kirkop to be able to host some of their young student populations in temporary mobile classrooms, The Shift News is informed.
Sources at the education ministry have told The Shift that the two schools have run out of space in which to educate the localities’ students, due in particular to the localities’ population growth. The Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools’ only last-minute solution was to turn part of their space for sports facilities into mobile classrooms.
“While the FTS was supposed to be an entity building tomorrow’s schools, it has become a foundation for crisis management without any plan or vision,” one senior education officer told The Shift.
A tender for the supply of eight mobile classroom units for the Kirkop and Safi schools has already been processed and has been assigned to construction magnate Zaren Vassallo’s firm, Vassallo Builders, after the company submitted the lowest bid.
At the same time, a €200,000 direct order was issued to UNEC Ltd for the mobile classrooms that were used for years at the Zejtun secondary school, while two new storeys were being added to the building, to be transferred to the Safi primary school, which is bursting at the seams with new students.
Incidentally, the company awarded the direct order forms part of the Bonnici Group, whose managing director Gilbert Bonnici was in the property development business with Prime Minister Robert Abela until he was elected as Labour leader.
This is not the first time the FTS is resorting to the use of mobile classrooms on account of its lack of planning and inefficiencies.
The trend started under former education minister Evarist Bartolo, who, soon after Labour was returned to power, filled the FTS with canvassers and Labour activists. So much so that the foundation lost the efficiency it had once been known for when it was building a new school every year.
Instead, school building and improvement programmes fell severely behind schedule with claims of corruption. Such claims led to one of Bartolo’s chief canvassers, Edward Caruana, being accused in court of corruption and embezzlement from public funds that were supposed to have been used for school building programmes. The case is still ongoing.
The St Paul’s Bay primary school was the first to have experienced mobile classrooms when the construction of a new school in Qawra had been delayed for years. Originally planned for 2017, the school opened its doors in 2020 and is still without a compliance certificate to this day.
A few weeks ago, The Shift also reported how another new school the FTS was to build several years ago in Msida is still in the construction phase and parts of the new building had to be demolished after design stage structural defects became apparent. This debacle is expected to cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of euros.
The FTS, which falls under the political responsibility of Education Minister Clifton Grima, is currently being run by Neville Young, a Labour activist with little knowledge or experience in either the construction or education sectors.
According to FTS employees, Young has created a toxic working environment at the agency, leading to the resignation of most of the FTS’s most experienced staff members. This, in turn, is leading to further delays and the mismanagement of the government’s school-building programme.