The government, through Agenzija Support, has lost its eligibility to some €19 million in EU funds committed by Brussels in 2016 to develop a services hub for persons with special needs in Naxxar.
Known as Project Reach, the project was first announced by the government in 2015 and was to have been finished by the end of 2023.
But since initial excavations in 2019, the project has been left at a complete standstill with no actual construction taking place, which has led the EU to pull the plug on €19 million in European Regional Development Funds that were meant to finance 80% of the project.
The government has so far not explained why the project has not yet been carried out and what the future holds for it. It has only cited legal issues and the discovery of archaeological remains, but no progress on either front has been reported for years.
The Shift is informed that some €5 million has already been spent on the site’s excavation, which was done by Bonnici Brothers.
But nothing has happened since the end of 2020, with workers not turning up on site – just outside the Naxxar Trade Fair Grounds – and the multi-million-euro EU-funded project being left in ruins.
Although in reply to a recent Parliamentary Question from Opposition MP Graziella Galea Inclusion and Social Wellbeing Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli insisted the government is still committed to the project, she did not elaborate or give details on when work on the site would resume or be completed.
Nor does it seem that any tangible progress on the hub could be expected in 2023, since the finance minister dedicated only the measly sum of €300,000 for the project in the last budget.
The Shift is informed that since the government did not manage to stick to the project’s original plans, EU funds are now no longer available and local funds will have to be deployed if the project is to continue.
The project – the brainchild of former Naxxar-based Minister Michael Farrugia, who was not reappointed to Cabinet after the last elections – has been criticised by the Naxxar community, NGOs for disabled persons and the Opposition.
The argument is that its very concept is based on antiquated practices of segregating disabled persons instead of integrating them into the community at large.
Even current Agenzija Support CEO, former Labour MP Oliver Scicluna, was against the project.
The project’s plans comprised the construction of four separate apartment blocks with 78 residential units, a large car park, a 26-room hostel, a restaurant, retail units and a therapy centre.
Although the Planning Authority approved the development application in 2017, no progress has been made beyond the site’s initial excavation.