Businessman Zaren Vassallo is set to be awarded a €30 million government tender to complete and run Gozo’s first public residential care home for the elderly. The home, Dar San Gużepp in Għajnsielem, has been promised for a decade but abandoned for years.
The latest and probably the last instalment in the ongoing saga saw the Court of Appeal quash a decision taken by the Public Contracts Review Board (PCRB) last summer and award the tender to Care Malta, part of the Vassallo Group.
Upholding an appeal against the PCRB’s decision, the Court decided the tender’s evaluation should go to Vassallo, as its competitor, Golden Care Homes Malta – a consortium comprising engineering company FM Core and Operations Holdings Ltd – did not manage to prove they had the financial clout required in the original call for tenders issued by the Gozo Ministry.
The final decision is now expected to be followed up with the signing of a contract for Care Malta can start on the considerable work required to finish the project – still in shell form – and begin running the new home.
The problem is that since the project the government initially announced in 2013 is based on a lease contract of just 15 years, it has only a five-year lifeline before the home’s owner, the Gozo Diocese, can reclaim possession of what will be a brand-new residence.
This results from a secret agreement between Minister Anton Refalo and the Head of the Gozo Curia at the time, now Cardinal Mario Grech, in which the Gozo Diocese leased the dilapidated former youth centre out to the government for 15 years at an annual fee of €100,000.
The project, which is to turn a former youth centre in Għajnsielem, known as Casa di San Giuseppe, into a 140-bed residential facility for the elderly, has become yet another scandal in Gozo.
Gozo Diocese will benefit from millions invested by taxpayers
Cardinal Grech negotiated that while the government was to invest millions in turning the property into a state-of-the-art home, the completed facility – all its contents included – would be returned to the Gozo Diocese lock, stock and barrel by 2028, in an unorthodox clause included in the deal.
But since the government wasted 10 years on the project, left abandoned when Refalo was ousted from the Gozo Ministry, taxpayers will now be investing another €30 million to complete the project and to have it administered by Care Malta for only 15 years, while the Gozo Diocese will reap all the benefits of the investment from public funds when the property is returned to it.
An investigation by the National Audit Office confirmed the scandal surrounding the project as revealed by The Shift – a 2016 side agreement was struck through which the Church could decide to prolong the lease for a further 20 years.
The agreement is one-sided. It will be up to the Gozo Diocese to decide how to proceed when the time comes.
The Gozo Diocese has already made a million euro in lease payments from the government, while the former youth centre is still in shell form and will require at least another year before opening its doors to its first residents.
Meanwhile, the Gozo Ministry continues to spend millions of euro a year to lease beds in private homes for the elderly, sprouting up all over Gozo.
Care Malta, which will be administrating Casa San Giuseppe, has also announced it intends to build a new private home for the elderly in Victoria but work on the project has not yet started.