Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo has made a massive U-turn for the two private beach operators at Comino’s Blue Lagoon by irregularly extending their concession for another year.
The minister, who faced massive protests last summer over the exploitation of one of Malta’s natural jewels and a tourist magnet, has reneged on his commitment to parliament that he would order a new public call for tenders to manage the concessions in an orderly fashion.
Bartolo instead suddenly announced the two present operators – businessmen known to be close to the Labour Party – have been given another extension for this summer.
The reasoning, according to Minister Bartolo, is that “the government needs time to conclude a long-term plan for the management of the Blue Lagoon”.
Minister Bartolo gave no time frame and only said that work is currently ongoing when asked in parliament by Opposition MP Albert Buttigieg to explain when the government is envisaging the conclusion and publication of the new management plan.
He also remained silent when pressed to confirm whether the plan would be concluded before summer.
This will be the third consecutive year in which the two operators – Daniel Refalo, a construction developer associated with Gozitan magnate Joseph Portelli and Mark Cutajar, the brother of Labour MEP Josianne Cutajar – have been given their questionable concession extensions.
In 2021 and 2022, Bartolo justified the irregular extensions by blaming the Covid-19 pandemic.
Through this latest ministerial decision, the two Gozitan businessmen will be making tens of thousands once again this summer by exploiting public land that was handed over to them without the proper Malta Tourism Authority processes being applied.
Refalo and Cutajar have been exploiting the area for several years and have turned their business into a massive uncontrolled racket by extending further into public areas and turning them into fully-fledged sun bed and deckchair businesses.
Although the authorities, including the police and the MTA, received hundreds of complaints, they turned a consistent blind eye toward the blatant exploitation.
Last November, after a summer of dissent and protests, Bartolo told parliament a new call for tenders was in its final stages and that it would be adjudicated before summer.
MTA sources told The Shift that Bartolo reversed the decision after direct instructions from the Office of the Prime Minister.
In a bid to soften the blow, Bartolo is now promising that the two operators will be reined in and that their areas of operations will be drastically reduced.
The Shift has lodged several freedom of information requests for the publication of the original concession contracts that drew to an end at least two years ago.
These have been turned down by both the Tourism Ministry and the Lands Authority, which cited “commercial sensitivity.”
What bare faced corruption. A Labour government that has fallen prisoner to profiteers and speculators.
You sound shocked.
At best – illegal financing of the Labour Party
at worse – graft by politicians & public officers , and convenient channel for money laundering
MTA, Lands, NAO, FIAU conveniently in deep coma where it suits them.
Bartolo the jellyfish, no backbone at all.
Another nail in the MLP coffin. the sooner these bas—ds are buried, the better.
Let’s face it, Clayton Bartolo is NOT the sharpest knife in the drawer
He sure knows how to butter his bread though…..
U b’min tridu taghddu z-zmien?!
From OPM. Well that explains it. A stupid decision that may end up with breaches of the peace.
And when it happens the blame rests with PM Abela.