Questions are being raised over the legality of a 20-year extension the government has given the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM) for the lease of St John’s Cavalier in Valletta without going through the proper legal channels.
Foreign Minister Ian Borg announced last week that he signed a new deal with the Order – better known as the Knights of Malta or the Order of St John – for the imposing military fortification built by the Knights near the entrance to Valletta to continue to be used as its embassy to Malta up to 2037.
The 99-year lease, which drew to an end in 2017, has now been renewed for a further 20 years.
Borg, however, is not answering questions about how the extension was determined and agreed upon without a parliamentary resolution.
The minister is also refusing to make the deal’s details public or explain how much the Order will be paying to continue leasing the fortification.
Maltese law dictates that the government cannot transfer public property to third parties, whoever they may be, without either a public call or a special parliamentary resolution.
This is also the case when it comes to deals with foreign governments, including recent agreements such as that with the Chinese government for the large plot of public land in Pembroke for its new enormous new embassy.
Research conducted by The Shift shows that although the lease for St John’s Cavalier elapsed in 2017, the Order has been occupying the public property without a contract and the government has not tabled a resolution as required by law to extend the lease.
Sources close to the Lands Authority, which administers public property, also confirmed that the lease’s extension came as a surprise.
“No one will be objecting to the Knights being given the property to use as their embassy. However, the law has to be followed and the government needs to explain,” the sources said. “This is important even for the Order itself to have legal certainty.”
The Cavalier was built in the 16th century and forms part of St John’s Bastion.
A total of nine similar cavaliers had been planned but the only other one built was St James Cavalier next to Castille, which has been turned into a centre for creativity and the arts.
The extension agreement on the use of St John’s Cavalier was signed between Minister Ian Borg and Fra John Dunlap, the recently-elected new Grand Master of the Order.