Education Minister Clifton Grima is once again being cagey about information about the operations of the American University of Malta, this time stonewalling any form of questioning about the controversial educational institution’s operations.
Grima snubbed Opposition MP Graziella Attard Previ in Parliament when she asked him to say how many students are currently registered at the AUM by “informing” her that she is “asking about a private entity”.
The truth is that the size of the student body is a matter of national interest as it had been an essential aspect in the much-hyped investment’s sale to the public in 2015 when large parcels of prime public land at Cospicua’s Dock 1 and Marsascala’s Żonqor Point were given to the Jordanian company for a pittance.
According to the terms of its licence, the AUM was to reach an intake of 1,200 students by its fourth year of operations. By last April 2022 it had not even reached 10% of that target.
According to a Malta Further and Higher Education Authority audit, by April 2022, the AUM had just 113 registered students.
The government recently removed the clause as part of a new contentious deal Prime Minister Robert Abela struck with the AUM, swapping public land in Zonqor Point with another property at Smart City for its new campus.
Through the deal, Jordanian construction magnate Hani Hasan Naji Salah was sold a large area of public seafront land for just €0.47c per square metre.
The Opposition has requested the Auditor General to investigate the deal, in which 30,000 square metres of public land at Smart City have been granted to Sadeen Education Investment Limited for the dismal price of 47c per square metre.
The Shift revealed the draft contract last June and how the swapping of public land the AUM had been given at Zonqor Point, Marsascala for land at Smart City included a catch that will mean millions in profit for the Jordanian Sadeen Education Investment Limited.
The original 2015 deed, through which the government passed 31,000 square metres of pristine land in Marsascala to the AUM on a temporary emphyteusis for 99 years, includes a clause that specifies that the Zonqor land “may not, under any circumstances, be converted to a perpetual emphyteusis”.
The government, however, overturned the condition and allowed Sadeen Education to convert the title from a temporary to a perpetual emphyteusis for just €0.47c per square metre.
The owner can now convert the newly acquired land as freehold for the ridiculous sum of €14,827. The new deed does not exclude the possibility of Sadeen eventually selling the land or using its buildings for other purposes such as tourism.