European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is set to visit Malta on Friday but has been warned not to fall prey to propaganda from the Maltese government after a trip to a hastily patched-up but still unfinished primary school was announced.
Von der Leyen is set to touch down in Malta on Friday for the MED9 meeting of Southern European EU member states. During her visit, she will be whisked away to neighbouring Gozo to visit the supposedly recently refurbished Nadur Primary School.
Independent MEP candidate Arnold Cassola sent an open letter to von der Leyen on Thursday, warning her not to be used for public relations purposes or to trick the Maltese people.
“The works are far from ready, and everything is just a PR show, utilising your presence in Malta,” Cassola wrote.
Photos accompanying the open letter show that many of the school’s rooms are unfinished, missing doors and windows, with floors covered in debris and boxes of building materials in the corridors.
Another image shows scaffolding still in place around parts of the exterior and rubbish discarded on the ground.
The extensive refurbishment of the school was first announced in July 2021, with works set to start in the coming months and be completed within one year. Initially, students were to be relocated from the school while work was carried out, but this raised concerns from parents over the impact on their education.
Parents told The Times the Ministry threatened them that if they continued to oppose the plans, the Ministry would simply drop it and refurbish another school.
Then, in January 2023, after 18 months of delays and criticism from the opposition, it was announced the project would commence without students having to vacate. They would simply be shunted from class to class as sections of the school were renovated and completed.
Minister for Gozo Clint Camilleri said, “By the end of the year, we will be giving back a school of the highest level.”
The project is being funded with European Recovery Funds worth almost €5 million, and Camilleri said, “We will be completing this educational project on time.”
While the end-of-year deadline is not yet up, the images clearly show that the school is not ready to be inspected, let alone visited by a high-level European official.
Furthermore, Cassola continued that the road outside of the school, which has been left in a state of disrepair for more than 30 years despite pleas from residents, was “patched up” on Thursday.
“The important thing is not to impress citizens but to impress you,” he said.
The politician said the government and von der Leyen would only tour the finished part of the school, not the parts shown in the photos.
When finished, the school is expected to benefit from a completely refurbished interior and exterior, including new open spaces, a dance studio, a music room, a library, a theatre studio and art classes. It will also facilitate better accessibility and be more energy efficient.
But for now, Cassola said that staff do not even have access to a private toilet, there no cupboards in classrooms, and the lift does not function.