Instead of taking action over the misuse of public land by developer Joseph Portelli, INDIS Malta, the government agency responsible for overseeing the project in question, is allowing illegalities to continue while refusing to answer questions.
The original deal between the government and the Ta’ Maggi Industrial Park Gozo Ltd foresaw the construction of 76 garages on 12 tumoli of public land that would be rented out to small industrial manufacturers such as welders, mechanics and ironworkers.
But investigations by The Shift found that not only is construction not complete some seven years after it started, and no SME tenants have moved in, but some units are being used as warehouses by developer Joseph Portelli and his business associates, in breach of the deal’s conditions laid down by INDIS Malta.
Since The Shift’s report at the start of October, INDIS Malta has not taken action.
Irregular activities include the roof of one still-unfinished building being used as what appears to be a makeshift car park or scrap yard. Several cars and vans in various states of repair are visible in images posted online.
Seven years after construction started, the appearance of the unfinished building is also upsetting Gozitans, who, apart from criticising the government for letting Portelli take over public land, are fuming over its environmental impact.
The former Labour Party mayor of Xagħra, Christian Zammit, wrote on Facebook that the site is such a horror it “deserves a missile” from a nearby hill.
INDIS looks the other way
While the agency, led by Executive Chairman Jean Pierre Attard, is responsible for ensuring the project sticks to its original concept, all the irregularities have been ignored, and the situation has deteriorated.
The Shift asked Attard to explain the agency’s position on the misuse of the site and the illegal car park on the roof, including whether it has been approved.
He was also asked if the site has been subject to any monitoring inspections or whether legal action has been initiated against the original concessionaires regarding transferring its ownership to Portelli and his associates. The Shift also asked for information on the current state of the concession.
Attard ignored all questions, and no response was forthcoming by the time of publication.
Scandal and abuse
The deal between the government and the Ta’ Maggi Industrial Park Gozo Ltd was struck in 2014, shortly after Labour returned to power.
It was facilitated by former minister Chris Cardona, who was at the time responsible for Malta Industrial Parks (MIP), an agency later replaced by INDIS Malta.
According to the unprecedented deal, MIP, through direct order and without a tender, handed Francis Gauci, a businessman, the land with a 65-year concession, extendable to 99 years.
Under the concession terms, Gauci was obliged to build some 76 industrial garages and rent them out on long leases to small businesses and artisanal manufacturers.
But shortly after the concession was signed, Gauci, through his company, Ta’ Maggi Industrial Park Gozo Ltd, made an informal arrangement with Portelli to transfer the execution of the project to him.
Gauci declined to state whether this private side deal with government property also involved a monetary transaction.
Gauci has resigned from acting as his company’s director, and Maria Agius, the sister of Mark Agius, known as Ta’ Dirjanu and one of Portelli’s associates, has taken over Gauci’s leadership position.
The concession states that Gauci cannot transfer the ownership of the concession to anyone else without written consent from INDIS Malta. Also, all park tenants should be approved by INDIS Malta to ensure the project fulfils its initial purpose.
So far, none of the garages are being used by SMEs. Therefore, the project has not fulfilled its purpose.
Instead, the area has been turned into a storage place, mainly for construction materials of Portelli and his associates Mark Agius and Daniel Refalo.