The Gozo Museum project is still at the shell stage of construction, despite being slated to open two years ago and having exceeded its budget threefold, The Shift found.
The project, funded mainly by the European Union, was first announced in 2016, with construction starting in 2017. Yet, in 2023, it is still not finished, and work is progressing at a snail’s pace, with the government approving direct orders that go beyond the original budget and scope of the project.
Admitting the delay, Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri told parliament he still does not know when it will be finished but that it will be “during this legislature.”
The current legislature started last year and ends in 2027, over ten years since the museum project was first announced.
Pressed by Gozitan MP Chris Said to divulge how much money has been ploughed into the project so far, Camilleri said €4 million has already been spent, even though construction is not yet finished.
“There are still some snags to be finalised so that the museum’s shell construction is completed,” the minister, an architect by profession, said.
“Then works on the installation of utilities and finishing will start,” he added.
The €4 million spent on the partial works is four times more than envisaged in the initial tender for the completed project. The brainchild of Labour’s first minister for Gozo, Anton Refalo, the tender was given to Vella Brothers Ready Mix Ltd, better known in Gozo as Tal-Malla.
These are the same contractors working on the Prime Minister’s private guesthouse in Xewkija.
Camilleri did not provide any reasons for the significant inflation of the project’s cost.
As with most of Gozo’s projects, the ministry said it encountered problems in the construction area, mainly due to archaeological findings that required a departure from the original designs.
Gozitan projects under this administration have become notorious for long delays and budget overruns, costing taxpayers many millions of euros more than initially projected.
While the museum’s opening remains a distant unknown, in 2017, Refalo left his mark on the project.
Using his ministry’s funds, he spent some €371,000 to acquire a Mattia Preti painting from a Sotheby’s auction.
Refalo, a fine arts collector, is known to have several Pretis in his private collection.
Prime Minister Robert Abela’s cabinet minister, now responsible for agriculture, made headlines in 2022 after The Shift revealed he had a protected Victorian-era marker at his house.
Refalo later admitted that he had this marker in his possession but never explained how he acquired it.
Despite it being a criminal offence, Police Commissioner Angelo Gafa never pressed charges against the minister, and the stolen marker is still in his courtyard.