Economy Minister Silvio Schembri has confirmed that an industrial park in Xewkija, Gozo, intended to host small to medium-sized businesses, is still without a single tenant while failing to answer questions on action over the apparent misuse of public land.
The Shift revealed in a series of articles that the park, built on public property, has been taken over by developer Joseph Portelli and his associates and is being used as a storage facility for their private construction business.
Nationalist Party MP Rebekah Borg asked Schembri, who oversees INDIS, the government agency responsible for industrial parks, how many SME tenants have been approved by INDIS and whether any legal action over possible concession infringements have been started.
The minister said that no tenants had been approved so far and did not reply on the start of any possible action against illegalities, thus inadvertently confirming The Shift’s reporting.
INDIS is chaired by Schembri’s canvasser, Jean Pierre Attard, and Portelli is a Labour Party donor who organised a fundraising dinner for Prime Minister Robert Abela shortly before the last elections.
The story of the industrial park goes back to 2014 when Schembri’s predecessor, Chris Cardona, signed an unprecedented deal between the government and the Ta’ Maggi Industrial Park Gozo Ltd.
Through a direct order, 12 tumuli of public land were handed over to the owner of Ta’ Maggi, Frans Gauci, in a 65-year concession. Under the terms of the deal, Gauci was to construct 76 garages, which would then be rented out to small industrial manufacturers such as welders, mechanics and ironworkers.
But soon after the deal was completed, Gauci transferred the site and concession to Portelli.
Almost a decade later, the project is still unfinished, no SMEs have moved in, and the roof of the large building constructed there is being used as a makeshift carpark.
The concession agreement clearly prohibited the use of the park for storage, and INDIS must approve every tenant to ensure the area is used for its original purposes. Yet, no action has been taken despite multiple apparent violations.
The site continues to be used for storage, parking cars and other vehicles, and as a sort of ‘workers hub’ by Portelli and his associates, Mark Agius, known as Ta’ Dirjanu and Daniel Refalo, a Comino beach bed concessionaire who branched out into construction through his association with Portelli.
In July, Gauci, the original concessionaire of the public land, resigned from the position of director of Ta’ Maggi Industrial Park Gozo Ltd.
Maria Agius, sister of Portelli’s associate, Mark, assumed control of the company as its sole director while remaining its main shareholder.
According to the INDIS concession, Gauci is prohibited from selling his concession to Portelli or anyone else without the government’s consent.
Despite the abuse of public land and the concession, Schembri’s words confirm that neither the government nor INDIS have started any legal action against the park’s inhabitants.