The government has refused to publish details of public property given away through time-limited concessions after being asked through freedom of information requests from The Shift and questions tabled in parliament.
Residential property, commercial premises, and land owned by the state are often handed to private businesses or individuals by concession for a set period. In August, the government announced a new scheme to extend expired concessions by 50 years through a simple application.
The Shift asked the Lands Authority for a list of the properties with expired concessions that are now eligible for the extension.
Specifically, The Shift asked for a list of addresses, the current title holders, and the persons currently using the public property.
The Shift’s FOI was denied on the grounds the authority cannot provide such details, even on expired concessions, as it claimed it does not have the resources and it would “unreasonably divert the resources of the Lands Authority from its other operations”.
They added the request and information is “contrary to the public interest as it would have a substantial adverse effect on the ability of the government to manage the Maltese economy”.
Gozitan PN MP Chris Said asked Lands Authority Minister Silvio Schembri for a list of concessions given since Labour came into power in 2013, in just Gozo and Comino.
The Lands Authority minister asked him to “be more specific as the data requested would need a lot of resources and time to be collected.”
According to the minister, in the day and age of IT systems and digitalisation, “most of the requested information is still being done manually”.
The new scheme not only extends the concession by 50 years but removes the need for a new public tender and any form of competition.
Incidentally, Prime Minister Robert Abela could be one of the beneficiaries of the scheme issued by his own government.
Abela’s law firm uses government property next to the law courts in Valletta through a long-expired concession. Instead of returning the keys to the Lands Authority, as the law requires, it continues to be used.
Now, through the government scheme, Abela is eligible to hold onto the office for the next 50 years.