Taxpayers are set to pay some €600,000 for the restoration of the Knights-era Selmun Palace in Mellieha despite already announced plans for the historic building to be turned into a commercial entity by the private sector.
The government issued a tender to commence restoration works on the exterior and some internal parts of the palace, left abandoned for the past decade, even though this will be eventually passed on for private commercial use.
According to tender documents seen by The Shift, at least €600,000 will be dedicated to restoring the external facades, courtyard, and rooftop area.
The reasoning behind using public funds for a site that will be taken over by a private company for commercial use is not known. It is also not known why the government did not make the company taking over the site responsible for its restoration rather than saving them money by doing the work themselves.
The price tag for the restoration project is considered very conservative, with restoration experts insisting that the final costs will be much higher than the estimates.
In May 2022, after years of promises, Prime Minister Robert Abela told Parliament that the government had finally decided to issue a Request for Proposals for the privatisation of Selmun and that this would be out “in a few weeks.”
However, nothing has happened since then, and privatisation was never kick-started.
The Shift reported how, in January 2023, the OPM had ordered the Lands Authority to prepare a valuation of the palace because of the privatisation process.
While this valuation, through a direct order to four different architects, was finalised by the Lands Authority, the privatisation process remained on the shelf.
It is not known what is keeping the government from executing its decision.
While the government had initially intended to offer the palace to be turned into a hotel, the Office of the Prime Minister’s (OPM) latest brief to the authority included the possibility that the building could also be used as a “lifestyle community village” opening the possibility for an old people’s home or a health-related business.
Questions sent to the OPM on when the Request for Proposals will be published remained unanswered.
Selmun Palace was used as an Air Malta hotel until 2011 when it closed. Since then, Air Malta has tried to sell it but didn’t find a buyer despite the low price tag of €8.4 million.
When, more recently, Air Malta was struggling financially, disgraced former minister Konrad Mizzi ‘sold’ the palace to the government in a bid to balance the now-defunct airline’s books.
Despite the ‘false’ transaction, the then Air Malta auditors still gave their green light.