Economy Minister Silvio Schembri is refusing to disclose how much public land was allocated to Aquaculture Resources Ltd. (ARL), a conglomerate between Azzopardi Fisheries and Malta Fish Farming Limited, claiming he is precluded from doing so.
The land allocated in an “investment” by the government economic development agency Malta Enterprise and understood to form part of the Ħal Far industrial estate was given for the expansion of ARL’s processing plant at the same complex through the government industrial parks agency INDIS Malta.
Last week, The Shift reported how Schembri revealed the public land’s allocation in response to a parliamentary question. He claimed it was given following a “rigorous process”.
In response to a follow-up parliamentary question by opposition MP Mark Anthony Sammut, Schembri claimed the expansion was approved in October 2022 but that he was “precluded from providing additional information” about its size by law.
According to the Business Promotion Act, one of the laws constituting Malta Enterprise calls for “all documents and information relating to the matters contemplated by or pursuant to the provisions of the Act” to be treated as “secret and confidential.”
The act, drawn up in the late 80s, consequently has the effect of reducing transparency despite Malta Enterprise’s handing out of public funds, land or resources.
The Shift has reported how INDIS Malta, the industrial parks agency through which the Malta Enterprise land allocation ‘investment’ was meted out, had become a ‘mini constituency’ for former Lands Minister Silvio Schembri.
The situation has led to the blatant abuse of public property, according to sources who had spoken to The Shift. Matters are made worse by the secrecy required at law, precluding transparent public scrutiny of such ‘investments’.
ARL comprises companies belonging to Azzopardi Fisheries and Elbros’ Malta Fish Farming Ltd, both Labour Party donors. Lawyer Charlon Gouder, closely linked to the Labour Party, is the conglomerate’s CEO.
Gouder has served as former environment minister José Herrera’s private secretary, at the time, the fish farms regulator. He has landed phantom jobs on the government’s arts council and has served as disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat’s lawyer.
The allocation of the land by Malta Enterprise, whose mission is to attract foreign investment and promote existing businesses’ growth, also raises questions given the fish farm conglomerate comprises companies which have been long-established in the industry.
When contacted, Gouder directed questions to his email address. Asked about the conglomerate’s plans for expansion and the conditions under which the public land was granted, no answer was received at the time of publishing.
Aquaculture Resources Limited’s Ħal Far processing plant, opened in October 2022, was billed as a ‘solution’ to the persistent sea slime emanating from fish farms owned by the conglomerate’s companies.
Questions sent to Schembri and Malta Enterprise Chairman William Wait have similarly been left unanswered at the time of publication.