Malta’s government dished out a €700,000 direct order to an architectural firm for a project at the former ITS site that was never even carried out, one-time Projects Malta Deputy Chairperson William Wait has confirmed.
Wait revealed the massive fee during the public inquiry over the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. The board said that the €700,000 fee was equivalent to the annual budget for Projects Malta.
The payment was handed out to Maniera architects, owned by Colin Zammit, between July and December 2016. db was chosen as the preferred bidder in February 2016. The deal was finalised in February 2017.
Wait, who was in charge of administering the concession, revealed that the initial plans from Maniera involved an electricity consultancy aimed at improving the ITS college and adding a hotel to the site.
“The work was never carried out, but the payment was made,” Wait said.
Eventually, the plans were seemingly scrapped from db Group’s project, which includes a Hard Rock Hotel, residential units, and a commercial centre.
The deal itself has long been controversial, with lawyer Jason Azzopardi raising the issue that the National Audit Office valued the land at €67 million, which was roughly €11 million more than what was agreed between db and the government.
Wait revealed the deal was never brought before the contracts committee.
“You’ve got a site worth millions of euros, and you take it on yourself and not involve the contracts committee? Is it not a duty to make the contracts committee aware of what is happening?” Judge Emeritus Michael Mallia said.
Wait said since it was a concession it did not need to go before the contracts committee.
Wait also dismissed criticism from the NAO that the plans for residential units were not publicised by Projects Malta, insisting that the term “limited exposure” is subjective.
The db project has long faced criticism and allegations of political favouritism, with the development having to regularly go back to the drawing board over plans and even face court after a planning authority member was revealed to have a conflict of interest in the role.
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