29 March 2006

The Web
Business Today

Smart City agreement signed, details not disclosed

Karl Schembri

Dubai-based Tecom Investments which Monday signed the heads of agreement with the Maltese government for the setting up of the Lm110 million Smart City project signalled its clear intentions to take over the Maltese state telecoms company, Maltacom.
Replying to questions at a press conference following the signing of the agreement, Tecom chairman and CEO Ahmad Bin Byat did not mince his words about the Dubai-based company’s intentions of acquiring the 60 per cent government shareholding of Maltacom plc as part of their strategy in Malta.
“Smart City and Maltacom are just different means but one project,” Bin Byat said in reply to a Business Today question. “Smart City needs advanced telecommunications, and it would not be successful without a strategic foundation in IT infrastructure.”
The Dubai group is also aspiring to buy the Tunisian telecoms company, Tunisie Telecom, for which it has been shortlisted for the acquisition of 35 per cent shareholding.
The initial agreement, which remains under wraps until IT minister Austin Gatt tables it in parliament in June, is expected to lead to the setting up of an internet and media city at the Ricasoli industrial estate which should employ some 5,600 people over more than a decade in the largest foreign direct investment to be undertaken at one go.
The timing of when the project should be finalised as well as by when the thousands should be fully employed remain unclear.
While previously Gatt claimed all the 5,600 should be employed within eight years, Monday he said they would be employed “over 12 to 15 years”.
Asked to clarify why the timeframe was almost doubled, Gatt said that if one looked at the year when the project will start and finish, the timeframe remained the same, although with the agreement kept private it is impossible to verify.
Bin Byat conceded that foreign IT experts as well as foreign construction companies may be needed for the project.
“Prices will dictate which direction we’ll be taking,” he said, referring to construction companies.
“Now that we have made our choice, the real work starts. Delivering Smart City will not be an easy task. It will require enormous commitment and effort from both sides. On the basis of the experience of the work we have done together to come this far, we think we can look forward to a successful and prosperous business relationship with Malta.”
Monday’s signature is just a preliminary agreement to negotiate further the details of the multi-million project, pending final approval from the Dubai group and the Maltese Cabinet and subject to conditions that remain unknown.
Bin Byat said the company is expected to start construction works on the internet and media city towards the end of summer, with the opening for business scheduled in 2008.
He said the Malta internet city will be the first in a series of investments to expand in the European and global markets.
On its part, the Government of Malta has agreed to make available the land in exchange of 9% equity in the investment, an annual ground rent and a return through the significant investment in the public spaces to be made by the company operating the project.
According to a ministry press release, the heads of agreement stipulates also that all public areas at Smart City – over a third of the footprint of the development – as well as the Ricasoli foreshore will remain entirely accessible to the public.

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