30 August 2006

The Web
Business Today

Extent of real estate development and golf course in SmartCity undisclosed

James Debono

The government would not disclose the extent of real estate and golf development in the new SmartCity Malta project despite calls for transparency by MLP spokesperson Leo Brincat.
The ministry had refused to disclose this information when asked by sister newspaper MaltaToday which was the first to reveal that the hi-tech project could also include a real estate component as well as a golf course.
The government has already submitted a Project Development Statement to the Malta Environment and Planning Authority which includes plans related to the project.
Reacting to Brincat’s statement Austin Gatt’s Ministry claimed that any disclosures on the matter could imperil ongoing negotiations with TECOM, the Dubai-based company expected to fork out the required investment to turn the Ricasoli area into a hi-tech city, and thus would be against the national interest.
Countering government’s reaction, Brincat described the ministry’s response to his statement as “hysterical.”
“In principle we are in favour of the SmartCity project but we cannot see any reason why so much secrecy exists on this matter,” Brincat told Business Today.
The government has not denied that a golf course and real estate will be developed on the land earmarked for SmartCity.
The ministry is also insisting that a detailed explanation on the different components of the project was already given when a preliminary agreement with the Dubai investors was signed.
On that occasion no reference was made of real estate and golf course development, but the Ministry had also declared that the project will be accompanied by new state-of-the-art use of the environment of the site with the development of a hotel, a lodging area and other activities to help attract knowledge-based operations to the site.
The government had also announced that SmartCity@Malta, now renamed SmartCity Malta, will transform the current Ricasoli Industrial Estate into a state-of-the-art ICT and Media Park on the models of Dubai Internet City and Dubai Media City devised, owned and operated by TECOM Investments.
Dubai Internet City includes a real estate component located in a 24 floor tower known as Smart Heights. Set to be completed by 2008, the project promises to offer freehold office space equipped with the latest technological amenities.
One of Tecom’s parent companies, Dubai International Properties is involved in real estate development.
Debate in the Indian state of Kerala, another location identified by the Dubai investors for the creation of an IT city, has been characterised by claims that SmartCity is using IT as a pretext for real estate development on land handed out for free by the State government.
The newly-elected Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan referred to Dubai Internet City as a “a company which has no experience in IT and nothing but a mere real estate company.”
A memorandum of understanding for Kerala’s SmartCity was signed in 2005 when the Congress Party was still in power.
The government was to hand over an existing state-owned Infopark at the cost of EUR18 million or 136 acres of land at the rate EUR470,000 per acre and another 100 acres of land on a 99-year lease free of cost.
But according to this initial agreement if DIC failed to create the 33,000 new jobs in lieu of the 100 acres of land, the land was to be taken back.
The signing of a final agreement was postponed due to elections which resulted in a victory for the Communist party-led leftist democratic front captained by Achuthanandan.
Upon being elected Chief Minister Achuthanandan continued negotiations with Dubai Internet City despite his vociferous criticism of the deal from the opposition benches.
But the new chief minister has also made it clear that he will not be giving the Dubai investors any land for free.
DIC had also committed the previous government not to promote any other IT park directly or as a joint venture in the Kochi region. Achuthanandan has so far rejected this condition.
On 6 August the new Chief Minister met the Dubai investors telling them that it was not good business on the part of the State Government to allow any company to monopolise IT infrastructure in any part of Kerala.
But Achuthanandan also assured the representatives of Dubai Internet City (DIC) that his government was keen in bringing the Smart City project to fruition.


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