Editorial | A win-win situation for all

he public must not be short-changed, while investors must be given the opportunity to grow their projects


Government’s renegotiation of land lease agreements with Sadeen Investments, over its American University of Malta, and Smart City is a welcome development.

These two projects have been cause for controversy over the years, failing to live up to contractual obligations and falling short of the promised employment opportunities.

Smart City was conceived in 2007 when Tecom Investments, which had bought government’s shares in Maltacom, was roped in to develop a knowledge city at Ricasoli instead of an industrial estate.

The project had to create thousands of high-end jobs by attracting knowledge-based investors to a village that comprised residential units, hotels, office blocks and commercial outlets.

However, beset by the main investor’s financial woes during the 2008 global financial crisis, Smart City did not live up to its contractual obligations with the government also failing to meet its own end of the bargain. The project today is a shadow of what was promised.

The AUM project was conceived in 2015 with the agreement finalised in 2016. However, it was beset from the start with controversy. Doubts had been raised about the adequacy of the Jordanian investor with no background in education and criticism was levelled over the Żonqor site in Marsaskala, which would have taken up a large portion of ODZ land.

AUM struggled to attract foreign students and the numbers today are anything but what had been promised.

Robert Abela’s government is now trying to put both these projects back on track in what, at face value, appears to be a win-win situation for all sides.

Government will get back the Żonqor site, which will allow for the expansion of the Inwadar National Park, putting paid to the ODZ controversy.

The government will also take back a site in Bormla from the AUM, committing itself to develop it into a public open space.

The transfer of the planned AUM campus from Żonqor to Smart City will hopefully give the investment a new spark to fulfil the original obligations.

In turn, the construction of a university campus at Smart City, along with the planned building of the Institute for Tourism Studies school will provide a new lease of life for Smart City.

A new condition included in the renegotiated Smart City contract obliges the company to invest in a primary and secondary school. This, along with the two tertiary education campuses, will create an educational ecosystem that could serve to attract foreign companies to the area.

The package tries to revive the AUM and Smart City investments, which is a good thing. Obviously, in arrangements like these the devil is in the detail of the actual contracts that will be signed.

Unfortunately, past experience – and these two projects are an example of this – has shown that noble ideals and lofty pledges do not always translate into reality.

This is why, MPs sitting on parliament’s National Audit Committee that will be scrutinising the deals must not only analyse the individual clauses in the agreements but be satisfied that the land valuations used to justify the swaps involved are solid.

The public must not be short-changed, while investors must be given the opportunity to grow their projects. Investments like these are more than welcome at a time of economic recovery, which is why the Abela government’s decision to take the bull by the horns and try and find a solution is commendable.

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