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Updated: No immediate solution to finding new premises for Valletta council

The Valletta council had set eyes on the Main Guard in St George's Square. Photo: Pierre Sammut, DOI

The Valletta council had set eyes on the Main Guard in St George's Square. Photo: Pierre Sammut, DOI

(Adds remarks by shadow minister Jason Azzopardi during debate)

There is no immediate solution to new premises for the Valletta council since this was insisting on a central place that would be close to residents, Local Government Minister Owen Bonnici said this evening.

Replying to Parliamentary questions by Nationalist MPs David Agius and Claudio Grech, the minister said mayor Alexiei Dingli had laid down a number of conditions to new premises including that these should be in the centre of the city and close to residents.

So if asked whether he was interested in a place close to St Elmo, he would say no thank you but St Elmo was not close to residents, so the difficulty was more compound.

The mayor, Dr Bonnici said had set his eyes on the Main Guard in St George Square, but this was currently occupied in part by the Attorney General’s offices.

Mr Grech pointed out that the AG had already been occupying the Main Guard when the government had signed a lease contract with the local council. He said he personally felt that Fort St Elmo, which had been turned down by the mayor, was more practical because there were more residents in the lower parts of the city.

Dr Bonnici pointed out that AG had to eventually be moved for the Presidential palace to be returned to its formal glory. But it did not make sense for this to move to the Justice Ministry property in Strait Street, which was earmarked for cultural activities.

PREVIOUS GOVERNMENT PLANNED TO MOVE AG TO FORMER HSBC OFFICES

But speaking during the debate later, shadow minister Jason Azzopardi said the previous government had planned to move the AG’s office to the former HSBC chairman’s office in Republic Street and not to Strait Street.

He said that while councils in all major European cities occupied a central location, Malta’s was based in South Street.

The previous government had wanted to give the council dignified premises before Valletta assumed the mantle of European City of Culture.

So a process was embarked upon to identify a place which could accommodate the council.

The AG had insisted that his office should be in a central place close to courts and big enough to accommodate all lawyers.

When the government learnt that the HSBC office was being vacated, a series of negotiations for the government to acquire that building to accommodate the AG and all other entities currently in the Palace were embarked upon.

In the meantime, the government rented out the Main Guard to the Valletta council for €5,600 annual rent and the council paid for two years in advance. The council also financed the restoration of the frescoes on the upper floor of the Main Guard.

On February 3, 2014, the mayor wrote to the AG to remind him that in October 2012 the government had signed a rental agreement with the council but it could not yet take possession of the place as he and his office had not yet moved out.

In April last year, the government terminated the rental agreement with the Valletta council. This was even confirmed in a Parliamentary question answered by the Prime Minister in June last year.

Dr Azzopardi said that the relocation was not made because the government needed the HSBC offices to house a ministry. Had this not been the case, the AG and all other offices at the Palaces would have moved there and the Valletta council would have moved to the Main Guard.

That would have been the right solution for all those entities, he said.

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