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Transfer of land for 'American University of Malta' - contract given to committee less than a day before debate

A poster at CHOGM advertising the American University of Malta. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

A poster at CHOGM advertising the American University of Malta. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

The contract and other documentation for the development of the American University of Malta was only given to members of the parliamentary audit office at 8pm yesterday leaving them without sufficient time to prepare themselves, Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi said today.

He was speaking at a meeting of the committee, which this afternoon started to debate the transfer of government property at Zonqor Point and at Dock 1 in Cospicua to the developers.

Dr Azzopardi asked whether it made sense for the transfer of land to be debated before accreditation was approved.

Education Minister Evarist Bartolo said it did because the project was a very complicated one and a number of matters needed to be tackled.

The project would include five colleges, laboratories, a library, a language institute and other facilities, subject to it getting the necessary accreditation, from the Commission for Higher Education.

The project, the minister said, would see an initial investment of €104 million and would create 300 jobs. When working at full capacity, it would cater for 4,000 students.

A number of scholarships would be given to  Maltese students. The operation of the scheme would be left up to the Maltese government.

Nationalist MP Tonio Fenech asked whether a call for expressions of interest for the setting up of the university should have been issued.

Mr Bartolo said several proposals were made by several entities and the government was supporting all of them. If a university went to the government with a project, the government would listen as it did to this investor. He said that in the case of the American University of Malta, Malta was in competition with at least one country - Spain.

Mr Fenech noted that the members still did not know who the promoters of the project were.

Following further discussion the two sides agreed that the discussion will resume next week.

DEAL WITH SADEEN GROUP

In May, the government announced that it had signed a deal with Sadeen Group to construct a private university over 90,000 square metres of undeveloped land at Żonqor Point, Marsascala.

Following a storm of protest, the Prime Minister said in August that the campus of this institution was to be split to include a site alongside Dock 1 in Cospicua and a reduced site at Żonqor.

In spite of calls by the Opposition and the Front Ħarsien ODZ, the government has not yet published the agreement it signed with the Sadeen Group.

On November 30, Education Minister Evarist Bartolo told Parliament that no operating licence had yet been granted to the American University of Malta since the National Commission for Further and Higher Education had not concluded the accreditation process.

This did not stop the AUM from advertising scholarships at CHOGM that same month. Banners and stands were set up at different venues, including the Hilton Hotel and the db San Antonio Hotel.

The ‘university’ was even listed as a partner organisation for CHOGM.

Sadeen Group, established 30 years ago, has its head office in Amman, Jordan. According to its website the group “recorded a sizable growth in the field of constructions, travel and tourism services”.

In June 2014, the group set up Sadeen Education Investment Limited and Sadeen Rehabilitation Services in Malta. The directors and shareholders are Hani Hasan N Salah and Rakan Hani Hasan Salah.

Sadeen Malta Holding Limited was incorporated on July 07, 2015. Hani Hasan N. Salah is the company’s director and shareholder.

FRONT HARSIEN ODZ OBJECTS TO LAND TRANSFERS

In a statement this morning, Front Ħarsien ODZ said it was objecting to any transfer of land to Sadeen Group before the publication of the heads of agreement and the finalisation of the site selection process by Mepa.

“Mepa CEO Johann Buttigieg had solemnly declared during a meeting of Parliament's committee on the environment that other sites may be considered as an alternative to Żonqor. Any transfer of land before this process is concluded amounts to a breach of this commitment.”

The Front described any land transfers before the publication of the agreement with Sadeen Group as “symptomatic of the government's complete disrespect towards the principles of transparency and good governance.

"From the very start the government's dealings with Sadeen Group have been characterised by secrecy. Any land transfer before the conclusion of the site selection exercise would expose the whole process as a sham," it said.

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