Government to ink Marsa racetrack MOU, first step to privatisation

The track, which is 2.8km long, hosts regular weekend championship races in trot. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

The track, which is 2.8km long, hosts regular weekend championship races in trot. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

The government is expected to sign a memorandum of understanding on the Marsa racetrack with a private consortium on Wednesday, a first step towards the track’s privatisation.

However, horse owners, hundreds of enthusiasts and members of the Polo Club are still in the dark over who the investors in the Marsa Racetrack Consortium are.

Asked to confirm a preliminary agreement between the government and the consortium had been reached, a spokesman for the government confirmed that an MOU would be signed “in the coming days”.

However, when asked to name the members of the private consortium, the spokesman refused to offer any details, saying that “more information will be divulged during the signing ceremony”.

The Sunday Times of Malta has learnt that lawyer Pio Valletta is the only Maltese who took part in the negotiations with the government. The lawyer-businessman is also a shareholder in the consortium. However, the names of his partners are being kept under wraps.

Dr Valletta wasn’t available for comment yesterday. The signing of the MOU for the privatisation of the Marsa racetrack brings to a close two years of negotiations following a request for proposals issued by the government’s Privatisation Unit in 2015.

The RFP does not make any commercial sense

The call did not manage to attract much interest, so much so that the Marsa Racetrack Consortium was the only bidder.

Industry sources told this newspaper that the way the RFP was issued made it almost impossible for someone to invest without losing money.

“The RFP does not make any commercial sense,” racing enthusiasts said.

However, horse owners are concerned about rumours making the rounds in Marsa that government negotiators, led by Privatisation Unit chairman Emanuel Camilleri and Labour secretary Lydia Abela, engaged as a government consultant, have offered the consortium some ‘commercial’ options which were not part of the RFP.

Employees of the Malta Racing Club – which manages the racetrack – are concerned about their future.

“We were promised that we will retain our job even with the new private owners. However, whenever we have asked about our future we were completely ignored,” one employee said.

The RFP was issued in June 2015, and negotiations started a few weeks after. A horse owner said the fact that only an MOU and not a definitive contract is to be signed shows that even the investors are not really sure about how feasible the project is and want to explore their options further.

“It seems that the government would like to do a publicity stunt to impress horse racing enthusiasts. However, it looks like there is still a long way to go after the MOU,” another horse owner remarked.

Part of the sports complex in Marsa, the track hosts championship races in trot.

The track measures a total 2.8 kilometres in length.

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