DB hotel project gets seven-floor haircut after damning NAO report

DB Group presses ahead with Pembroke tower plans – no reaction from government yet as to whether ITS land deal will be revoked or investigated

The DB Group is lopping off seven storeys – a slight 20m reduction – from its proposed tower which studies say will cast a long shadow over Pembroke’s residential homes in the winter months.

The change in plans come in the wake of a report by the Auditor General which found irregularities in the transfer of the former Institute for Tourism Studies land to the group, owned by hotelier Silvio Debono.

The 38-storey tower will now go down to 31 storeys, with a height of 109.3m. The nearby hotel will retain the same height of 17 floors. The changes are not expected to substantially reduce the project’s massive visual impact, least of all to placate anger at the project from residents, the Labour-led Pembroke council, and the Local Councils Association.

The permit was revoked by the law courts a Planning Authority board member involved in the real estate business was revealed to have a conflict of interest when voting for the project.

The NAO also cast doubts on the “regularity” of the tender issued by Projects Malta five years ago. But questions from MaltaTaody on whether the government intends revoking or investigating the land transfer remain unanswered.

The NAO said Projects Malta had failed to obtain authorisation from the Contracts Department before issuing a request for proposals in November 2015 for the design, build and operation of the mixed tourism and leisure development. “This omission casts doubt on the regularity of the RFP,” the NAO said in its report tabled in Parliament on Wednesday.

The report noted that the residential component of the project, key in securing the project’s viability, was given “limited exposure” in government’s call.

The DB Group was the only bidder for the project.

The NAO also said the Office of the Prime Minister and the Tourism Ministry passed the buck between each other when asked which entity took the decision to dispose of the ITS land. “In terms of governance, the origin of the decision to dispose of the site remained unclear, which was of grave concern given the nature of the land that was to be disposed of. No information supporting this decision or who was involved was provided, with the Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Tourism each assigning responsibility to the other,” the NAO said.

The NAO launche its investigation in March 2017 after the controversial land concession was finalised at a value of €56 million. The Government Property Department was absent from the process that led to the disposal of the site, despite being the government entity mandated to dispose of public land.

Projects Malta, a government entity set up after the 2013 election and entrusted to then minister Konrad Mizzi, assumed control over the process in the GPD’s stead.

Projects Malta was responsible for government’s major projects, including the multi-million euro hospitals concession awarded to Vitals Global Healthcare.

The NAO also expressed major concerns with respect to the negotiation committee that engaged in talks with the company after it was selected as the preferred bidder. “No records of negotiations were made available, which constrained the NAO from establishing a comprehensive understanding of the negotiation process and grossly detracted from the expected level of governance,” the audit office said.

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