PM orders investigation into Mater Dei concrete

Previous Mater Dei CEO had left a hidden contract, revealing issues with contractor, in a safe which was found when he left the company

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has said it was irresponsible of the leader of the opposition to attempt to wash his hands of the Mater Dei concrete scandal.

Interviewed on One Radio this morning, he told Janice Bartolo that “the leader of the opposition cannot deny responsibility- he was involved in the negotiations. He cannot simply wash his hands of this.” But Muscat said he was going to tackle the issue head on. “When you assume office, you assume the responsibility, and the people know that this government did not inherit a bed or roses.”

Asked about the ARUP report on the Mater Dei concrete scandal, he said he is taking the necessary steps to ensure safety but “was not about to stoop to the Opposition’s level who’s reaction was ‘if it didn't collapse in twenty years, it wont now.’”

He announced that he has appointed an inquiry into the matter, led by retired judge Philip Sciberras. “The scandal is that the country paid good money and was given scraps.” He told Bartolo that he awaited the results of this inquiry, hoping that it would answer the many questions surrounding accountability, finances and responsibilities.

The concrete problem was identified when the government began investigating options for expanding the emergency department.

“ What is certain so far is that the international company, ARUP, had never seen such bad concrete,” said the Prime Minister, adding that the cement was of the quality usually used for pavements.

He said the opposition had described the issue as mud-slinging. “The mud we are throwing is probably more solid than the concrete used in the hospital,” quipped Muscat.

He pointed to the fact that the CEO of the company had left a hidden contract in a safe when he left the company. “He used to work in Gonzi’s secretariat”, said the PM, “I am sure he was chosen on merit.”

Muscat explained that the documents reveal that there were issues with Skanska. He is currently trying to arrange a meeting with the contractors, pointing out that their reputation is also on the line.

“We paid €600million for this hospital, it took longer to build than it should have and now we have found the concrete used is substandard.” The issue will cost some €30million to rectify, said Muscat.

“Someone from the government at the time had signed a document exonerating Skanska from any liability for latent defects. This is a crucial point of good governance,” said Muscat, “one for which political responsibility must be shouldered. We are taking all the necessary advice, including legal advice to see if this can be rectified but the person who signed this contract, especially if there were indications of problems…this is very grave and something we are investigating.” Attempts are underway to organise a meeting between the government and the contractor, with the Prime Minister pointing out that their reputation is also on the line.

Zonqor Point Development

The Opposition has suddenly turned against the university project, said Muscat, accusing it of wanting to do the same as it did in the citizenship and Barts medical school issues - attempt to disrupt investment.

In 2002, said Muscat, the Nationalist government was looking for alternative sites for engineered landfills. Amongst them was Zonqor point. All the sites were in the South. “My interest is to bring economic growth, but at the same time I believe – for genuine reasons, unlike the opposition – that there are genuine environmental concerns.

He said he believes that compromises are possible and remains open to suggestions.

"We are recieving suggestions regarding the same ten or twelve sites and we are using some aspects of these suggestions," said Muscat, who however, did not, at any point say that he would not use Zonqor point site.

Some proposals made by environmentalists make more sense than those made by the opposition, said the Prime Minister, "who at least admitted that they had not based their suggestions on studies".

Six-star hotel project

Muscat welcomed the €400 million investment by the Corinthia Group in St Julian’s, demolishing three hotels to make room for a six-star complex, saying this would provide accommodation for high net-worth individuals who were in the process of acquiring Maltese nationality through the citizenship scheme.

“This investment is roughly equivalent to half the EU funds Malta had received during its first 7 years of membership,” added the Prime Minister.

Muscat said that that his government wanted to allow the works to carry on even during the summer months, mooting the possibility of transporting building materials by barge to avoid disrupting the Paceville area.

“Our vision is to turn the so-called golden mile to the platinum mile,” said the Prime Minister. The project is expected to create some 600 jobs in the hospitality sector.

This vision, however, requires a wholesale upgrade of the surrounding infrastructure. The road network must be improved, he said, also mentioning the possibility of an underground rail system.