AUM land transfer approved in 15-hour session where PN insist Jordanians are not setting up university

Land transfer for Sadeen's private 'American University of Malta' is approved by the House after all-nighter session that lasted until 9:30am, a full 15 hours of non-stop debate • live-blog

09:34 Have a nice day everyone! This live-blog is now over. Matthew Vella
09:34 The session is over. That was an unbroken 15-hour parliamentary session. Lots of bad breath coming out of the House of Representatives, no doubt... Matthew Vella
09:29 33 votes in favour, 27 against: AUM motion is passed to the acclaim of the government bench. Matthew Vella
09:26 Voting on the motion now. Matthew Vella
09:19 Education minister Evarist Bartolo tells the House that a retail outlet on campus would imply a shop that would sell books or household items for people living on campus. Matthew Vella
09:18 Zammit Dimech is demanding clarification on the allowance for retail outlets at the AUM. Matthew Vella
09:14 Point of order raised by Francis Zammit Dimech (PN). Matthew Vella
09:14 Speaker rules: The contract is between the government and the holding company proposing the university, that is Sadeen. House is advised to proceed to voting. Matthew Vella
09:12 Speaker’s ruling:

Farrugia says it took note of the rules regulating licences for higher education, and says that the word ‘university’ cannot be used in promotional or information material by a higher education institution licensed as such.

Farrugia says that the rules have a proviso that such licences can use the word ‘university’ when they provide a programme accredited by other universities, and where they offer qualifications accredited by the Malta Qualifications Council of a certain level.

Farrugia refers to the definition of ‘American University’ as laid down in the contract published by the government, which includes that of a college or higher education institution as accredited by a university based in the United States of America.

Matthew Vella
09:02 Sitting has resumed. Matthew Vella
08:32 Quick recap: the House is currently suspended pending a decision by the Speaker on whether a vote can be taken on the parliamentary resolution to allow the transfer of land at Zonqor Point and Dock No. 1 in Cospicua to Sadeen Group.

The request for the decision was made by the Opposition leader: the contract refers to the transfer of land for the purpose of setting up in the Malta the “American University of Malta”. But because the project will first be accredited as a higher educational institution, before it can proceed to receive the title as a university, the Opposition has argued that this is not a university.

The government has argued that the opposition was “mixing issues” and the Education Minister also said that, in Malta, there were higher education institutions that offered courses at Masters of PhD levels.

The opposition leader however pointed out that the law precluded a higher education institution from calling itself “a university”. Bartolo insisted that receiving accreditation as a higher education institution was part of “a rigorous process” to ensure high standards.

The impasse follows a 14-hour debate on the parliamentary resolution, which started yesterday at 6.30pm.

Miriam Dalli
07:27 Speaker suspends the House. Miriam Dalli
07:27 Prime Minister Joseph Muscat intervenes: “The Opposition leader is mixing two things. It is not parliament’s role to give titles to entities. The resolution is to pass land to Sadeen Group. We are following the right and legal procedure.” Miriam Dalli
07:26 Busuttil specifies: the AUM contract refers specifically to a university when Sadeen has applied to be a higher institution, and claims that MPs would be voting on something that is “illegal” Matthew Vella
07:26 Busuttil: “The minister is misleading parliament. He himself said that the entity applied for higher educational institution. The law says that no entity can be called a university if it is a higher educational institution. The document is clear that the document refers to ‘a university’.” Miriam Dalli
07:25 Opposition leader Simon Busuttil demands guidance from the Speaker, saying that calling AUM a 'university' when Sadeen has applied for a 'higher education institution' licence… on his part, education minister Evarist Bartolo says the AUM licence is proposing to offer PhDs in its programme. Matthew Vella
07:24 "It is on the road to achieve its university title," Bartolo says. Miriam Dalli
07:24 “Higher education institutions already operating in Malta are allowed by law to deliver university programmes,” Bartolo says, adding that the resolution refers to Sadeen Educational Investment Ltd. Miriam Dalli
07:23 "Can we vote on something that goes against our laws?" Busuttil asks Speaker Anglu Farrugia. Miriam Dalli
07:23 Opposition leader Simon Busuttil notes: “The company applied for a higher education title when the document refers to a university. We cannot vote on this document.” Miriam Dalli
07:19 "I expected a serious scrutiny of the contract because a lot of questions raised, and exaggerations made would have been cleared just by reading the contract. It is clear in the contract that the property is being passed on for educational purposes only." Miriam Dalli
07:16 "There is no pressure on the NCFHE," he says adding that the rigorous process being carried out "never existed before".

"We are proud of the high standards we're setting." Miriam Dalli

07:13 Bartolo said that, saying that DePaul University is not included in the project, is a lie. Miriam Dalli
07:10 Every programme submitted by the AUM is being analysed, including those at degree and PhD levels. Miriam Dalli
07:09 “Every tertiary entity which applied to carry out educational programmes, even at Masters and PhD level, followed this process: those who do not have the university title, and apply, we inform them that they should apply for the higher education status and then continue to the university title. There is no lowering of standards.” Miriam Dalli
07:06 Bartolo denied that a member of the NCHE resigned because of this project. Miriam Dalli
07:06 “Stupid arguments were made of the investor not having the academic credentials. This argument doesn’t make sense. In Malta, under the previous administration, commercial operators were given accreditation to operate campuses, even though they themselves did not have the academic credentials.” Miriam Dalli
07:04 Bartolo says government’s expenditure for the University of Malta increased by 25%; likewise investment increased for MCAST. Miriam Dalli
07:03 “We heard a repetition of the same comments but there was no scrutiny of the contract. I would have expected the opposition to scrutinize the contract that we will be voting upon. There was a lot of exaggeration, including racist comments against the investor ... just say you disagree with the investor and stop there. No need for racist undertones.” Miriam Dalli
07:00 The winding up of the debate: Education Minister Evarist Bartolo takes the floor. Miriam Dalli
06:59 Government deputy whip Deborah Schembri says that, putting aside a total of five arguments that could be extracted from the interventions by the Opposition, the end result is that the opposition “is against the investment”. Miriam Dalli
06:57 "I know that among you there are genuine MPs ... if you really wish that our children enjoy Zonqor, let them. I urge you, for you and your kids, to think twice before voting in favour. Have the courage to vote with us. This is your last opportunity." Miriam Dalli
06:56 "We take things seriously because we do not want anyone to think that we are not safeguarding this country." Miriam Dalli
06:55 Opposition whip David Agius says the opposition “has lived together the harsh hours” because it wanted to stay strong and make a point – the opposition wanted to ensure that as many MPs as possible are given an opportunity to have their say on the transfer of land.

“You have raped Malta,” he says. Miriam Dalli

06:43 "Who's going to answer this simple question: how can he invest €104 million when he has a share capital of €1.2 million?" Miriam Dalli
06:39 "Why is it that this project is run by just one man? If he were Bill Gates, it would be understandable. But he's not. Because of this man, the government managed to group a movement against it. Because of this man, the government changed standards. Because of this one man, the government even breached the SPED." Miriam Dalli
06:35 Referring to the approval of the SPED, Azzopardi says the government itself was breaching it: “This is a government that considers itself above the law.” Miriam Dalli
06:29 “This is a surreal debate,” Jason Azzopardi says, once again asking what was behind the decision to rush the parliamentary motion. Miriam Dalli
06:26 "The people have the right to know what changed. What about the months of advertising the project as a university?" Miriam Dalli
06:25 Said reiterates the opposition’s main concern: “How is it possible that after months of being referred to as the ‘American University of Malta’, the Education Minister tells us that it’s going to be a higher education institution.” Miriam Dalli
06:23 Said reminds that the heads of agreement signed with Sadeen Group was never tabled in parliament, “just like several other contracts remained hidden”. Miriam Dalli
06:21 "The opposition is carrying out its duty. The government may have wanted to approve this resolution in one sitting but the opposition still said what it had to say. Because this is it's duty." Miriam Dalli
06:20 Another PN MP, this time Chris Said takes the floor and praises the opposition for its constructive criticism. Miriam Dalli
06:14 PN MP Robert Cutajar refers to numerous projects carried out in the past in the south of the island. Miriam Dalli
06:04 It is now Gozitan MP Frederick Azzopardi's turn: he is the 19th PN MP to deliver an address. Miriam Dalli
05:56 Miriam Dalli
05:52 Taking the floor, PN MP Stephen Spiteri spells out the obvious: "We have been repeating the same thing for far too long." Miriam Dalli
05:49 "I hope that this contract has indeed been written well," Abela says, effectively confirming that he didn't read the contract. Miriam Dalli
05:48 "I hope that this investor is not lending his name to some other investor, whose name will remain hidden." Miriam Dalli
05:46 Abela talks about students who could be able "to dock their yacht" in Bormla. Miriam Dalli
05:44 And recently-elected Anthony Abela takes part in his first discussion: "Just imagine how happy Salah [the investor] is of this parliament after 69 MPs remained awake to discuss his deal." Miriam Dalli
05:42 "It's almost like the government wants to call us 'the enemy of the people' because we chase the truth. We are in favour of true investment and development, but were possible, we shouldn't make use of ODZ land." Miriam Dalli
05:40 PN MP Claudette Buttigieg says "it is indeed surreal" that parliament is discussing the transfer of a land the people are against. Miriam Dalli
05:35 Labour MP Etienne Grech speaks of the number of jobs the project will generate. Miriam Dalli
05:33 Bonnici criticises the fact that Sadeen were allowed to market the AUM during the CHOGM. Miriam Dalli
05:32 “I hope that anyone who tunes in to parliament now realizes that we have been debating this issue for hours on end … and we won’t be paid any overtime,” PN MP Charlo Bonnici says.

He reiterates that the government has misled the public in calling it a university, because the process will see the project kicked off as a higher education institution.

To be accredited as a university by the NCHE, Sadeen Education Investments Ltd have first applied for a higher education institution accreditation, on the advice of the Education Minister. Miriam Dalli

05:22 "The previous administration practiced good governance much more than this government is doing," Galea says. Miriam Dalli
05:17 Nationalist MP Censu Galea, well aware of the tired out MPs, says it is the Opposition's responsibility to shadow the government and stop any attempts to steam ahead with decisions without any scrutiny. Miriam Dalli
05:11 For those of you joining now, the discussion on the transfer of land to Sadeen Group has been going on since 6.30pm yesterday evening. The main news items were delivered by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Opposition leader Simon Busuttil, with the rest of the MPs following in their leaders’ trail.

Little discussion on the actual contract took place – the government was accused of riding roughshod over everyone; the opposition was accused of being negative and against investment.

Miriam Dalli
05:07 Debattista says his intervention “won’t take long” and goes on to tell the Opposition that they “are too negative and should be more positive”. Miriam Dalli
05:04 "Good morning Mr President," Deo Debattista says as he kicks off his intervention. Miriam Dalli
04:51 "Are we simply going to be the guinea pigs in Sadeen's project?" Miriam Dalli
04:48 "Is there a loophole that allows the development of a residential area next to Dock No. 1?" Miriam Dalli
04:47 She asks whether the investor will be precluded from using the residential area – in the eventuality that it is constructed before the educational area – for other reasons other than students’ use. Miriam Dalli
04:42 “Which parts will be completed first? The educational premises or the lodging?” Miriam Dalli
04:42 Nationalist MP Kristy Debono says Christmas came early for Sadeen Group. Miriam Dalli
04:30 It’s exactly 4.30am: the debate has been going on for 10 hours. Miriam Dalli
04:28 Parliament workers have been on duty since 8am, yesterday morning. Miriam Dalli
04:27 Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela says decisions taken in the past "created a divide between the south and the rest of the country". Miriam Dalli
04:23 Smell of coffee and yawning MPs best describe the current scene in parliament.

“Is this a disco or what?” Bezzina asks Farrugia as one of the MPs plays music on his mobile.

“Well, it’s 4.20am … please continue … no one is interrupting you and they’re listening to you,” the Speaker replies with a smile. Miriam Dalli

04:18 Bezzina says he was "hurt" by the Prime Minister's accusation that a Nationalist administration had turned the south "into a trash can". Miriam Dalli
04:10 PN MP Tony Bezzina takes the floor, as the Speaker jokes that "today's marathon beats the Guinness World Records". Miriam Dalli
04:07 "Why all this hatred towards the people of the south?" Mizzi says, prompting boos and shouts from the opposition.

"No one is against the project but against the theft of public land at Zonqor Point," Marlene Farrugia says, raising a point of order.

Mizzi adds that “they” used to ridicule him in parliament for the way he pronounced the word “tieghi” [mine]: “That is how you used to treat people from the south.” Miriam Dalli

04:03 Mizzi says the people "are looking forward" to the AUM project, just like they welcomed the Cottonera project. Miriam Dalli
03:59 Transport Minister Joe Mizzi takes the floor: "It's good that we tell the truth. Zammit Dimech, do you remember the Birgu waterfront project and we had a debate that lasted 12 hours because there was no EIA? Do you remember when you called MEPA giving them a guarantee that an EIA would be carried out? As an opposition, we didn't object to the project. A car park which you promised was never delivered.

“Another truth is that you are not here to contribute to the discussion but your goal is to generate scaremongering. The truth is that all they [opposition] cares about is power.” Miriam Dalli

03:50 Miriam Dalli
03:49 Sadeen Education Investment Limited is set up in Malta and was registered in 11 June 2014, a year after Labour’s election to government. It started off with a limited investment, before increasing the share capital from €1,200 to a million by 2015.

The directors, shareholders, legal representatives and judicial representatives are Hani Hasan Naji Salah and Rakan Hani Hasan Salah.

“The most ridiculous part is an individual approaching a government with no experience and nothing in hand and an agreement is reached.” Miriam Dalli

03:36 Quoting from a DePaul University statement, Zammit Dimech states: “DePaul University is not establishing a branch campus and will not be issuing degrees in Malta; Sadeen Education Investment is seeking to establish the American University of Malta and contracted DePaul to develop curricula.”

Miriam Dalli
03:34 Going through the contract, Zammit Dimech says “any individual” can now be ‘American’ – in the definition of what an ‘American University’ is – who is “operating” a university. “But is this individual ‘operating’ a university? Or are we going against what’s written in the contract?” he says.

The definition refers to what ‘American University’ is and not a definition of the emphyteuta. Miriam Dalli

03:30 Miriam Dalli
03:28 Miriam Dalli
03:27 PN MP Francis Zammit Dimech says this discussion should have been carried out following the presentation of an outline permit. “At least, one would have expected that we’re discussing a project already accredited … but this is now verging on the absurd.” Miriam Dalli
03:20 “I wish that, instead of bickering, we come together to promote our country.” Miriam Dalli
03:17 “We feel that the south deserves a regeneration and such a project will have a very positive outcome. Splitting the campus on two sites delivers a wider reach. We were very forthcoming with the opposition’s requests.” Miriam Dalli
03:14 “What is an American University? A university whose curriculum represents the American model. We have an investor that is ready to invest millions and take risks. This investor is ready to work with the government.” Miriam Dalli
03:12 Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi speaks of the government's vision for a better country: "It is now time to develop other sectors, including health and education." Miriam Dalli
03:11 “Who do you want to fool? You’re so superficial you’re harming this country.” Miriam Dalli
03:10 A very animated Antoine Borg heats up the discussion by telling the government that “not one single project inaugurated so far” was a Labour project. “Suddenly it’s not an educational project but a tourism project,” he says. Miriam Dalli
02:49 Backbencher Silvio Parnis – chair of the south consultative committee – takes the floor: “People little care about our arguments … they really want to know how they’ll benefit of the projects.” Miriam Dalli
02:41 Speaker draws attention to Pullicino to address the Chamber, as opposed to Energy Konrad Mizzi, after the PN MP told Mizzi to “use a dictionary to look up the phrase ‘strategic partner’.”

“Likewise, you should look up the definition of what’s ethical and understand how you could give a job to your own wife.”

In order to avoid any fights, the Speaker told Pullicino to address the Chair: “I know it’s 3am and we’re tired but let’s keep going.” Miriam Dalli

02:21 Pullicino says that in 1991, 30 University students were from Cottonera. In 2010, 308 university graduates were from the second and third districts. Miriam Dalli
02:19 Miriam Dalli
02:18 “We are not here expecting the government to lose or that a government MP will vote with us. There was one MP, Marlene Farrugia, who tore the government’s arguments to pieces.” Miriam Dalli
02:14 Next up: PN MP George Pullicino Miriam Dalli
02:14 Scicluna alleges that the opposition was jumping from one argument to another, "clutching at straws", in order to criticise the investment. "If one sticks to the environmental argument - even though I may not fully agree with it - at least it shows a consistent position. But you've been jumping from one small issue to another." Miriam Dalli
02:07 He adds that Sadeen commissioned DePaul University to help them out with the drafting of the programmes. "Sadeen won't be rector of this university. This is basic." Miriam Dalli
02:04 "Don't confuse shareholding with management," he says. Miriam Dalli
02:03 It's Finance Minister Edward Scicluna's turn who says that the opposition is confusing the management with the ownership. He adds that the MFSA carried out the due diligence process. Miriam Dalli
01:55 Government whip Godfrey Farrugia shouts at Fenech “to lower his voice” with Fenech retorting that he won’t be shut up. Miriam Dalli
01:52 It’s 2am and Fenech is wide awake delivering an impassioned speech: “Do you even know what laws you pass? Do you know that you’re not respecting your own legislation? And don’t come telling us about family friendly measures if you’re sending us documents at 8pm and squashing in debates.” Miriam Dalli
01:49 Fenech says he didn’t have anything against the individual for being a contractor, but he could not understand how he suddenly had the credentials to develop an academic institution. “Wouldn’t it have been better to open a call and hope to attract international names already established?”

Miriam Dalli
01:44 “The Opposition is not here to attack the investor but to ask the government on the why and how this investor was chosen.” Miriam Dalli
01:41 PN MP Tonio Fenech reiterates that the opposition’s accusation that the discussion carried out in the past days was not a genuine one “but simply a formality”. Miriam Dalli
01:35 "We are not asking for secrets but for the company's audited accounts ... I don't think we're asking a lot but simply basic things to ensure that this investor can deliver." Miriam Dalli
01:26 “We can only maximize the value of this project if we engage those students [once they graduate]. But if the programmes delivered will simply deliver more of the same, then we would have failed.” Miriam Dalli
01:23 Grech says that proposals in the document launched by the PN have the ability to attract foreign investment in the education sector. “We spoke little of the talent we could be attracting and how they can be utilized to fill in the current skills gap.”

“I also think that this contract lacks a general master plan on how the development will be carried out. It is being left in MEPA’s hands; but past contracts included the permitted land use.”

Grech adds that the use of the word ‘American’ is too generous. Miriam Dalli

01:11 PN MP Claudio Grech takes the floor, focusing on the economic impact of such projects. So far, it’s a more academic delivery. Miriam Dalli
01:02 Back to Farrugia’s opening comments … it is understood that he was referring to how Parliament decided to discuss the motions: after lack of agreement in the parliamentary committee, it was decided to go to plenary and conclude the discussion there. Government wants to approve the resolution today to allow other processes to go ahead. On Monday, the Prime Minister said that “we have waited long enough”. Miriam Dalli
00:57 Farrugia goes on to explain how the original project at Zonqor Point has been downscaled. “After analyzing the options, I am now in favour of this project,” he says, adding that he will continue working in favour of the environment. Miriam Dalli
00:55 Government whip Godfrey Farrugia describes himself as a quiet man but he feels like he’s about to explode: “We are making use of this time capriciously. We talk about family friendly measures but they are not being applied to this House or parliament’s workers. There were proposals and these were not accepted. This House of Representatives has disappointed me.”

Miriam Dalli
00:52 “De Paul University has denied being behind the project which in itself erodes away the credibility of this project. If it were Oxford or Harvard, I am sure we would be here supporting you. But it is surreal that we are talking about a Jordanian University … it’s like ordering spaghetti and you don’t know whether it’s going to be al dente or overcooked.”

"This is just a speculative investment." Miriam Dalli

00:48 PN MP Clyde Puli talks about the lowering of standards. Miriam Dalli
00:33 He goes on to talk of the impact the project will have on the tourism industry, and hits out at the previous administration “for its failures”. Miriam Dalli
00:31 Zammit Lewis insists that the opposition should recognize that, under the Labour government, the project had been changed because it listened to civil society: “When did this ever happen before?”

“This is not a real estate project, unlike [Smart] Desert City.” Miriam Dalli

00:28 Up next: Tourism Minister Edward Zammit Lewis. Miriam Dalli
00:26 Closing off his brief intervention, Arrigo appealed the House for maturity, not only on this issue but in the general approach to each other. Miriam Dalli
00:25 “A government that doesn’t want to publish the contracts is not transparent at all,” he says, before joking about why dormitories required a sea view: “maybe students need the fresh air to concentrate.” Miriam Dalli
00:16 PN MP Robert Arrigo:“I prepared a speech about the American University, but I had to throw it away because we now learnt that it’s going to start as a higher education institution. So I tried to Google information for a new speech, but I found nothing about Sadeen. I can’t believe that they have been compared to HSBC, a huge insult to the workers.” Miriam Dalli
00:13 We are on the third point of order in less than three minutes… or apparently not: past midnight and brief interruptions needed to spice up the debate. Miriam Dalli
00:09 On the Tarxien site, Bonnici says that the area would not have been enough to split the campus in two and therefore a third site would have been required. Miriam Dalli
00:03 He says, that the AUM project will give Marsaskala a much-needed investment following the negative impact on the locality as a result of the closure of the Jerma Hotel. Miriam Dalli
00:00 Justice Minister Owen Bonnici takes the floor: “For every investment this government attracts, the Opposition is always there against us.”

He goes on to refer to “Net News reporters” chasing away individuals interested in the IIP and, at the same time, the most legal and accountancy firms working closely on the IIP are “PN militants”. Miriam Dalli

23:57 And, to loud cheers from the Opposition benches, Portelli closes off with a mandatory Mahatma Ghandi quote: “The earth provides enough to satisfy every man's needs, but not every man's greed.” Miriam Dalli
23:54 She says, that yesterday during a meeting of the national audit office committee, she wasn’t allowed to ask questions. “I repeat that this process is a complete sham. A rushed process with no transparency. It is unfortunate that the government ignored MEPA’s advice. It is unfortunate that government goes against SPED and that it prefers appeasing a Jordanian firm rather than to listen to its own people.” Miriam Dalli
23:44 “MEPA and OPM were in constant contact with the Jordanian developer,” Portelli says, adding that this was confirmed by MEPA CEO Johann Buttigieg. “What’s worse is that the Prime Minister himself did not reply [to a parliamentary question] when asked who were the persons who met Sadeen, on behalf of OPM. Such a difficult question! Perhaps its got stuck in traffic too.” Miriam Dalli
23:36 Portelli reiterates that the Tarxien site satisfied all criteria requested by the government – the government “plans on” developing a social housing project.

“The only difference between Tarxien site and Zonqor Point is that the latter is in outside development zone.” Miriam Dalli

23:34 “Despite MEPA’s report and recommendations – that only Zonqor pool qualified for the project – the government chose to ignore it. MEPA itself told government that the pool did not have ecological significance. However, the adjacent low-lying rocky shoreline is proposed for scheduling for its ecological importance.

“MEPA was against it, and yet government steamed ahead.” Miriam Dalli

23:28 “The government pretended to evaluate site options, but in reality this was all a sham. It goes against its own rules,” she says, referring to the Strategic Plan for Environment and Development which stipulates that ODZ land can only be chosen as a last resort. Miriam Dalli
23:27 Portelli lists the organisations and NGOs, Church included, that came out against the use of Zonqor Point: “For once, we even had hunters and environmentalists singing from the same hymn book.” Miriam Dalli
23:26 Shadow environment minister Marthese Portelli: “There are a lot of explanations yet to be given by the government. What we have today is not an ‘American University’ but an ‘American Pie’.” Miriam Dalli
23:05 “I was and remain against a blank cheque for ODZ. We have to ensure that serious environmental studies take place.”

Brincat said that, like he has come out against proposals to develop three hotels in on virgin land stretching from Smart City to Zonqor Point he will come out against project that do not make sense.

“However, I cannot understand the hypocrisy of some who suddenly do not want to refer the south.” Miriam Dalli

22:59 Miriam Dalli
22:56 Next up is Environment Minister Leo Brincat who defends the government’s promises of listening to the public. If it were otherwise, he would have “a crisis of conscience”. “This is a sustainable and viable project.” Miriam Dalli
22:51 It’s like a tale of three Christmases, Fenech Adami adds: “During its first Christmas, government gifted the Labour Party Australia Hall; during its second Christmas it made a deal with Gaffarena and now, the third Christmas, a gift will be given to Sadeen.” Miriam Dalli
22:49 “No one made reference – and I have a nose for these things – to clauses that allow the construction of restaurants, cafeterias, social clubs, retail outlets and lodges. Mark my words: this is what we will see.”

Government whip Godfrey Farrugia points out that the words “retail outlets” have been deleted from the contract. Miriam Dalli

22:44 “After promises of a university, we now learn that it is a higher education institution. It is unacceptable that we today learn that it is neither American nor a university. The person behind the project has no idea how a university works. This person is a hotelier with no connections to any universities. This person is simply a contractor.

“The investor is merely businessman, of which we have thousands in Malta. I am sure that if the government had to give the project to the Maltese, the end results would have been, by far better.” Miriam Dalli

22:40 PN deputy leader Beppe Fenech Adami speaks of the “irony” that the House of Representatives is discussing the contract at 10.30pm, just 24 hours after the government passed on the necessary documentation to the opposition.

“If government thought that we would not come prepared or that we would give up because of the late hours, it was wrong.”

Fenech Adami is on a roll, saying that the Labour government was trying “to emulate” past leaders of the Nationalist government: “They compare themselves to Eddie Fenech Adami and Lawrence Gonzi, who brought to Malta HSBC and Microsoft. What does this government has to say about itself? It brought Sadeen.” Miriam Dalli

22:29 “We are balancing the distribution of wealth. 42% of the unemployed are from the south of Malta … so I can’t understand why we’re afraid of talking openly about this.” Miriam Dalli
22:19 Cardona lauds the Maltese economy and the “government’s work placing Malta as the best in Europe built on a diversified economy”. He refers to statistics showing Malta’s high rate of economic growth. Miriam Dalli
22:11 Economy Minister Chris Cardona’s turn to speak: “We are not the forum to decide whether the environmental conditions are met or not. We have the investment, we know what the potential is but I have no doubt that the environmental analysis – which I have no credentials to make – is carried out after this stage. We are not reinventing the wheel. I’m not justifying what we’re doing by the mistakes of the past. A government land can be given by tender or following a parliamentary resolution. We chose the latter. Environmental scrutiny will follow after the concession.” Miriam Dalli
22:04 De Marco dedicates his closing comments to the procedure: “This parliament’s decision can influence the decision of the NCHE … we are creating pressure on this board. We are not here as a box to tick … I would have expected the government to come here after the accreditation had been issued.” Miriam Dalli
21:56 De Marco asks what credentials the Prime Minister has to negotiate with an investor: “We’ve seen his track record over Café Premier and the government’s deal with Socar; the deals of Old Mint Street and Australia Hall. The Prime Minister telling us that he is the ‘project’s sponsor’ doesn’t put our minds at peace.” Miriam Dalli
21:54 “We cannot vote in favour of this motion: we do not know whether this investor has the credentials to develop an academic institution.” Miriam Dalli
21:52 “Economic development should not come at any cost.” De Marco notes that an original 90,000 square metres of ODZ land was reduced to 18,000. But this still didn’t mean that the government should just hand out public land to foreigners.

Quoting the President in the delivery of her Republic Day speech, De Marco said “unbridled development was putting the environment at risk”. Miriam Dalli

21:43 De Marco says the PN is not against about Malta being “a centre of excellence” in education: “We want education to remain of the highest levels on both national and international levels.”

He argues, that there should have been a process to choose the investor “and not following a meeting between one investor and the Prime Minister”. Miriam Dalli

21:41 “Every big project brings with it a dose of uncertainty because the future is not known. There cannot be blind trust, and trust has to be built on studies including the company’s financial position.” Miriam Dalli
21:36 PN deputy leader Mario de Marco takes the floor: “An extraordinary motion, not less because today we discovered that this won’t be a university but licensed to operate as a higher education.” Miriam Dalli
21:33 “This contract makes me proud and I recommend its approval.” Miriam Dalli
21:28 “The phases are accelerated giving Sadeen a definite timeline to ensure that the project does not fall through. There is a cure period but there are events of default that ensure the government can dissolve the grant.” Miriam Dalli
21:25 “Is it possible that there’s nothing positive about this project? Not even the scholarships to our students?” The government wants Sadeen to make available scholarships equivalent to a minimum of 1% up to a maximum of 3% of every annual intake of students. Miriam Dalli
21:20 The foreshore at Zonqor Point is always accessible to the public; in the case of the landscaped area, Sadeen “do not own the title of the land but its use”. Miriam Dalli
21:16 The permitted use of the designated land is solely and exclusively for educational purposes; any changes must first go through the government – any government – for its approval. Miriam Dalli
21:15 The deed is on a temporary emphyteusis for 99 years and it cannot be converted into a perpetual one. Comparing it with the land at Smart City, Mangion said that a 200 square metre plot can be redeemed for €800 and sold for €5 million: “That is land speculation.” Miriam Dalli
21:08 Reacting to criticism delivered earlier, Mangion told the opposition that – during the sale of the Mid-Med Bank – “not even the Finance Minister knew about it”.

He says, he cannot understand the criticism of lack of transparency after “all analyses and studies carried out were tabled in parliament”.

Mangion admits that an original decision to locate AUM at Zonqor Point may have been taken “rashly”: “But we stopped and listened.”

Miriam Dalli

21:05 Mangion refers to the social impact assessment carried out by economist Gordon Cordina, “renowned for his expertise”. The report found that the added value of the project on the country’s economy can go up to €85 million annually. Miriam Dalli
20:57 Backbencher Charles Mangion takes the floor, commenting that “in parliament we’ve heard a lot of rhetoric but little about the actual contract”.

Miriam Dalli

20:54 One of the most impassioned speeches in parliament surely, from Marlene Farrugia, who made her mark instantly by joining the opposition against the Zonqor university when it was first announced. Matthew Vella
20:54 Now she quotes Cicero... 'Any man can make mistakes, but only an idiot persists in his error.' Matthew Vella
20:53 Farrugia is now recounting the Gaius Verres ordeal, which for brevity's sake can be found here. Matthew Vella
20:50 "We can no longer afford to lose virgin land, to lose land taht we say is protected but which is given away at the drop of a hat. I do hope this process will be the last in this legislature's experience, where the government had to be educated by the people." Matthew Vella
20:42 Marlene Farrugia: "The south is now becoming a thrash-can... just wait for the LNG tanker to come into Marsaxlokk, for those solar panels to take up our quarries, for a racetrack to make its way into the south..." Matthew Vella
20:41 “If Sadeen is going to invest €100 million to develop Zonqor, who will pay for the roads, the energy and drainage infrastructure? The taxpayer will.” Matthew Vella
20:40 “Sadeen is taking up prime waterfront land for a pittance.” Matthew Vella
20:40 Marlene Farrugia is taking the government to task for having forgone a public call for tenders. “It was a fait accompli even for us MPs in the parliamentary committee. Not even our own local investors and businessmen were aware that this land was up for grabs.” Matthew Vella
20:35 “This project, which could have been one of excellence, could have been Labour’s success, had we not been forced to be here today to debate the gift of this public land that will spell the end of what is a natural park. We will be robbing people of the virgin land at Zonqor Point in Marsaskala.” Matthew Vella
20:29 “I implored voters to choose Labour as a transparent and accountable government… I told them we would keep them informed of every move we make, and that we would deliver what we were promising in our electoral manifesto. I didn’t tell them that we would be measuring ourselves according to what the PN do… it’s no race to the bottom.” Matthew Vella
20:25 "It was clear, when one looks at the proposals submitted by the public for alternatives to Zonqor, that we could have utilised other historic buildings that would have allowed the regeneration of southern communities and their economic development. It could have been a conglomeration of historic forts used sustainably," Farrugia says of the public consultation exercise to identity alternatives to the government's choice of Zonqor. Matthew Vella
20:21 Marlene Farrugia: "It was only through the public outrage that the government rolled back its proposal to give 90,000 square metres of land to a foreign investor." Matthew Vella
20:17 Matthew Vella
20:16 Independent MP Marlene Farrugia, formerly Labour, now addresses the House. Matthew Vella
20:13 Muscat has cited past government deals such as the Mid-Med sale to HSBC, or the Smart City deal with Tecom Investments of Dubai, as examples where there was no scrutiny on such transactions. “This project will be a game-changer,” Muscat says. Matthew Vella
20:06 “The Opposition leader is putting pressure on the institutions with his constant attacks…” Matthew Vella
20:06 “I categorically refuse the Opposition leader’s scaremongering… who is trying to throw doubt on the educational certification of our country. The NCHE is led by a person who is truly super partes on this government. He has been quoted extensively by the Opposition leader when he was not generous with this government. Martin Scicluna has absolutely no interference from this government.” Matthew Vella
20:04 “This will be the most scrutinised economic, educational development project… our democracy has matured to the extent that projects larger than this, more controversial than this, were allowed to be developed with much less scrutiny.” Matthew Vella
20:01 Prime Minister Joseph Muscat now addresses the House. Matthew Vella
19:58 Busuttil: “Money is this government’s god. Everything is for sale: land, people, companies, votes… everything is for sale under this government. Even Marsaskala’s mayor has boasted he is in favour of Sadeen’s university because it will build the new local council premises.” Matthew Vella
19:55 "This is all bluff. It is neither a university, nor is it 'American' because DePaul University does not not want to associate itself with this project", Busuttil says. Matthew Vella
19:52 Busuttil says that since Sadeen has applied for a higher education licence, it cannot promote itself as a 'university' and insists that this is a breach of higher education laws. Matthew Vella
19:51 Busuttil says that Sadeen has applied as a higher education institute when this is not legal to be associated as a 'university' Matthew Vella
19:47 “There’s another objection to be listed here: how can we grant land for 99 years to someone who does not yet have a licence to run a university? If the National Commission for Higher Education (NCHE) turns down the licence request, will you be revoking the land transfer?” Matthew Vella
19:45 “How can you give a licence for the running of a university to somebody who has never had any experience in running a university? This does not make sense.” Matthew Vella
19:44 Simon Busuttil is now railing against the reason that the Labour government issued a legal notice that widened the criteria for higher educational institutions and universities, to make it less onerous for such institutions to be established. “If you ruin our reputation in education… it will downgrade the value of graduates’ degrees from the University of Malta.” Matthew Vella
19:37 “There’s no consolation in having reduced the scale of the land originally earmarked for AUM. The prime minister should not expect any thanks for ruining less ODZ and virgin land... what is the reason the PM has to necessarily use this place, with its sea-views, for a university?” Matthew Vella
19:30 “The people out there will be making their own judgement on the way things are happening… and it will be a negative verdict on what you are doing,” Busuttil says, attacking the agreement signed behind closed doors to award – originally – 90,000 square metres of public land at Zonqor to Sadeen. “What kind of decision-making is it that the prime minister awards this kind of land to somebody without a public call for tenders, without this person having any experience in education.” Matthew Vella
19:26 Matthew Vella
19:26 “The way this university has been proposed is disgusting. Our objections are three: environmental, educational, and good governance. There are many people out there who are against this university. If there is something the prime minister has managed to do was unite these people against him: environmental NGOs, farmers, even hunting associations, the church’s environment commission, the Archbishop himself, and people from the art and 150 academics, students, lecturers, and the Chamber of Commerce.” Matthew Vella
19:23 Busuttil: This motion symbolises what is wrong with this government; good governance, environment, education are all areas showing Labour’s weaknesses in government, and this is what people are talking about. Matthew Vella
19:22 Opposition leader Simon Busuttil now speaking. Matthew Vella
19:13 Bartolo: "This project will benefit Bormla and Marsaskala, it will help the local economy of these communities, their social regeneration, and the creation of jobs. Matthew Vella
19:07 The education sector can serve as a generator of economic growth, Education Minister Evarist Bartolo said, kicking off the debate.

“I think both parties agree that we can use education to attract investment, just like English language schools have served to build us a good reputation.”

Bartolo said that Malta, if it works seriously, could tap into the new market that sees students seeking to study in Europe. Matthew Vella

The House of Representatives pulled an all-nighter to discuss and conclude a parliamentary motion for the transfer of two sites to Jordanian construction company Sadeen Group.

Sadeen will construct a private university at Zonqor and Dock No. 1 in Bormla.

Front Harsien ODZ has decried “the rushed process through which government is selling public domain”, saying that the government had failed to publish its heads of agreement with Sadeen group, bypassed the parliamentary environment committee and ignored advice from MEPA on sustainable alternatives to Zonqor.

Zonqor Point and Dock 1 will be granted to Sadeen by title of temporary emphyteusis for a period of 99 years. It cannot be converted into a perpetual one. Ground rent starts at €40,000 in the first year and increases gradually to more than €1 million by the 31st year.

Throughout the term of the grant, the permitted use of the designated land "shall be solely and exclusively educational".

Sadeen will take out an insurance policy of €2.5 million. A list of conditions allow the government to dissolve the grant, including failure to complete the project within a year the limit set in the deed and if the property is used for any purpose other than the permitted use.

A copy of the draft deed was passed on to members of parliament last week.

Always subject to the time when the accreditation is issued, AUM shall start temporary operations with the first intake of students from Bormla site by not later than 31 October 2016. If the accreditation is not issued by then, the contract falls through.

AUM may avail itself on an option to start its foundation courses at Smart City before moving its campuses to Dock 1 and Zonqor Point.

The Opposition remains against the use of Zonqor Point, after MEPA concluded that a site in Tarxien fits the necessary requirements. The government argues that the site, within development zone, is earmarked for a social housing project.