Gozo diocese, Dominicans and nuns invested €1.5 million in Fort Cambridge

Archbishop Charles Scicluna: ‘I don’t support investments by religious orders in such projects.’

Fort Cambridge was funded by a bond issue, which attracted a €1.5 million investment by Maltese religious orders in 2007
Fort Cambridge was funded by a bond issue, which attracted a €1.5 million investment by Maltese religious orders in 2007

Three Maltese religious orders and even the Gozo diocese are amongst bondholders who invested over €1.5 million in securities issued back in 2007 by GAP Developments, to finance the construction of the Fort Cambridge luxury apartments in Tigné.

For years, the Maltese church has taken a vocal stand in favour of sustainability and against planning policies that intensified urban construction.

But the archdiocese has been unable to influence the financial practices of religious orders which have amassed large fortunes from the sale of land and inheritances bequeathed to them over the years.

It now turns out, MaltaToday has learnt, that these religious orders have invested their fortunes with those of GAP Developments for the construction of the 20-storey luxury apartment complex on the Tigné promontory – one of the tallest buildings in Sliema, soon to be dwarfed by GAP’s proposal for a 40-storey tower hotel.

The three orders and the Gozo diocese had invested in 2007 when the first bond issue of €35 million was issued. They matured in 2013.

According to papers seen by MaltaToday, the religious order of the Discalced Carmelite sisters invested €106,000 or Lm46,588; the Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus purchased €431,000 or Lm186,350 in bonds; the Maltese Dominican Province acquired €538,000 or Lm232,978; and the Gozitan Diocese €466,000 or Lm201,491.

The investments prove how religious orders are inured to the prospect of Malta’s property construction boom, with financial advisors seeking secure investments for the proceeds of land-rich orders.

A spokesperson for the Gozo diocese defended the investment carried out, arguing that it took place at a time when GAP Developments planned building the structures “to the same height levels as the then existing buildings in the area and not the high rise buildings that are the current issue”.

According to the development brief issued in 2007, which defined a number of building height limitations, required that the building volume steps up from west to east, with a maximum of 16 floors indicated as guidance.

“That was a short term investment which as you correctly mentioned already matured three years ago,” the administrative secretary of the Gozo Diocese said, who went on to argue that the investments were separate from “today’s high rise buildings issue”.

Last week the Archbishop of Malta, Charles Scicluna, lashed out at the controversial permits for high-rise towers for the Tumas and Gasan groups in Mriehel, and another by Gasan in the heart of Sliema. “The Planning Authority let Malta down after approving the controversial development of a 38-storey tower in Sliema and four interlinked towers in Mriehel.”

GAP Developments is not connected to either project, although it is seeking planning approval for its own 40-storey high-rise in Tigné.

A spokesman for Archbishop Scicluna explained to MaltaToday that the archdiocese had little control over the financial affairs of these religious orders.

 “The ethical standards followed by the Archdiocese of Malta, concerning any investments which impact on the environment and on the well-being of humanity, including future generations, are those set out by Pope Francis in his recent document on the environment Laudato Sì.

“With regard to investments owned by religious orders and the Gozo diocese, may I suggest that you contact the Provincials of the respective orders and the Gozo Curia. It would also be pertinent to find out whether they are aware that the bonds they invested are related to present high-rise development.

“Nonetheless, the Archbishop would like to make it clear that he does not support investments by religious orders in such projects.”

The Archbishop’s spokesman also made it very clear that Scicluna technically did not have authority over the religious orders or the Gozo diocese.

The extent of the interest in these bond issues is a matter of debate for religious orders seeking ethical ways of safeguarding their wealth. Only recently, the former Din l-Art Helwa president Martin Scicluna even called for a boycott of the Gasan and Tumas groups who are the promoters of the Mriehel high-rise, and in the case of Gasan only, the Townsquare project in Sliema.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna has blasted the Planning Authority for its insensitivity towards the visual impact of the “cement monstrosities” that will take over the country’s skyline, and quipped about who would defend Malta “from the people who took a solemn oath to defend the common good without fear or favour”.

He compared developers and businessmen to Midas – the Greek mythological king whose wish to turn everything into gold was granted, only for the king to later curse his greed.

The Archbishop wrote that if the country’s overdevelopment continued, the country’s beauty would be ruined and developers would be left with nothing but their money. “Some developers and businessmen have Midas in their mind when they gloat on the high-rise project the Planning Authority has recently approved,” he said.

Adds comment by the Gozo diocese