When the government wanted to evict the Marsascala Sports Club from its Żonqor premises to make it available for an American University of Malta campus, it signed a secret deal with the club that was never discussed in parliament, despite involving the giveaway of public land.  

The contract, seen by Times of Malta, was signed on June 24, 2016, by lawyer Deborah Schembri who at the time was parliamentary secretary responsible for lands. Other signatories included Marsascala SC president Aaron Simpson and club treasurer Melchior Busuttil.

The site of the ex-national pool was part of the land leased to Sadeen Education Ltd on March 11, 2016, for it to build a university campus there.

Marsascala Sports Club says it had obtained that land under lease for 16 years in 2005, renewable for another two terms of 16 years each.

The club was spared imminent eviction from the site after Mr Justice, now Chief Justice, Mark Chetcuti upheld a request for an injunction on June 21, just three days before the agreement for new facilities to be built by the government was signed.

What the secret deal states

The government agreed to upgrade the Żonqor facility and construct a new waterpolo pitch at its own expense within five years of the agreement and transfer the finished facility to the Marsascala SC within six months of completion.

The contract includes a redacted clause in which the government binds itself to certain terms should the club become devoid of a new waterpolo pool facility. These obligations would come into effect when the club is effectively evicted from the ex-national pool at Żonqor and is extinguished when possession of the new facilities are handed over to the club.

The government agreed to upgrade the Żonqor facility at its own expense

In turn, the club agreed to withdraw all legal action against the government, including the warrant of prohibitory injunction, waive any rights it may have with the government in relation to the termination of the Żonqor lease and bound itself to vacate the ex-national pool at Sadeen’s first request. The club also agreed not to be a hindrance to the AUM project being developed by Sadeen.

To substantiate the request for the prohibitory injunction in 2016, Simpson had testified about a series of meetings with various government officials, including former OPM chief of staff, Keith Schembri, and former deputy chief of staff, now parliamentary secretary for citizenship, Alex Muscat, wherein a number of assurances were made by the government, including that either the administration or Sadeen would make good on the club’s relocation costs.

Simpson said that government officials had repeatedly assured them not to worry about the lease termination and that Schembri had told him that the government would invest €6 million for an alternative site.

The Planning Authority gave its blessing to the development of the waterpolo pitch on a new site in July last year.

The site, which is outside the development zone, is across the bay from the current pitch on Triq is-Salini, in an area known as is-Siberja. With a footprint of 3,552 square metres, some 2,434 square metres will be reclaimed from the sea, and will include a restaurant, changing rooms and ancillary facilities.

Marsascala residents and NGOs have heavily opposed the development due to the ecological impact that the excavation required for development would have on the bay as well as how the presence of the pitch would impact the public’s enjoyment of the coastline in the area.

Last November, residents, together with Moviment Graffitti, appealed the planning application which is now before the Environmental Planning Review Tribunal.

Residents have been petitioning against the relocation of the waterpolo pitch since 2016 and have also written to Prime Minister Robert Abela, himself a Marsascala resident, to reconsider the development.

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