Much has been made of Midi taking over Manoel Island, to the exclusion of the public. The government issued a call for expressions of interest in 1992 for the development of Tignè Point and Manoel Island. Midi was selected as the preferred bidder. Protracted negotiations with three administrations involving both parties lasted eight years until agreement was reached and the deed of emphyteusis was passed by Parliament with the unanimous approval of all MPs on June 15, 2000.
Midi acquired the temporary utile dominium of a large part of Manoel Island (outlined in red in map). It immediately opened the area marked in blue to the public. This area has never been maintained or cleaned by Gżira local council, based on the correct interpretation of the Local Councils Act which provides for a number of properties that are excluded from the competence of the local councils, including Manoel Island and Fort Manoel.
Indeed Midi has repeatedly not objected to requests by Gżira United Football Club to hold circuses and luna parks, and free of charge.
Concerning the issue that Midi is denying public access to the foreshore, which goes against public policy, I categorically state that Midi fully respects Malta’s public policy that the foreshore is accessible to the public. However, accesses are blocked on one side by the Manoel Island Yacht Yard (marked in yellow), which does not belong to Midi, and on the other by the Lazzaretto (marked in brown), which is still unsafe.
Hence the issue which has now been raised is not whether Midi has denied public access to the foreshore, but whether the public has the right to access the foreshore over private property belonging to Midi. Midi’s legal advice, according to Ian Refalo, is that no such obligation exists, but “we are in discussions with government regarding allowing limited access on an ex gratia basis, while protecting the heritage sites under its responsibility”.
Regarding the fulfilment of its restoration obligations, I can confirm that these heritage sites comprise two in particular: Fort Manoel, which has been completely restored save for the ditch and certain bastion walls, at a cost of €10 million; and the Lazzaretto, still in a perilous state and which has yet to be restored pending final determination of its ultimate use.
An open weekend allowing the public to view the restored fort was held in 2009. We plan other events in the near future for the public to see the work we carried out.
Midi is a consortium of investors and is a listed company with no fewer than 785 shareholders and over 5,300 bondholders. Among these are institutional investors, one of which in turn has several thousand shareholders.
This is a project of some magnitude, which has to be undertaken in the best interests of all stakeholders, including the public. A master planning exercise is underway by world-renowned architectural firm Foster + Partners, and the plan is to incorporate a public park, besides public access to the foreshore in all areas not designated for yacht berthing.
As for relations with the Gżira local council and its mayor, I can state that the council, in line with the Local Council Act, has no jurisdiction over Manoel Island, and hence all discussions must be undertaken with the government. Despite the forced, unlawful entry and inaccurate, populist statements issued by the local council, when the mayor contacted me requesting a meeting, this was immediately acceded to. And although there isn’t agreement on all aspects, we heard their views and will seek to cooperate with them, as good neighbours.
We are confident that a satisfactory arrangement can be found within the contractual obligations that Midi has abided by.
Luke Coppini is CEO of Midi.