The government has failed to explain why it kept under wraps its agreement with China for a study on a monorail system that carries a potential price tag of €1.6 billion.

In a Memorandum of Understanding signed last July, State company China Overseas Engineering Group Co Ltd (Covec) committed itself to draw up, within two years, a preliminary feasibility study for the engineering, procurement, construction and financing of a monorail system for Malta.

The MOU says the Maltese government is “willing to build and operate a monorail system” while the Chinese are willing to construct the system” based on their “rich experience in such projects”.

The agreement was never published and the government failed to inform the public about it. The plan was first revealed last week through an EU document published in Brussels.

The document reveals that Malta is seeking funds from the EU and the European Investment Bank to finance a €1.6 billion monorail project.

According to sketchy details provided to Brussels, the monorail would consist of a 76 km long, two-line track that would criss-cross the island and integrate part of the pre-1931 railway infrastructure. It would take eight years to complete.

In the EU document, the government said that a pre-feasibility study was already under way.

However, asked last week to give details about the study and who was conducting it, the Ministry of Transport failed to reply.

Parts of the MOU were first published by the PN’s weekly Il-Mument. It shows the government has gone beyond plans for a feasibility study.

In the five-page MOU, the Chinese make it clear that while financing the pre-feasibility study, they expect exclusivity if the government decides to carry on with the project.

“Covec is capable and is willing to carry out the project in terms of the standards or requirements of MTI (Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure),” the agreement states. “MTI hereby expresses the intent to entrust Covec to undertake the project as the sole EPC (engineering, procurement and construction) contractor.”

This newspaper sought comments from the government but was met with complete silence.

The monorail agreement is the latest in a series of deals struck between the Maltese and Chinese governments.

A few months after taking office, the Labour government reached an agreement with China Communications Construction Corporation Ltd, another state owned company, which will study the possibility of constructing a bridge between Malta and Gozo.

A few months later, following a visit by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to China, it was announced that state company Shanghai Electric would be buying a third of Enemalta and 90 per cent of the Delimara power plant, formerly known as the BWSC plant. This agreement was signed last week.

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