So it turns out that the concession for the national aquarium was another case of public land given away at a low price to private interests. A report issued by the National Audit Office concluded that the concession did not take into account the real value of the land and was granted for twice as long as normally recommended.

The present value of the land (remember the fantastic seafront location) is estimated to be €28.5 million, while the Malta Tourism Authority calculated it at just €2.6 million on the supposition that its value should be considered at the rate of less than €6 per square metre.

The aquarium – which is the public interest and tourism-generating element of the concession – only took up seven per cent of the 20,000 square metres. The largest part of the land granted on concession – 67 per cent of the area – is being utilised for outdoor recreational space, and in instances to host commercial events.

In effect, people have to pay to have access to land which was previously public and free. It is a rent-free concession and the government is not entitled to any direct revenue generated from the site for a period of 50 years.

The National Audit Office asked whether the contract had managed to balance the parties’ interests appro­priately. Does it sound like it? There was an amount of tut-tutting from Labour quarters – because this particular land concession was granted in 2011 under a Nationalist administration.

I don’t see how this can in any way justify similarly outrageous concessions. What was questionable under a previous administration is questionable now. There is no reason for the public to continue to be shafted – under one administration or another.

Sandro Chetcuti of the Malta Developers’ Association acknowledged that certain sectors of society were being left behind even as the country’s economy is going on full throttle. This did not seem to perturb Chetcuti unduly: “Whining should be left to the cats,” he said. “Some are genuine cases and these should be ad­dressed, but others need to be motivated. If we are scared to move forward because a few will be left behind, the whole country will be left behind.”

Chetcuti has let on what he thinks about those who may be critical of the unregulated excesses of the building industry – they are whiners and should be dismissed like stray cats

Those words are very telling. They reveal what this ‘icon’ of industry feels about those who are not part of the unsustainable, gluttonous building frenzy and who may be suffering from the impacts  this is having on the economy.

Unwittingly or otherwise, Chetcuti has let on what he thinks about those who may be critical of the unregulated excesses of the building industry – they are whiners and should be dismissed like stray cats.

So much for the false bonhomie and corporate dos for charity.

Perhaps Chetcuti’s other declarations were even more ominous. He is reported as saying: “We need a long-term plan for the beautification of the country.”

He couldn’t have been referring to the aesthetics of buildings or preserving buildings worthy of preservation. That boat has sailed long ago, leaving us to stumble through the mish-mash of unattractive, discordant buildings.

Maybe he is referring to landscaping of public spaces. And that’s where prospects look scary. For 15 years, landscaping and maintenance services were provided by one particular consortium. The National Audit Office gave this set-up a thumbs down.

Benchmarking exercises revealed that the contractual rates negotiated were not favourable to the government. Neither the original 2002 agreement nor the two subsequent contract extensions were awarded through competitive tendering. 

The NAO noted that the government’s monitoring arm within this contract was understaffed and could not cope with the administrative and operational burdens associated with this public-private partnership. As a result, monitoring was reactionary and the government’s enforcement was weak.

That’s the conclusion about one public-private partnership. I hope we can learn from that experience, and if we embark on any ‘beautification/landscaping’ exercise we do it in a transparent manner and in a way that guarantees value for money for long-suffering normal taxpayers.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece