Renovation works on the 13-storey Dar Malta in the heart of Brussels are at an advanced stage and officials of the Maltese Permanent Representation to the EU are expected to start moving to their new offices in the first week of February.

A government spokesman told The Times yesterday that the refurbishment job by one of Belgium's biggest construction companies, Blaton, is going according to schedule.

"According to the Belgian company and our architects, a lot of progress has been made over the past months and we are hopeful that our officials will be working from the new offices by February," the spokesman said.

The building, metres away from the headquarters of the European Commission, underwent extensive structural alterations. The interior of the top floors, the ones to be occupied by the Permanent Representation, are almost complete with all the electrical, plumbing and IT installations in place.

A new high security system is expected to be installed in the coming weeks. The government spokesman explained that new furniture and fittings are expected to start being put in place in the first weeks ofJanuary.

All the furniture and interior fittings are being shipped from China to Brussels following a deal struck between theMaltese and Chinese governments. In fact, the furniture and other interior furnishings for Dar Malta were donated by the Chinese government. Maltese officials went to China purposely to choose and order the furniture and fittings that were eventually produced specifically by Chinese manufacturers for Dar Malta.

Renovation works on the building started last March following months of haggling by the various Belgian authorities to issue the necessary permits. Tens of workers are employed directly on the project in order to complete the job as early as possible.

Apart from the Permanent Representation to the EU, which employs about 50 officials, the building will also be hosting Malta's Embassy to Belgium.

The government has said that parts of the building will be leased to third parties in order to generate income to compensate for the initial investment in the building.

Dar Malta was bought by the government in June 2004 for Lm9 million, inclusive of the refurbishment costs.

The project is being coordinated by a committee under the auspices of the Ministry of Finance.

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