UPDATED 5pm: Sadeen Group, the company behind the controversial American University of Malta, has promised to build new premises for the Marsascala local council if a campus in Żonqor is permitted, the mayor has confirmed.

During a council meeting earlier this week, Labour Mayor Mario Calleja announced the deal, saying he had the CEO’s permission to make the agreement public.

Speaking to the Times of Malta, Mr Calleja said the council had asked for help in kind from Sadeen Group during a recent meeting. “I met the CEO about a week before our last council meeting. I asked him what the council would be gaining from the project. We asked for help in kind and that includes the building of our new premises, which we desperately need,” he said.

The proposed university has been at the centre of controversy because of its proposed location in Outside Development Zones. Opposition to the project led the government to announce a compromise last August in which the original plan to allocate 90,000 square metres of ODZ land to the university was reduced to 18,000 square metres.

The government will be handing over Dock 1 in Cospicua to the AUM while sport facilities and dormitories are to be built on the reduced Żonqor Point site. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has said that 13,000 square metres allocated are within the development plan, while a further 18,000 square metres are ODZ. Nationalist Party councillor Charlot Cassor described the deal with Sadeen Group as “ridiculous”, yesterday, saying this was not normal procedure.

“I wouldn’t lose the land at Żonqor for the council’s building, and I would never accept a deal like this with the private sector. This compromises our position,” Mr Cassar said. The mayor denied the deal compromised the council’s stand. “I will take what I can. Otherwise, how are we going to build the new premises without the funds? We did what everyone else would do. There’s nothing wrong with this,” he added. He insisted the deal was a positive move that would benefit the community, adding this was no trouble for Sadeen Group.

“They are contractors. Once they’re building the university, they’ll send some people here to build the council’s premises.”

The local council was last year granted a permit by the planning authority to build new council premises in Ġnien Santa Tereza, close to the church on the Marsascala promenade. The site forms part of a public urban local space that is still being used for recreational purposes. Mr Calleja also said he had negotiated other “help in kind” from the Sadeen Group relating to infrastructure, including lighting and road works in Triq il-Blajjiet, two public convenience facilities and a new sewage system. He also expressed his wish that the company transports excavation material from the Żonqor site by sea rather than land to avoid inconveniencing the public.

In a statement this afternoon, the Nationalist Party said this was a classic case of institutionalised corruption under the Joseph Muscat government. 

"The situation is so serious that a person who is supposedly representing the electorate, was not only bought, but is proud to say so," the PN said, while urging the authorities to take action. 

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