Sunday Times of Malta, 16th November 2008


Around 30 million euro still available

Fort St Elmo may yet benefit from a share of the €120 million made available to Malta under the EU Structural Funds Programme, since the government is considering making an application when a third call is issued next year.

Parliamentary Secretary for Tourism Mario de Marco yesterday described the state of the fort’s neglect as a “national shame”. However, he said that an application for EU funds could only be made if St Elmo was excluded from the Grand Harbour Regeneration project – otherwise it would have to be rehabilitated using private funds.

The issue was raised in parliament last Thursday by Nationalist MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando – who has been shunned by environmentalists and senior Nationalist Party members since a controversy earlier this year over plans to build an open-air disco on ecologically-sensitive land in Mistra belonging to him.

Dr Pullicino Orlando said he could not understand how the government had sought €14 million of these Structural Funds for the “extravagant” underground extension of St John’s Co-Cathedral Museum. He called for the funds to be diverted towards the urgent restoration of Fort St Elmo and Fort St Angelo.

However, in a strong-worded statement to clarify the issue, St John’s Foundation pointed out that it – not the government – had applied for the funds under the Priority Axis 2 Malta Structural Fund Programme.

After the first call for applications, the foundation received €13.78 million from a fund of €120 million. A further €59 million was allocated to other entities – such as the Malta Tourism Authority and Heritage Malta – for other projects.

However, although the Ministry of Resources and Rural Affairs received the lion’s share of the funds, €32.3 million for the restoration and rehabilitation of Malta’s historical fortifications, no application was made by the government with regard to Fort St Elmo or Fort St Angelo.

A second call under the Priority Axis 2 programme is currently being adjudicated and a third call is due to be made next year – when around €29.9 million will be available.

Dr de Marco reiterated that Fort St Elmo remained a priority. He said funding, however, was not necessarily the first step: its use and cost would have to be established before that.

Planning and Priorities Co-ordination Division Projects Director General Marlene Bonnici explained that projects related to Fort St Elmo and St Angelo could also fall under Priority Axis 6, which targeted urban regeneration and had substantial funds to spare. Attention was recently drawn to Fort St Elmo when conservation architect Edward Said deplored its state of disrepair, saying the buildings were in imminent danger of collapse and that a mere €2.5 million emergency intervention could, at least, save them from disaster. However, that is just a fraction of the amount it would cost to restore the fort.

The parliamentary secretary for government land Jason Azzopardi is working on enforcement, security issues and the eviction of squatters – and the host of animals they keep – which pose a major problem as regards the fort’s rehabilitation.

Last Friday, the Works Division, completed a clean-up operation of the fort, collecting 90 tonnes of waste and debris.