Maltatoday, 16 August 2009, by James Debono
A military battery on the Gozitan promontory between Qbajjar and Xwejni is still in private hands, even if the government’s lease granted to Rooks Ltd expired in February 2003.
The tower, built in 1716 by engineers Jacques de Camus D’Arginy and Bernard de Fontet, was being used as a bar and restaurant. The tower was originally leased by the government to Francis Vella in 1978. Three years later the lease was transferred to its present owners.
Now it lies abandoned amid a legal battle between the Lands Department and Rooks Ltd, a company owned by Grotta disco owner George Said and Xlendi hotel owner Saviour Cremona. Rooks Ltd is contesting the right of the Lands department to take back the tower.
A spokesperson for parliamentary secretary Jason Azzopardi told MaltaToday that in the current circumstances, the Lands Department cannot do anything before the court case is decided.
Rooks Ltd resorted to the law courts after being served with an eviction order in October 2007. They claimed the order violated their fundamental right to a fair hearing in front of an independent court to determine whether they should be evicted or not.
The owners claim that when the lease expired they were allowed to continue using the tower as bar and a restaurant by the Commissioner of Lands. But the Lands Department claim that they never received any rent after 2003.
In October 2005, the Lands Department asked the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage whether it had any objections to renewing the lease. A year later the Superintendence replied that it wanted to allocate the tower to Din l-Art Helwa, to ensure that the tower was properly conserved and made accessible to the public.
It was only then that the Lands Department asked the occupants to vacate the tower, but they refused.
The Lands Department also claim the occupants did not value the historical importance of the fort and had allowed it to deteriorate. On the other hand the occupants say they spent a lot of money to keep the tower in a good state.
The Qbajjar tower is one of three Gozitan towers still in private hands, the other being the Kenuna Tower in Nadur which is rented to Go Mobile, while a tower in Santa Lucija is permanently leased to Guzepp Busuttil.
The tower in Mgarr ix-Xini is rented by the Ministry for Gozo, and the Torri ta’Isopu is presently used by the Nadur Local Council. The Xlendi tower is not rented to anyone while Dwejra Tower is administrated by the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage.