A worrying case of faulty concrete at the Ċirkewwa passenger terminal has been kept under wraps for more than a year as Transport Malta tries to find an “amicable solution” with contractor Charles ‘Ċaqnu’ Polidano, Lovin Malta has learnt.
The terminal was an EU-funded project worth around €10 million, built by Polidano Group and completed in 2012 under the Nationalist administration, just before the 2013 election.
Six years later, it is showing dangerous signs of fast deterioration. Lovin Malta can confirm that it has been subject to investigation since at least January 2019 due to worrying cracks that appeared in the concrete columns which hold up the structure.
When asked about the investigation, Gozo Channel chairman Joe Cordina was very reluctant to comment, saying only: “Ask Transport Malta. They built it. It’s theirs.” He then hung up the phone.
The Transport Ministry was more forthcoming when questioned. A spokeswoman confirmed that a UK company called Socotec Ltd had been commissioned by Transport Malta to analyse the structure, concluding that the concrete was “deteriorating at a faster rate than it normally does”.
According to official records, Socotec was given a direct order of €36,000 to conduct independent laboratory tests of concrete after cracks were discovered.
“The investigative testing started in January 2019 and the initial conclusion was received in May 2019. Since then, Infrastructure Malta has been trying to find an amicable solution with the Parties concerned and to determine a permanent technical solution for the long term,” the Transport Ministry spokeswoman told Lovin Malta.
The tests can be confirmed just by observing the columns. One can see patched up holes which would have been used to extract and test samples of the concrete. Experts who spoke to Lovin Malta said the cracks and ‘bulletholes’ show there must have been a problem either with the grade of concrete used or the way it was cast. Such a site would require high grade concrete to withstand sea erosion. They expressed surprise that the project would have passed quality certification with faulty concrete.
The ministry told Lovin Malta that it had submitted a judicial letter in court against the contractor, the architect and the project manager, and liability shall be determined “following further discussions with the concerned parties or following further legal actions”.
“Even though legal actions have been taken, discussions with the concerned parties are currently ongoing to determine the best and most appropriate course of action,” a ministry spokeswoman said.
“The part of the structure which is currently under investigation is considered to be safe for use,” she added, denying that it was certified to be in a critical condition or that any part of the project was ever deemed to be unsafe.
Asked why the investigation had taken more than 18 months, the spokeswoman said: “Infrastructure Malta prioritizes each work in accordance to its technical merits. In this case, Infrastructure Malta is looking into the various possibilities so as to find the best intervention possible whilst at the same time safeguarding its rights through any possible legal actions.”
It is not clear why this investigation was never publicised, especially given the political mileage the Labour government seized from a similar case of inferior quality concrete at Mater Dei Hospital in 2015. The case ended up costing the taxpayer some €30 million in repairs.
Asked why the government never made the case public, the ministry spokeswoman said: “There was no particular reason – such issues occur from time to time and this case as usual is being tackled in a professional way so as to resolve the matter in the best way possible.”
When asked whether the parties involved have continued to benefit from tenders and direct orders, the ministry spokeswoman simply said: “Information about direct orders and tender awards are made public in the Government Gazette.”
On its website, Polidano Group states it was “responsible for the civil works mainly the core structure, the cast in situ concrete columns and slabs, inner road services, road building and the boundary wall” of the terminal.
Polidano Group has been contacted for comment but has not yet replied.
Lovin Malta has filed a Freedom of Information request to obtain the full report which the ministry failed to publish as yet.
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