The City Gate project is a white elephant in more ways than one. It is whitish in structure and an elephant in size. It is a white elephant because it is an object whose cost is out of proportion to its usefulness or worth.
Originally, the project was meant to be part of the Valletta regeneration programme. In the PN’s manifesto, the heading of Chapter 298, reads ‘Building of the National Theatre and City Gate (Jinbnew it-Teatru Rjal u Bieb il-Belt). There is no mention of a new Parliament, or of any direct commissioning of Renzo Piano to the tune of millions of Euro. However, one of Renzo Piano’s architects said that their brief was for the construction of a parliament building. So much for GonziPN’s electoral promises.
The cost of this project, exceeding eighty million euro, can never justify its commercial viability. The government has guaranteed a loan and forked out public funds only to pay for this loan by again forking out rent for use of the building. Furthermore, the rents due from other concessions have been given to the SPV created for this project, thereby robbing future generations of state revenue.
Renzo Piano’s appointment was a simple direct order, sanctioned by Lawrence Gonzi and Austin Gatt directly. The contract, worth millions of euro, was awarded against all rules and regulations by which tenders are normally awarded. In fact, there was never any public call for this important venture at the entrance to our capital city.
Work on the project is progressing at a very fast rate, probably to allow Lawrence Gonzi the honour of inaugurating his own personal whim. The building was criticized at planning stage and it is now being described as an eyesore compared to the baroque architecture of Valletta.
Many Maltese comment on the wide breach in the bastions at the entrance. The lack of open spaces at the entrance to our capital city is also debatable. What should have been an object of restoration, has become a modern addition to a city dominated by baroque architecture.
The minor works being carried out on the Opera House do not conform to the statements made in the PN election manifesto. The open air theatre was classified as a white elephant even during the presentation of plans and artists’ impressions and when the model was presented for public viewing.
The City Gate project could well be the testament of the Gonzi government. Unfortunately, the Maltese people cannot refuse this legacy. We will just have to lump it and pay for it.