Four infrastructural giants have submitted an offer to build the tunnel between Malta and Gozo, Infrastructure Minister Ian Borg said today.
Two of them are consortia, and two of them are companies, he said when addressing the media.
The bidders are Salini Impregilo S.p. A., CGYI Malta Gozo Consortium, Equitix – Itochu – Yapi Merkezi – Makyol – Egis Consortium and Malta Gozo Fixed Link Limited. The companies involved are based in Italy, Turkey, France, China, the Netherlands, Japan and Malta.
Borg was speaking as the process for a pre-qualification questionnaire was closed. Whoever wins the tender will have to design, build, operate and maintain the 14-kilometre stretch which will link the two main islands of the archipelago.
The four companies and consortia will now be evaluated by the evaluation committee to ensure that they meet the necessary criteria set, before moving onto the next step which is an open discussion with the companies and consortia which would later lead to the one which satisfies all criteria to carry on with the project.
Borg said on Thursday that the level of interest in the project is a “show of faith” in the project and in the country as a whole.
He emphasised that the process for this permanent link had begun in 2012 by the PN administration, and that experts appointed by then-Minister Chris Said had been retained. He said that both the government and opposition had voted in favour of this project in Parliament as well.
In a statement published after the press conference, Infrastructure Malta said that through the three-stage selection process launched in January, it is identifying a concessionaire to develop and operate the tunnel for a pre-defined number of years. The duration of the concession will be determined in the final stages of this process. At the end of the concession period, the concessionaire will be required to transfer the tunnel infrastructure to the Government.
“The call for the PQQ indicated that the Government’s preferred option is for this project to be self-financed, without any form of guarantees or subsidies. Details on tolls or other fees for tunnel users were not being requested in the PQQ stage. They will be identified during the final stage, which will focus on the bidders’ financial proposals”, the statement read.
Indeed, Borg said during the press conference that the government would not be funding the project, as all construction and maintenance costs would be borne by the winning bidder.
Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri described the news as a “very important step for Gozo”, noting that it puts them one step closer to what used to be seen as a dream and even, at times, an idea so large that it is construed as a joke, becoming reality.
Addressing criticism towards the tunnel in that it will mean that Gozo will not remain the same, Camilleri said that Gozo would be Gozo before anything else if Gozitans are living in it. He said that the tunnel will give the opportunity for Gozitans to live in Gozo and not have to relocate to Malta. He said it will also make it more appealing for businesses to open in Gozo as well.
Infrastructure Malta CEO Frederick Azzopardi meanwhile explained that the tunnel will leave from Xemxija and finish connected to any arterial road in Gozo, but that the final design will eventually be decided in tandem with the chosen company. He said that the companies will now be evaluated and if they satisfy the necessary criteria they will move forward to the competitive dialogue phase – at which point companies can also propose other options to bored tunnels.
Asked how the process would be handled differently to other large projects that have ended up mired in corruption claims, Borg insisted that the process would be clean and transparent, while Anthony Cachia, the director-general of public contracts said that the process had been publicised at EU level, and that bidders would have to satisfy clear criteria that be evaluated in a multi-stage process.
Asked about the technical expertise of the committee evaluating the bids, Azzopardi clarified that there are no technical experts in Malta on these tunnels, but that a Norwegian expert has been onboard with the project for a number of years, and will remain such, giving technical input and helping the evaluation board where necessary.
There is no set deadline for the end of the evaluation phase, though Borg has said that the process has been moving forward at a reasonable pace and will continue to do so.