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GWU suspects corruption in Fairmount projects

The General Workers' Union yesterday stepped up its criticism of the Fairmount conversion projects that lost the shipyards €80 million, saying it suspected corruption.

The union's suspicions emerged from the details of a report it drew up on the contract, general secretary Tony Zarb said.

When asked whether the union had hard evidence to back up its corruption claim, Mr Zarb repeatedly told journalists to read the report and draw their own conclusions.

The Fairmount projects - which involved work on two semi-submersible barges, the Fjell and the Fjord - were the last nail in the shipyards' coffin. Mr Zarb asked how Malta Shipyards marketing manager Graham Crouser had been appointed and why he was allowed to leave the country before his contract expired. He said Mr Crouser was now working in shipyards in Gibraltar.

Mr Crouser was contracted by Malta Shipyards for three years but left just six months into his contract. He was responsible for securing the two contracts. The GWU said he had a bad track record prior to his employment with the shipyards but this had not been checked.

The union's 38-page report concluded that the Fairmount case was a major scandal that was not due to a human error but mismanagement. It underlined the possibility of corruption, even on a major scale. PricewaterhouseCoopers, the auditing company appointed by the government to investigate the controversial loss-making projects, left many questions unanswered and raised more concerns, he said.

"People have the right to the truth. These are €80 million of taxpayers' money we are talking about. We drew up this report because people should be informed. A responsible government should have done this report in the first place. (Infrastructure Minister) Austin Gatt should shoulder political responsibility for this mess."

He said the GWU's calculations that the loss amounted to €80 million and not €37 million, as PricewaterhouseCoopers had established, had not been contested.

According to the report, the original estimate for the contracts was 1.2 million man hours but Mr Crouser had changed this to 650,000 hours.

Mr Zarb said the government had enough facts in hand to take action and the GWU was still insisting on a public and independent inquiry that would hear sworn evidence and investigate everyone, from the country's top hierarchy downwards.

One of its aims should be to quantify the net loss of the contracts and who was responsible for it.

The GWU mentioned a number of profitable projects that were undertaken by the same number of workers, using the same tools and with the same working conditions and organisational structure. This, Mr Zarb said, confirmed how the Fairmount losses were due to something that had gone wrong. "The scandalous losses are the result of the contract conditions, an underestimated quote, the way the contract was negotiated and irregularities and mismanagement at the shipyards," he said.

In its reaction, the Infrastructure Ministry said the GWU was emulating the Labour Party, claiming corruption without having any hard evidence to prove it.

The ministry said it was evaluating the contents of the GWU report, although this had been "politicised". It said the report repeated allegations the GWU had been harping on for weeks and months without giving any consideration to the conclusions of the PricewaterhouseCoopers report on the two contracts.

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