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Public Contracts head silent on €274m St Vincent de Paul contract

A one-line reply to questions about a highly controversial deal

The multimillion-euro deal for  the extension of St Vincent de Paul Residence was signed last November.

The multimillion-euro deal for the extension of St Vincent de Paul Residence was signed last November.

Director of Contracts Anthony Cachia refuses to say whether work on the €274 million tender for the extension of St Vincent de Paul Residence started even before the contract was signed.

According to the contract, the demolition of the kitchen at the Luqa home for the elderly was to start three weeks after the deal was signed. However, when asked on various occasions whether work had in fact commenced before the signing and about claims of serious breaches of EU and local procurement rules, Mr Cachia preferred not to comment.

“Your e-mail has been noted,” was his only reply.

The Sunday Times of Malta reported a fortnight ago that the kitchen was reduced to rubble well before the signing of the contract with the government.

Sources at the residence told Times of Malta that bulldozers moved in despite the fact that James Caterers and a subsidiary of the db Group, which were awarded the tender, were still negotiating their “improved offer” with the Contracts Department.

The Times of Malta asked the government who had authorised the demolishing works to start but no replies were forthcoming.

The multimillion-euro deal was signed last November. The tender was awarded the previous April. Between the two – in June 2017 – was a general election.

Sequence of events reflects irrationality

In the interim period and after the award of a €60-million contract for the provision of meals and the building of a new kitchen, the successful bidders made an “improved offer” to build a 500-room extension as a “gift” for getting the tender.

In return – according to the contract the extension would become State property – the government agreed to pay the bidders €274 million over a number of years so the consortium would manage the new facility on its behalf.

Taking its cue from the “gift”, the Democratic Party, which has been pressing the government to come clean on the deal, called on Finance Minister Edward Scicluna “to make a good gesture towards the Maltese public in the form of a gift in favour of good governance and transparency by publishing the contract”.

“The PD is deeply concerned that this contract, particularly its additional ‘gift’ clause, has failed to observe procurement procedures,” said the party, which has two MPs in Opposition.

“Moreover, the authority negotiated with the winning tenderer following the award of the contract and varied its value by more than 50 per cent. No matter how hard one tries to give the benefit of the doubt to the Department of Contracts, the sequence of events reflects irrationality, possibly influenced by third parties,” said Godfrey Farrugia, a former Labour minister and now an MP representing the PD.

The Nationalist Party has asked the National Audit Office to investigate the contract.

Following weeks of silence and a meeting between Opposition leader Adrian Delia and the owners of James Caterers and the db Group, James Barbara and Silvio Debono, the PN said that the government had to clarify the issue.

Nationalist MP Beppe Fenech Adami, together with MPs Claudio Grech and Kristy Debono, formally asked the Auditor General to look into the matter.

Times of Malta has asked the PN if it received donations in cash or in kind from James Caterers or any of the companies within the Seabank db Group, but no replies had been forthcoming by the time of writing.

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