Public contract concerns
Shame and accountability have lost their meaning under this government. Admittedly, there has always been a measure of abusive procurement practice over the years but the number of irregular orders awarded today, mostly to friends of friends, has taken abuse to new heights.
The abuse in the award of contracts for cleaning services at Mount Carmel Hospital and similar work contracts for cleaning work at St Vincent de Paul Hospital are scandalous by any measure of governing standards. Yet, even though the abuse at the mental health hospital has now been confirmed by the National Audit Office, no heads have rolled, either at departmental or ministerial level.
This is not at all surprising in a country where the culture of resignations or sanctions for serious wrongdoing is not yet fully developed. Indeed, at one time the Prime Minister made a mockery of such ethical culture when he stripped a minister of one portfolio for opening a company in an offshore tax haven only to retain him in his Cabinet.
Resistance to accountability and to good governance has now become entrenched. Abuse is so widespread it looks as if it has become an acceptable norm. There has been no public outrage to the manner in which public procurement rules are awarded at both the mental health hospital and the home for the elderly in Luqa.
The Auditor General has found there is no document covering the mental hospital’s outsourcing of cleaning services, a fact that, on its own, ought to make Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee investigate the matter with the urgency it deserves.
This is not a simple, one-off job but a contract worth millions, not thousands, of euros. Yet, in clear breach of public procurement rules, it has been renewed every three months with the blessing of the contracts department and the Finance Ministry. The National Audit Office commented that “the fact that a service bearing such a considerable financial impact is not adequately covered by an official contract document is an obvious cause of concern”.
It found that the financial value at which cleaning services at the hospital are acquired far exceeds the maximum threshold for a call for quotations as set by the national public procurement rules. As if all this were not shocking enough, the Audit Office has also found that the cleaning service provider had suddenly increased the number of cleaners when this had not been necessary, so much so that some were detailed to do other work unrelated to cleaning. Some of the cleaners were not even up to standard.
At St Vincent de Paul, another provider has been given a cleaning job without a tender.
It is now the duty of the contracts department and of the Finance Ministry to explain to the taxpayer the reasons why they are allowing the award of such contracts in this manner. In so far as the situation at Mount Carmel Hospital is concerned, the abuse taking place there is no longer a matter of speculation because it has now been confirmed by the Auditor General himself.
What is a cause for concern to the Audit Office ought also to be of direct concern to the Finance Ministry. All this is a sad reflection of the lack of good governance that has characterised this administration.
This is a Times of Malta print editorial