Urgent call for prefab hospital still undecided one month later

A rushed call last month for a prefabricated hospital that gave potential bidders a 72-hour deadline for submissions remains undecided a month later, even as the government starts to lift COVID-19 restrictions.

If procured now, the temporary hospital may never be installed, leading medical sources to say the controversial project that would be worth millions should now be scrapped.

The project was tainted by allegations of corruption from the start. The Shift has reported how international bidders experienced in the provision of such prefabricated hospitals turned away from the call.

What struck the bidders most about the call was the fact that despite the prefabricated hospital being used for a national emergency, the terms were “onerous”, including performance bonds and day penalties of €50,000 per day for both late commencement as well as completion.

Despite the tight deadline, the government’s procurement unit has taken its time. A month since the submission of bids, and as the government has announced the decision to relax restrictions related to COVID-19, there is still no decision.

“The prefab hospital tender was a very hasty decision and no plan had been put in place. It was someone’s idea to make a quick buck thanks to the COVID-19 emergency,” sources from the industry told The Shift. “It would be a complete waste of public funds to go ahead.”

The tender is to be awarded on the sole merit of price – the cheapest offer. When excluding late bids, Spanish firm Gaptek has offered the lowest cost, but this would still set taxpayers back at least €6.5million.

MaliTutk JV, a Turkish joint venture is in second place, with an additional €2.4 million in cost.

The government’s call attracted some bids from companies unrelated to the medical field, including arms dealer James Fenech, who submitted a bid of €10.4 million through one of the subsidiaries in his United Services Global Group. Fenech and another four of his employees were last week accused of EU sanctions busting.

Anthony (Ninu) Fenech, who split from the Tumas Group some years ago, also offered to provide the hospital through his TUM Invest Group for less than €10 million.

The Shift has reported how international bidders experienced in the provision of such prefabricated hospitals did not even bother to submit a bid.

The call lacked details and specifications, and public documents show a reluctance to clarify vague requirements despite time limitations. Bidders were not even told of a plan of the area where the temporary hospital was to be mounted – even questions on whether it would be located in a field or on solid ground got no reply.

Officially, the tender issued by the Central Procurement and Supplies Unit is still under evaluation. Despite the few local pandemic cases that required ITU facilities, dealt with at Mater Dei, the government is still considering buying this expensive temporary hospital.

While Health Minister Chris Fearne has been silent on whether the project is still being considered, the Superintendent of Public Health, Charmaine Gauci, has said it was still needed ‘just in case’.

The bid under the so-called negotiated procedure, which allows the government to negotiate directly with the bidders, attracted a total of 21 bidders with prices ranging between €4 and €29 million.

Claims of irregularities made by PN MP Jason Azzopardi, that a company close to the Labour Party was going to get the tender were dismissed by an internal investigation ordered by the Health Ministry.

Medical practitioners who spoke to The Shift insisted that as the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in Malta appeared successful, it was more than obvious the project should be dropped.

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