The Gozo Ministry has found “no evidence of a conflict of interest” in a tender assigned to architect Alex Bigeni to supervise a €9 million government project awarded to his most lucrative private clients, which include Gozo construction magnate Joseph Portelli, The Shift has learned.
Replying to questions by The Shift, following the publication of evidence that the chosen contractor to build the public swimming pool is among Bigeni’s private clients, the Director General of Contracts, Anthony Cachia, insisted that there is ‘no evidence’ of a conflict of interest.
He said the €99,000 tender to Bigeni to supervise the building of the Gozo Aquatic Centre Project project has not yet been awarded – although Bigeni’s was the lowest bid submitted, no contract has as yet been signed.
Cachia insisted that, according to the Gozo Ministry, “no evidence of a conflict of interest was found when processing the offer of Perit Bigeni, and that the same perit (architect) did not indicate any relationship with the contractors awarded the tender.”
“Bigeni is a freelance architect and it is understood that he has multiple clients from both the public and private sector,” Cachia added.
Last month, The Shift revealed how Bigeni was selected by the Department of Contracts to supervise and certify work on the public project on behalf of the Gozo Ministry. The tender was in line with procurement rules, the Ministry insisted.
While the Gozo Ministry did not find any ‘evidence’ of a conflict of interest, the Planning Authority’s portal is peppered with applications for development permits submitted by the developers contracted to build the swimming pool listing Bigeni as their architect.
This makes Bigeni’s job a difficult task, as he has to control government payments to his clients on this public project while also being on the payroll of the same contractors for various private projects.
Sources in the Gozitan construction industry described the ‘findings’ of the Gozo Ministry as “a sick joke”.
“In Gozo, Alex Bigeni is synonymous with Joseph Portelli and his associates. We are sure that even Minister Clint Camilleri, an architect, himself, knows this very well,” they said.
Bigeni has served as an advisor and a person of trust to the current Gozo Minister when he served as Parliamentary Secretary and he is also related to the Minister through marriage. Additionally, his brother, a lawyer, is currently an advisor to Minister Camilleri on a person of trust basis.
The tender for the long overdue Gozo Aquatic Centre was awarded earlier this year to Poliexcel Construction, a consortium formed between Polidano Group and Excel Investments. Excel was incorporated in 2017 and lists Joseph Portelli, Mark Aguis, known as Ta’ Dirjanu, and Daniel Refalo as shareholders.
The trio are Gozo’s largest developers, with dozens of dwellings currently under construction throughout the island.
Bigeni appears as the lead architect on most of the group’s private projects.
He was also the architect responsible for the now-infamous permit to convert an uninhabited and dilapidated rural building on the outskirts of Qala into a sprawling villa. Portelli had announced he would give up the permit following public uproar.
The Ministry said the services to be provided by the architect “are going to be scrutinised by the Ministry’s public officers” responsible for the project.
“The Ministry has its own architect who will ultimately be responsible for the management, supervision and certification of the project. The aim of this tender was to provide support services to the MGOZ architect and his team of public officers.”