During the first six months of this year, Infrastructure Malta dished out more than €9 million in direct orders to various road builders, according to information published in the Governement Gazette.
In about 68 direct orders, over 10 each month, the amounts awarded by the agency that falls under the remit of Transport Minister Ian Borg varied from a minimum of a few thousand euros for archaeological services to others of almost €2 million for maritime works.
Elbros Construction Ltd, controlled by the Mqabba-based Ellul brothers, have so far been the largest recipient of a direct order this year, with Infrastructure Malta dishing out €1.9 million of taxpayer money to the company without any call for other bidders to compete. The direct order was awarded for works on the building of a new jetty at St Thomas Bay.
Ballut Blocks, another regular recipient of direct orders and multi-million euro tenders from the government, received €1.2 million to build a ‘wave-wall’ at Triq it-Tunnara, in Mellieħa.
There are few local road building companies and they normally controlled by tightly-knit family businesses. Apart from the tenders they are easily winning worth millions of euros, as no real competition exists, these same companies are also sharing a sizable pie of direct orders dished out by the government through Infrastructure Malta.
To make matters worse, industry sources told The Shift that the planning of these road projects by the government is so bad that high variation costs are added during the actual implementation of the work, with the same contractors ending up getting paid much more than the value of their bid due to ‘extra work’ needed to complete the projects.
A number of other direct orders amounting to around €500,000 were given for additional works not envisaged in the original tenders prepared by the same government agency.
Galletta Construction, a small firm from Żebbug, one of the Minister’s electoral districts, was given four separate direct orders worth €625,000 to deliver various works related to resurfacing of rural roads in Rabat and Siġġiewi, localities that also fall within the Minister’s constituency.
Cassar Marine Services were given a €530,000 direct order to do maintenance on the Valletta breakwater, while Polidano Brothers – which owes millions of unpaid taxes to the government – was given a €521,000 direct order on works at the Deep Water Quay in Valletta.
Despite the high number of direct orders issued, more than 16% of the €55 million in works procured by the government in six months, Infrastructure Malta insists that “it’s not really a lot”.
“All Infrastructure Malta contractors are engaged through established procurement procedures applicable for different situations and conditions, which may include direct orders,” a spokesperson said.
While stating that direct orders are sometimes necessary, particularly due to emergency works and “limited time available” to obtain quotations, Infrastructure Malta insisted that government still tries to obtain “the best value for money”.
Admitting that it Is true that many direct orders are a result of extra works ordered while a project issued by tender is ongoing, the spokesperson said, “in projects with many unknowns before actual excavation works commence, variations are inevitable and justified”.