The government has completely rubbished public procurement rules, spending a record €35 million on COVID-19 related direct orders to private companies, mostly involved in the medical industry, but also spread among the usual friends.
During the first six months of the year, the Health Ministry went through a spending frenzy ordering supplies, services and equipment through the Central Procurement and Supplies Unit without any quotations or tendering processes.
The negotiated procedure, a form of direct order, allowing the government to make substantial purchases through the approval of the Finance Ministry, was used to spend almost €29 million with direct orders of massive value dished out, according to information published in the Government Gazette.
The same paper shows that another €5.6 million were used in direct purchases without any call. Millions in taxpayer funds were dished out in a few weeks, distributed among few companies to furnish whatever was deemed as important and in short supply.
This is a clear sign of the government’s unpreparedness and panic, health industry sources said.
Since the State’s medical services were caught with a limited supply of ventilators, deemed essential to save lives during the pandemic, multi-million euro direct orders were issued to various suppliers. Even the accelerated tendering procedure was dumped in favour of direct purchases.
Solar Outdoor Media was given a €3.5 million direct order to supply 79 superstar ventilator sets while Princling Holdings Ltd was given another €2 million direct order for 50 ITU ventilators for Mater Dei.
EJ Busuttil Ltd was given a staggering €4.4 million direct order to supply COVID-19 test kits, while kits obtained by another direct order from Genlantis Diagnostics, set back taxpayers another €1 million.
Fieldsports, a Mellieha based company known for the importation of firearms and whose owner James Fenech was recently charged with busting Libya sanctions, was given €1 million in direct orders to provide the government with ventilators and medical trolleys.
Technoline Ltd, known for its close connections to the government, was given a raft of direct orders costing hundreds of thousands for the supply of all types of medical equipment.
Mekanika, a company forming part of the Gasan Group, was also one of the major recipients of direct orders.
While the hotel and tourist accommodation market has been among the hardest hit by the pandemic, some still managed to make a killing through direct orders for accommodating medical staff who needed to avoid contact with their families.
Tens of thousands of euro were distributed without any call to Malta University Holdings, the Church’s Porziuncola Retreat House and Gozitan construction magnate Joe Portelli’s hotel chain, Quaint, and the White Dolphin Complex.
Labour’s mass events organisers, TEC Ltd, did not remain empty handed during the pandemic as the Health Ministry dished out more than €16,000 in a direct order for the rental of gazebos.
Even funeral services were procured through direct orders.
Industry sources have told The Shift that although the Health Ministry was by far the largest spender during the pandemic, various other ministries took the opportunity to spend many other millions through direct orders, in costs categorised as related to the COVID-19 emergency.