The bulk of expenses on ventilators – some €3 million in total – went to two companies with no real experience in the field and whose owners have had brushes with the law.
James Fenech, who owns Fieldsports Ltd, was procured to supply a total of 26 ventilator units for the State’s health services through two separate orders of close to €500, 000, totalling €1 million.
Fenech is better known in the firearms industry, having recently been charged in court of violating Libya sanctions, including through the export of two military-grade Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIBs) to Libya.
It is the latest in a string of direct orders awarded to Fenech’s company, which received over €1 million from the government in direct purchases over four years.
An analysis of hundreds of direct orders (some through ‘negotiated procedures’) issued by the government in a frenzy to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, also shows that another company – Princling Holdings Ltd – owned by Anton Rea Cutajar and his former wife Elizabeth were given a €2 million direct order by the Health Ministry to supply 50 ventilators to Mater Dei Hospital’s ITU.
Cutajar, better known as Malta’s ‘Tiger King’, illegally built a ‘park’ in ODZ called Noah’s Ark to host his collection of exotic animals and a farmhouse for himself in Siggiewi. It was sanctioned under a Labour government he makes it a point to support publicly.
Despite the opposition of the environmental authorities and NGOs, Noah’s Ark was controversially sanctioned by the PA following the payment of a fine.
Princling Holdings Ltd is one of many businesses, including waste management and property dealership, owned by Cutajar whose father used to be Labour’s Deputy Mayor in Birzebbugia.
Recently, Cutajar was also involved in controversial anti-migration comments, condemned as xenophobic by various NGOs. Only this morning, he was in front of the law courts in Valletta to support Neville Gafa.
Another €7 million for ventilators was given to Solar Outdoor Media GmbH.
The other stars lapping up direct orders
The real star of the government’s direct order jackpot is a novice company called Target Healthcare incorporated in Malta only last year and owned by Lewis Campbell, a young Scottish entrepreneur.
Target Healthcare, registered at Main Street, Zebbug, was awarded a total of 51 direct orders, mainly for the supply of medicinal products, reaching a total value of over €4 million.
Technoline Ltd, closely involved in the scandalous VGH deal on the take over of three public hospitals, got €1.8 million in government contracts in just six months in 27 separate direct orders.
Qormi’s St Thomas Hospital, owned by former Labour MP Louis Buhagiar, was selected to lease out several beds to the government for the care of patients requiring isolation.
At the same time, Golden Care Ltd, a company owned by the shareholders of construction magnates, GAP, was given a €1 million contract for the transfer of patients from Sir Paul Boffa hospital to a retirement home in Għargħur.
Dar Pinto in Qormi, owned by another businessman involved in a raft of commercial entities, from restaurants to property development, Andrew Debattista Segond, also benefitted immensely from the government’s spending spree, landing his home for the elderly a contract worth over €730,000.
According to public procurement rules, direct orders should be limited and used in extremely specific emergency situations. Even if the spending was necessary due to the emergency, questions have been raised on whether the money was spent wisely or the pandemic exploited to favour those closest to the government.