Prime Minister Robert Abela’s latest weekend boast, that ‘his’ government is different from the one of Joseph Muscat, is far from reality in Gozo as the latest round of direct orders published in the Government Gazette show.
Abela’s new Minister, Clint Camilleri, is running roughshod over public procurement rules, even beating the records set by his predecessors Justyne Caruana and Anton Refalo.
In the government’s continued vote-grabbing frenzy to keep everyone ‘happy’ on the sister island as the Opposition makes headway with voters in Gozo, close to €7 million of taxpayer funds were spent on direct orders during the first six months of this year.
An analysis by The Shift shows that almost all procurement by the government in Gozo, bar a few exceptions, is being made through direct orders, with no competition whatsoever and on the direct instructions of the Minister or his assistants.
The list of direct orders has become almost ‘all-inclusive’, so much so that even the Gozo Curia is now on the government’s take, with a €120,000 direct order for the lease of a hall in Għajnsielem, forming part of the Maria Lauretana religious centre. It is unclear why the Ministry needs to lease this hall for the next decade at €12,000 a year when it can use various other venues it owns, particularly in schools all around Gozo.
Apart from the usual direct orders to the same road builders and building material suppliers on the island, sharing among them hundreds of thousands of euro on ‘new’ roads and maintenance, direct orders are being used to procure even the most basic services.
The latest novelty is ‘burial services’ as two Gozitan grave diggers, Louis Mifsud and Roderick Schembri, were awarded a direct order. The Ministry will pay them €77 for every burial transfer, €51 for the cleaning of each grave and another €34 per job when assisting in the raising or lowering of coffins.
As happened in Malta, the COVID-19 pandemic was also interpreted by the Gozo Ministry as an ‘opportunity’ for more direct orders.
Alpha Medical of Kalkara was given almost €100,000 for the urgent screening and temperature scanning of all passengers crossing over to Gozo from Cirkewwa, while Krypton Chemists were paid €40,000 to provide 80,000 surgical masks for the protection of staff at the Gozo Ministry, which has a few hundred employees.
Joe and Philp Bonnici of Health Services Gozo Ltd were given a staggering €1.3 million direct order for their ‘private’ residential home for the elderly in San Lawrenz to be used to host 55 residents in government care for a year. Through this direct order, taxpayers will be paying €64 per day per bed, even higher than the normal rate in top private homes for the elderly.
A concert held last February for St Valentine’s Day also sent taxpayers back some €50,000 given through a direct order to organiser Christian Azzopardi.
Bay Radio, owned by the Decesare family, was given another €15,000 for adverts on Gozitan Culture.
The football club of Kercem – Kercem Ajax – was given a €31,000 direct order to offer ‘general fitness services to senior citizens in Gozo’.
Since the 2017 election, the Labour Party gained a stronghold in Gozo where the Opposition usually had an advantage. This followed a massive push to put hundreds of Gozitans on the government’s payroll and the provision of political favours across the board from ‘assistance’ in development permits to leniency on enforcement of rules.
The situation has now taken a turn for the worse as vote competition is concentrated on internal Labour rivalry between the three elected MPs – Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri, Agriculture Minister Anton Refalo and MP Justyne Caruana – both Refalo and Caruana previously held the role of Gozo Minister.
Since none of them wants to lose their parliamentary seat, they are competing among themselves on who will dish out the most favours in a desperate vote-grabbing exercise while taxpayers foot the bill.