A much-vaunted ‘blacklist’ introduced by Infrastructure Malta, supposedly barring companies with massive tax arrears from competing in public tenders, is not serving its purpose as investigations carried out by The Shift show that despite Carmel Polidano, known as Ic-Caqnu, being at the top of this list, his companies are still ‘winning’ large public contracts
A few days ago, The Sunday Times of Malta reported that “construction tycoon Charles Polidano’s firm is among 19 companies that have been barred in the last month from public infrastructure contracts until they settle their tax dues”. According to the same report, Polidano owes some €40 million in tax arrears accumulated over decades.
While the news report, intended to show ‘tough government action’, did not indicate which Polidano firm it was referring to – Polidano owns some 35 different companies – The Shift is informed that until this same week, a company fully owned by Ic-Caqnu is in pole position to win a major €3.5 million public contract.
Tendering through Emarine Ltd, fully owned by the Polidano brothers, Ic-Caqnu’s firm has been declared as submitting the cheapest offer for a new Infrastructure Malta offer involving the refurbishment of the Sally Port Promenade in Birgu.
According to procurement rules, since Ic-Caqnu’s company has submitted the cheapest offer, the contract should be awarded to Emarine Ltd.
The Shift is also informed that a number of Polidano’s companies are involved in several ongoing road public road projects commissioned by Infrastructure Malta.
Apart from numerous direct orders given to Polidano’s many companies, Ic-Caqnu is currently also building the new government pool in Gozo through a €9 million tender he won through a consortium formed with Gozitan construction magnate Joseph Portelli and his associates, according to information submitted in parliament.
Government procurement rules stipulate that no company with unpaid taxes – whether social security contributions, VAT returns or income tax – is supposed to be eligible for government contracts.
Yet this ‘rule’ has been blatantly overlooked and abused by both administrations, Labour and Nationalist, for many years.
Despite massive tax debts running into millions, many large private companies and individuals are still allowed to compete and are awarded multi-million government contracts as the authorities look the other way.
Sources at the Tax Department told The Shift that while the latest reported Infrastructure Malta initiative looked serious, “it is just a public relations exercise as it is not even worth the paper it is written on”.
“Ic-Caqnu’s tax arrears are massive and have been that way for many years. But he is not alone. There are many more in his same situation. Still, they continue to be allowed to plod on and get tenders.”
The law is easily bypassed as it targets only the companies and not shareholders. This means that the same individuals can form new companies and submit their offers for government projects through their new commercial vehicles or through consortia and joint ventures.
Asked by The Shift to give more information on the 19 companies reportedly blacklisted by Infrastructure Malta, the government agency declined.
“Infrastructure Malta cannot divulge details about the contractors concerned,” a spokesman told The Shift.