An NAO audit on the controversial government shooting range project, built at Ta’ Kandja, Siggiewi, a year after the 2017 elections, has confirmed gross mismanagement, weak controls and various financial irregularities in the project’s execution, which cost taxpayers a staggering €13 million instead of the originally estimated €7 million.
Corroborating various reports on the ‘contentious’ project by The Shift, which showed how more than half of the €13 million spent was given through direct orders to the same contractor – Bonnici Brothers – the Auditor General found that payments were made without the signing of proper contracts and the necessary authorisations.
The project, a last-minute electoral pledge by disgraced former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, was entrusted to government agency SportMalta.
At the time, the agency was managed by Chris Bonett, a former Labour mayor and a political appointee of Parliamentary Secretary Clifton Grima, who authorised most of the works through direct orders and took the major decisions on the project’s execution.
According to the NAO findings, the necessary documentation backing the project was misplaced, incomplete or not found, the project lacked ownership, control over spending costs and procurement.
Confirming The Shift’s reports that 59% of all the contracts of the project were given to the same contractor – Bonnici Brothers of Burmarrad – pocketing more than €6.5 million in works, the NAO found that works to the value of almost €4 million were not even covered by performance guarantees, as stipulated by procurement rules.
Also, no approval was obtained from the Department of Contracts to cover spiralling costs.
The NAO found that “despite agreements stating that payments to the contractor were not to be affected until performance guarantees were in place,” SportMalta still authorised payments in clear breach of financial rules.
“SportMalta confirmed that administrative orders were given verbally on site and it was not aware if the contractors, whose agreements fell within the audit sample, submitted the necessary proposals for modification.”
The NAO said that despite adopting the wrong procedures, SportMalta had already paid 90% of the unauthorised variations involved, or over €400,000.
The audit also found that Bonnici Brothers, contracted also to construct a Berm Wall and foundations, a shooting tunnel, and the foundations of the shooting range, at a total cost of over €2.3 million, started the work even before an agreement with SportMalta was signed.
“Authorisations from the right level of authority within SportMalta, namely from the CEO or Head of Finance was not evidenced, before payment was affected, on 10 out of the 15 paid invoices falling in the audit sample, for a total of €1,051,227 million,” the NAO said.
Confirming doubts raised earlier on the procurement rules adopted by SportMalta, the NAO found that while multi-million contracts were awarded through quotations instead of proper competitive tenders, quotes given by contractors were not even negotiated and “the contract prices matched exactly the bid amounts, even when these were higher than the estimate prepared by the surveyors”.
So far, the government has not reacted to this damning report and no political responsibility has been shouldered.
While Prime Minister Robert Abela has confirmed Clifton Grima, politically responsible for this project, as Parliamentary Secretary for Sport, the government is currently proposing Chris Bonett to become the CEO of the new Sports Integrity Authority aimed at combatting corruption in sports.