Over a quarter of a million was spent on legal services obtained through direct orders by the Tourism and Consumer Protection Ministry between January and June 2020, according to the Government Gazette.
Published on Christmas eve, the information raises questions as to why the ministry, headed by Julia Farrugia Portelli between 15 January and November, required over €251,000 in legal services in the six-month period. The amount is in addition to some €80,000 attributed to consultancy services, a quarter of which was specifically allocated to COVID-19 advisory services.
The direct orders for legal services were awarded to Camilleri Preziosi Advocates, Scerri and Bonello Advocates and Jonathan Attard and totalled €153,825, €88,000 and €8,890 respectively.
This was not the only stream of direct orders published in the Government Gazette during the Christmas period – a time when people’s attention would most likely be elsewhere. Last week, The Shift reported that over €2.2 million in direct orders were dished out by Jose Herrera’s Arts Ministry in the same six months of the year.
Procurement practices by the government have time and time again been subject to criticism throughout the past years. The Shift has also repeatedly followed and reported on questionable direct orders.
Most recently, in November, The Shift reported that Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri spent €7 million of taxpayer funds on direct orders during the first six months of the year. An analysis by this website showed that almost all procurement by the government in Gozo, bar a few exceptions, was being made through direct orders with no competition whatsoever and on the direct instructions of the Minister or his team.
In a recent report published in December, the National Audit Office highlighted numerous procurement breaches by government departments and entities in 2019, such as resorting to direct orders without the necessary approvals, signing agreements following the commencement of works, not acquiring services through tenders despite exceeding the procurement thresholds, and not publishing direct orders in the Government Gazette as dictated by law, among others.
A separate report published a few days prior noted a similar weakness within local councils throughout the same year – that they did not always acquire goods and services in adherence to procurement issues.
By law, the public procurement regulations state that contracts valued over the sum of €10,000 must be approved by the Department of Contracts and that it must occur only in “exceptional” cases.
The law also states that a public contract may only be directly awarded to an entity, without a call for tenders, if it is for a service that can only be provided by that one specific company.