A list of parliamentary questions regarding the controversial government shooting range built at Ta’ Kandja in Siggiewi raised issues such as the doubling of costs for the project and the lack of political responsibility shouldered, but Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli has so far not given a single reply.
In December, an NAO audit report on the project – an electoral pledge by disgraced former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and built a year after the 2017 snap election – confirmed gross mismanagement, weak controls, and various financial irregularities in its execution. The project cost taxpayers a staggering €13 million, as opposed to the originally estimated €7 million.
The government has so far not reacted to the report, political responsibility has not been shouldered and questions remain unanswered.
In five separate questions, Opposition Whip and MP Robert Cutajar asked the Minister for Inclusion and Social Wellbeing who would be shouldering political responsibility for the shortcomings identified by the NAO. He also asked how much the project cost taxpayers in total, and why Range 4 was closed and when it is expected to open. Cutajar also asked for the certification of works and the list of expenses to be tabled in parliament.
All questions were met with the familiar reply that information will be provided in another session. Such replies often notoriously leave questions pending.
The shooting range was inaugurated in 2018 and used for the Shooting Sport Federation World Cup in June the same year.
Last year, Cutajar had asked Minister Owen Bonnici the reason behind the closure of Range 4. In May, Bonnici had said that the range was closed due to the COVID pandemic. Five months later, in October, he cited maintenance works as the reason why the area was closed off. Cutajar noted in his questions that the Range 4 facility has “now been closed for about a year”.
Cutajar questioned why no answers were being given. “What is the issue with saying if the project is ready?” he said in parliament. Although Farrugia Portelli has only recently been appointed to the ministry responsible, Sports Parliamentary Secretary Clifton Grima has held this position as junior minister since 2017, and therefore in the ministry throughout the project.
Corroborating various reports on the project by The Shift, which showed how more than half of the €13 million spent on the project was given through direct orders to the same contractor – Bonnici Brothers – the Auditor General had found that payments were made without the signing of proper contracts and the necessary authorisations.
The project was entrusted to government agency Sports Malta, and Chris Bonnet, who, at the time was an adviser to Grima, was made acting CEO. The Shift has reported that the government is paving the way to appoint Bonnett to fight against corruption in sports within a new Sports Integrity Authority.
Bonnet has previously occupied various top roles in organisations, including the MFA and UEFA. However, his appointment as the CEO of the new Authority is particularly being questioned following his involvement in the shooting range scandal.
While admitting to having approved these direct orders, Bonett had said it was due to the “urgency” of the project.