Equality Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli told parliament that she feels there is no need for anyone to shoulder political responsibility on the controversial shooting range project which cost twice as much as planned and raised questions on the large number of direct orders given to the same company.
Replying to a question by Nationalist MP Robert Cutajar, who has been persistently demanding answers from the current Minister and her predecessor on the shooting range at Ta’ Kandja, Farrugia Portelli said that there is ‘no political responsibility to shoulder’ on the matter despite the fact that a recent NAO report confirmed gross mismanagement, weak controls and various financial irregularities in its execution.
Farrugia Portelli chose to give parliament her own interpretation. “The [NAO] report recognises the success by SportMalta with regards the completion of this project in a short time so that Malta was able to host the International Shooting Championship,” she said in her reply.
The project at Ta’ Kandja in Siggiewi cost taxpayers a staggering €13 million, almost twice the €7 million originally projected. More than half the money was given to Bonnici Brothers through direct orders.
Information tabled in parliament on Monday confirmed what was previously revealed by The Shift, that most contract payments were given to Bava Holdings, an offshoot of Construct Furniture, and to Bonnici Brothers.
MP Cutajar has also been chasing answers on Range 4. This range has been closed for almost a year. Minister Owen Bonnici, Farrugia Portelli’s predecessor, had said that Range 4 was undergoing maintenance. Bonnici had also quoted COVID-19 restrictions as one of the reasons why the range was not being used.
Now, recent parliamentary questions have revealed that Range 4 is still closed with Farrugia Portelli saying that the Range will be open when “the works are finalised.”
The NAO report in December 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 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. This cost also emerges in the papers laid.
The shooting range was an electoral pledge by former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and was built a year after the 2017 snap election.
The project was inaugurated in 2018 and was used for the Shooting Sport Federation World Cup in June of that same year.
The government has so far failed to react to the damning NAO report and political responsibility has not been shouldered.
The project was entrusted to government agency Sports Malta, and Chris Bonnet, who, at the time was an adviser to Parliamentary Secretary for Sports Clifton 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.
When contacted by The Shift, Bonett justified the handing of these direct orders due to the “urgency” of the project.
Referring to the NAO report, Minister Farrugia Portelli said that the recommendations were “noted” and that SportMalta has already started to implement the recommendations to improve the administrative set up in present and upcoming projects.