SVDP scandal: Top civil servants shun responsibility as PL, PN take no action

Top civil servants who pushed through the illegal 2017 quarter-billion-euro direct order to DB Group and James Caterers are denying any responsibility for the flawed deal, despite the National Audit Office’s clear conclusions that they failed to carry out their duty.

Mark Musu – the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry for Family Affairs who signed off on the irregularities in the public procurement process – shrugged off emailed questions about whether he accepts accountability for the gross failures highlighted by the NAO with a reference to the government’s official statement. He added that he considers the NAO’s reference to him “unfair”.

Josianne Cutajar, the politically appointed CEO of the St Vincent de Paul facility (SVDP) also singled out by the NAO, was even less forthcoming. She has ignored questions emailed to her a week ago and appears to be attempting to ride out the scandal with a business-as-usual stance, despite the serious implications around her involvement in the deal.

The NAO was unequivocal in its conclusions about the role played by Musu and Cutajar in the “illegal” award of the direct order.

Specifically, the NAO concluded that Musu “did not provide adequate direction, with the input provided solely serving to endorse a procurement process that was flawed and in breach of legislative provisions”.

Asked to state whether, in view of these damning conclusions, he has offered his resignation, Musu chose not to reply. Instead, the former One TV newscaster – who was appointed Permanent Secretary in 2013 – criticised the NAO for singling him out.

“From a personal point of view, I consider the NAO inference as unwarranted and unfair.  Other parts in the same report actually contradict such conclusion,” Musu told The Shift.

Cutajar, the CEO of St Vincent de Paul who has been linked to other ‘dubious’ multi-million-euro direct orders issued by the State-run residence for the elderly, was identified by the NAO as the pivotal civil servant driving the DB/James Caterers deal.

Despite this, Cutajar has retained her position and appears to be determined to avoid any responsibility for the waste of tens of millions of euros of taxpayers’ money.

The Shift asked Cutajar whether she has discussed her position with Minister for Senior Citizens and Active Ageing Michael Farrugia and if she will be stepping down. She did not reply to any of the questions put to her.

According to the NAO, Cutajar negotiated directly with the consortium and agreed to assign the multi-million direct order to the DB Group and James Caterers without seeking authorisation from the Finance Ministry.

In addition, Cutajar only sought to determine the costs of this mega-direct order after she had already committed the government to award it to the consortium, having failed to take into consideration market rates or potential competition.

The Audit Office’s report concluded that the rates eventually agreed with the consortium, some €22 million a year for the next 15 years, were inflated and flawed.

The Shift is informed that so far, Cutajar has not been asked to resign.

No action despite confirmed irregular contract

To date, the government has not committed itself to rescind the illegally granted contract, even though, according to the NAO, taxpayers will be forking out millions in irregular, extra payments every year.

While the NAO investigation made it clear that all procurement rules were breached and that the direct order was illegal, Prime Minister Robert Abela’s response has been muted and he’s refused to pledge any action to cancel the contract.

Employing his stock reply in times of difficulty, that “the government was studying the report,” Abela has failed to take any mitigating measures, which means that DB Group and James Caterers continue to be paid a staggering €60,000 a day.

The PN Opposition has also appeared reluctant to pile pressure on the government over the scandal. In its reaction to the damning NAO report, the PN called only for political responsibility to be shouldered, through the resignation of the Labour politicians involved but failed to demand the cancellation of the contract.

This is unusual: in the past, the PN has acted decisively in pressuring the government to cancel illegalities found by the NAO, including through the presentation of motions of censure in Parliament and court action.

Nothing of the sort has been announced this time.

Political parties compromised?

Industry sources insist the reluctance of both the Government and Opposition to take action in this case is a clear sign of how deeply compromised the Parties are through their acceptance of significant, regular donations, in cash and in kind, from companies involving Silvio Debono and James Barbara.

Labour and PN Party sources confirmed that the two companies involved are habitual donors, who provide ‘assistance’ to many politicians in both camps, including sitting members of parliament.

The sources also pointed out that PN Secretary General Francis Zammit Dimech served on DB Group’s board of directors for many years, while Mario De Marco’s legal firm represented the same company’s interests in multiple deals, including the controversial 2017 sale of the former ITS site to DB Group at well below market value.

So far, both the PL and the PN have refused to reply to questions by The Shift on whether they will be taking any action to halt the illegal contract.

On top of the €274 million direct order, DB Group and James Caterers were also awarded a further €60 million contract to provide meals at the St Vincent de Paul Residence for the next 10 years. This add-on deal is renewable for an additional five years, which would mean the consortium could rake in at least €30 million more.

                           
                               
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gadflyg
gadflyg
28 days ago

What a bunch of scumbags: both parties are slaves to big business. Whoever thought that the change of leadership in the PN would result in change was grossly mistaken. Whoever thinks that the daily bulletins of scandal will make some dent in PL’s majority is equally wrong. We – yes, we the Maltese – are all for it. This is what we really want.

Gillian Camilleri
Gillian Camilleri
28 days ago

No hope for Malta…all sides guilty as sin….some more than others…

Winston Smith
Winston Smith
27 days ago

“Ħallas Gaħan!” Pay up, you idiot, a Maltese expression that best encapsulates the times we are living in.

Mick
Mick
27 days ago

Freeze and check all their bank accounts and assets, always follow the money, you’ll find out for sure.

Jools Seizure
Jools Seizure
27 days ago
Reply to  Mick

You know it will never happen. If you’re looking for a solution you have to provide it yourself. There is no point fighting a war that can never be won. Don’t you think you and your children deserve a better life …. elsewhere?

Martin Said
Martin Said
27 days ago

And who are we supposed to vote for? Corruption galore and we peasants pay for all this.

carlo
carlo
27 days ago
Reply to  Martin Said

Well, try to give the first preference to a third party and then if you want continue on any one of the other two parties. It only us who can change things – if no chance is given to a third party then it’s us to blame.

Simon Oosterman
Simon Oosterman
27 days ago
Reply to  Martin Said

You always have to vote for the least bad party. If you don’t, you are complicit in letting the worst party win.

saviour mamo
saviour mamo
27 days ago

Who said we deserve better.

Bla hajta xi mkien.......
Bla hajta xi mkien.......
27 days ago
Reply to  saviour mamo

The people get the government they deserve. Joseph de Maistre

robert smith
robert smith
27 days ago

FRAUS OMNIA CORRUMPIT

carlo
carlo
27 days ago

The PN Opposition has also appeared reluctant to pile pressure on the government over the scandal. In its reaction to the damning NAO report, the PN called only for political responsibility to be shouldered, through the resignation of the Labour politicians involved but failed to demand the cancellation of the contract.

A lawless country and poor us the tax payers who are being swindled by both parties. How is it possible that the opposition who wants to replace this corrupt government, accept these illegalities? The honest citizens are expecting much better – the opposition can make of feast of the uninterrupted scandals during the past 8-9 years. Show us that you do really mean to oust this corrupt government. Give us some hope.

Marco
Marco
27 days ago

Only Simon Busuttil stood up to these ‘men’ and look what happened to him. We DESPERATELY need more people with his boldness and courage.

Simon Oosterman
Simon Oosterman
27 days ago

Remember what Debono did when the PN objected to the ITS deal?
Grech (Delia light) does not want anything similar to happen, I expect.

Godfrey Leone Ganado
Godfrey Leone Ganado
27 days ago

Shameful. Nobody is guilty anymore for wrongdoings. The ones who do wrong, are those who uncover the wrongdoings and the perpetrators of such wrong doings.

Noel Ciantar
Noel Ciantar
27 days ago

It is all about “gifts,” isn’t it?

I would like to see crowdfunding by an NGO to collect enough money to fund a civil lawsuit requesting court to rescind the contract.

Also, any citizen can deliver the NAO report to a magistrate with a request for a magisterial inquiry.

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