Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri has spent more than €7.5 million on 101 direct orders in just six months, as public procurement rules are openly flouted and ministry officials distribute public funds via contracts that bypass normal regulations with the apparent complicity of the finance ministry.
Original cost estimates are rarely adhered to, as finance ministry officials repeatedly approve upward revisions of costs, meaning taxpayers spend hundreds of thousands of euros more than originally estimated on many of these contracts.
The latest list of Gozitan direct orders, published a few days ago in the Government Gazette, shows that Camilleri’s ministry made most of its purchases through direct orders during the last six months of 2020, instead of issuing calls for tenders.
The direct procurement deals, reached without having been opened up to competition, varied from a few thousand euros for the hosting of a party, to more than a million euros for a refit of one of Gozo Channel’s vessels. These come in addition to hundreds of thousands of euros spent to hire ‘services’ at various government departments – putting potential voters on the government payroll while skating around public recruitment rules.
Despite the well-documented and continued abuse of direct orders by the Gozo Ministry for many years, the National Audit Office (NAO) has failed to take action, bar issuing general statements that direct orders are excessive and should be reduced.
Value for money ignored as costs of public projects balloon
The Labour government has been accused of using public money to consolidate its newly acquired majority in Gozo. It has pumped millions of taxpayers’ euros into so called ‘embellishment projects’, mainly involving cosmetic changes to popular open spaces, including the re-paving of squares and touristic areas.
However, this appears to be turning into a significant uncontrolled expense, as many of the projects end up costing twice as much as they were originally estimated and overrun costs are invariably approved.
Described by Camilleri as “the largest ever investment in the Marsalforn promenade”, the re-paving of the Menqa area in Marsalforn is a case in point.
While the minister failed to mention the value of this ‘investment’, his own direct orders list shows a staggering bill, revised over and over again, to the benefit of Simon Grech – the contractor responsible for the project.
During the last six months of 2020, the Gozitan contractor was given at least four separate additional direct orders to finish off the project, worth more than €370,000. These were for ‘additional works’ over and above the original costs, including the provision of structured stone benches and “repetition of works for paving and embellishment”.
These additional costs were added on to the almost €800,000 awarded to the same contractor, on the same project, just six months earlier.
Inaugurated by the Prime Minister a few days ago, it is not yet known exactly how much the Marsalforn project has cost taxpayers.
Sources have described the project as “definitely the largest in amounts of direct orders and variations in costs”.
The direct orders list also mentions Simon Grech as the beneficiary of another similar deal – a €55,000 contract for the “provision of transport services for Casa Amalia for the period of one year”.
The direct order was given to iCare Ltd, which also owns the private old people’s home in Victoria and in which Grech is also a shareholder. The running of the facility is almost fully financed through a separate agreement with the Gozo Ministry.
Grech’s partner, Maria Farrugia, is employed at Clint Camilleri’s Ministry as a person of trust.
The Pjazza San Frangisk project, which covered the embellishment of the square that hosts the Gozo Ministry’s main building and was carried out under former Gozo Minister Justyne Caruana, is another example that saw final costs reach million of euros, as much as double the originally estimated price.
Minister Camilleri then went on to replace a fountain in the square with a large statue of St Francis, an initiative that has also cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of euros.
According to the latest direct order list, J&J Gauci Granite were paid €65,000 for the granite blocks at the base of the monument, Hallmann Vella was given €23,000 for additional paving and embellishment works and GTG Joint Venture was paid an extra €200,000 over and above the original contract in variations.
Just six months earlier, artist Manuel Farrugia was given a €37,000 direct order to create the statue of St Francis, with another €107,000 required for its casting in bronze.
Camilleri then threw a party to inaugurate the square to which he invited all his constituents, paid for by taxpayers, through direct orders.
Dividing a €17,000 direct order into two, Camilleri gave €7,000 to Nathaniel Agius to set up a bar for drinks and another €10,000 to his father Joseph Agius for ‘catering and catering services’ for the same occasion. It is not known why he split the bill as the two are involved in the same family business – Pastizzeria Agius of Xewkija.
For the ceremony, which lasted less than an hour, Camilleri spent a further €10,000 at Mad About Video, €7,000 to Christian Grima for a stage, and another €7,000 to Noel Borg for lighting.
Prime Minister Robert Abela attended, again as the guest of honour.