Former Labour minister Charles Buhagiar, appointed CEO of the Building Industry Consultative Council (BICC) in 2013 after he lost his parliamentary seat, has been contracted by the new industry regulator to draft new rules for that same industry.
In May this year, the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) awarded Buhagiar two direct orders, worth €20,000, to draft new demolition and construction methodology rules to be included in the building code.
The move has been slammed by construction industry insiders as another major blunder in direct conflict with standard ethical rules.
Ex-Labour candidate Martin Debono, Buhagiar’s former assistant at the BICC, was separately given three direct orders, worth €30,000 to do the same job as that assigned to the BICC chief.
BICC CEO Buhagiar, the architect responsible for the building of the Labour Party headquarters in Hamrun in the mid-90s, is known to have been granted hundreds of thousands of euros worth of direct orders over the past few years through various government Ministries and agencies.
In his role at the BICC the architect, now in his 60s, is expected to act as a catalyst for consultation among the construction industry players.
His new contracts mean that, on top of his generous salary from the BICC, he is now being paid twice over to draft regulations that would normally emerge as part of the consultation process he leads at the government-funded organisation.
Dubbed a ‘schemer’ by several of his architect colleagues, Buhagiar found himself in hot water at the BICC in 2018, after he was outed for having abused public funds bypassing his official car to his wife for her personal use, and using taxpayers’ funds to lease out another BMW car as his official BICC car.
An internal audit later found that Buhagiar’s official car abuse had been going on for five years, while other misdoings were flagged, including around the procurement of fuel and the mishandling of the government organisation’s accounts and procurement practices.
Although the minister responsible for the BICC, Ian Borg, promised action and Buhagiar was told by other members of the board to step down, the former Labour minister has resisted calls for his resignations and remains in office.
Both minister Borg and then-prime minister Joseph Muscat failed to sack the Buhagiar, while current prime minister Robert Abela has also allowed the disgraced architect to keep his position.
The BCA, formed earlier this year to regulate the construction industry, has already used 25 separate direct orders to purchase services and goods, rather than following standard procedure for its procurement requirements.
According to information published in the Government Gazette, during the first six months of its operations, it only issued one public call for tenders.
The BCA is chaired by Maria Schembri Grima– a young architect whose main client is Joseph Portelli, a construction tycoon accused of myriad illegalities.
Appointed by Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia, the BCA chair is currently also representing one of Portelli’s companies being scrutinised by the Public Contracts Review Board. The company, Prax Ltd, is accused of operating an illegal concrete batching plant in Gozo.
Despite numerous media reports over several years, the illegal batching plant has not been shut down by the PA, and indeed, the government is known to have procured concrete processed illegally at Portelli’s plant for use in public projects.