Infrastructure Malta, the state roads building agency under the remit of Minister Ian Borg, has continued to award millions of euros worth of direct orders, with the latest list for the first six months of 2021 reaching a staggering €10.5 million.
Recipients include regular beneficiaries, such as Bonnici Brothers, as well as newcomers with links to prime minister Robert Abela, such as Carden Mizzi, whose father served as a canvasser for Robert Abela in the Labour leadership election last year.
Abela pledged on taking office that his administration represented a new start that would ensure good governance.
However, the latest list of direct orders published in the Government Gazette shows that the number and value of direct order awards has soared in the first half of this year.
The new data shows that between January and June of this year, Infrastructure Malta issued almost 100 direct orders, with a total value of €10.5 million. The number of direct orders surpassed by far the list of tenders issued under standard public procurement rules.
While, according to the rules, direct orders are only allowed in ‘exceptional circumstances,’ Ian Borg’s agency has inverted the procurement system to rely mostly on handpicked providers.
So far, the NAO has not initiated any investigation into this potential abuse, a practice that cuts out potential competitors and that it’s previously highlighted as illegal.
An analysis by The Shift of the latest list of direct orders (see Table) show that Bonnici Brothers – whose managing director, Gilbert, was a business partner of Prime Minister Robert Abela and his wife in a property development project – has been granted another five direct orders worth a total of €1.2 million.
The largest direct order to Bonnici Brothers is for additional works on Triq l-Gheriexem in Rabat, worth €805,000. This is over and above the tender the company won for the rebuilding of this road in Ian Borg’s constituency, originally worth more than €3.7 million.
Sources close to Infrastructure Malta told The Shift that it has become customary for the road’s agency to give ‘outside tender’ direct orders.
“What is happening across the board is that those who win a tender – which is obviously undervalued, are then given direct orders for ‘additional works along the way,” a senior source said.
“This is how IM is circumventing the rules to pay additional sums to the same group of contractors doing road works. No real checks and balances exist, and projects are ending up costing taxpayers millions more than originally budgeted. At the same time, contractors, and maybe others, are very happy with the system,” the sources said.
The same exercise is repeated with Kosta JV – another consortium of road builders which has been given multi-million direct orders under the Labour administration. During the past six months, the consortium has been given an additional €1.1 million in works outside tender specifications on roads which it had already supposedly concluded such as the Canon Road Bypass.
And while Polidano Brothers, known as Caqnu, was last year blacklisted by, Infrastructure Malta, according to its announcement in the Times of Malta because of their long-outstanding €40 million tax bill, the same company is actually a major shareholder in Kosta JV.
The same is happening where it comes to landscaping.
Despite a report by the NAO stating the Environmental Landscapes Consortium (ELC) – originally responsible for the upkeep of roundabouts – is run inefficiently and is not giving value for taxpayers money, the ELC continues to be engaged via direct orders by Infrastructure Malta.
The latest is a €1 million direct order for landscaping connected to the ongoing Central Link project. The ‘greening’ of this arterial road comes after Ian Borg ordered the destruction of hundreds of old trees lining the road leading to Rabat.
Once again, the ELC consortium has Polidano Brothers as its leading shareholder through two separate companies, one in partnership with Adrian Salomone of VJ Salomone Consumer lines.
The story of Carden Mizzi
Among the familiar names on the list of direct orders, such as Labour’s organising secretary William Lewis, a new entrant – Carden Mizzi – appears on the list.
Mizzi’s company 88 Signs Ltd, which was registered only last April, was awarded a direct order of €138,000 to “install reflectors on concrete barriers”.
Research by The Shift found that Mizzi, who describes his profession as a “car wrapper,” took part in various Labour Party campaigns during the past years and was also employed by disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat in his secretariat at the OPM in 2014.
His father, Ray Mizzi – a staunch Labour supporter who acts as an electoral agent for the party during every election, canvassed for Robert Abela to become Labour Leader last year.
Carden himself has also started to help out in the Labour Party, providing car wrapping during electoral campaigns through his garage – Carden Automotive Art in Mosta.