Construct Furniture, the company currently facing court proceedings over the fatal workplace accident that claimed the life of 17-year-old Matthew Bartolo in 2015, has directly received at least €592,320 from 25 contracts, tenders and direct orders from the government over the past eight years, apart from other contracts awarded to shareholders.
Based on figures available in the Government Gazette, €213,030 were given to Construct Furniture in 2015 alone to supply, deliver and install office furniture and other such features in Malta’s Brussels House, awarded three months after the incident that led to Bartolo’s death.
Some of the contracts from 2014 and 2015 were not assigned a value in the Government Gazette volumes that featured them.
One of the most frequent users of Construct Furniture’s services was the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) under Joseph Muscat, with a steady stream of annual orders for office refurbishments every year from 2014 to 2017.
Construct Furniture’s business profile had, in fact, been given a massive boost by a commercial in which Muscat himself was essentially filling in as salesman for the company, including a feature with what were supposed to be first-time house buyers that later turned out to be the son of the owner of Construct Furniture and his wife.
While two of these annual refurbishment exercises for the OPM from 2014 and 2015 were not assigned a value, refurbishment works carried out in 2016 and the installation of furniture carried out in 2017 alone cost taxpayers a total of €95,527.
Overall, all sorts of ministries and entities have awarded a contract, tender or direct order to Construct Furniture or one of its offshoots at some point, including the ministry for energy and health under disgraced former minister Konrad Mizzi, the ministry for transport and infrastructure under former minister Joe Mizzi as well as current minister Ian Borg, the ministry for the environment under minister Jose’ Herrera and the Kottonera Foundation, largely under the stewardship of government whip Glenn Bedingfield.
The Shift’s investigation of the cosy relationship between the government and Construct Furniture was spurred by an interview with the Bartolo family published on 29 October, whose pleas for justice have been delayed by lengthy court proceedings. An email sent to Construct Furniture to invite the company to comment on the content of the interview received no reply.
In the interview, the Bartolo family spoke of the heartbreak of waiting in limbo for some form of justice for their teenage son who died while working on his first full time job, pointing out that six years down the line they still do not know who was responsible for their son’s death.
The Bartolo family was not the only third party to attempt to settle pending issues with Construct Furniture. Gareth Galdes, a 16-year-old working at Construct Furniture in 2008, was seriously injured three weeks into his job. Galdes was not paid compensation and the director of the company, John Agius, was fined €4,000 a decade later, in 2018.
Another former employee of the company, Daniel Mercieca, who has spoken out against his past employer’s practices, contacted The Shift after the Bartolo family interview was published to share that he is attempting to claim €3,000 in unpaid commissions from Construct Furniture.
The directors and shareholders of Construct Furniture are members of the Agius and Camilleri families, including John Agius and Adolfo, Alfiero, Enrico and Valerio Camilleri. Both families have prominent business connections in Malta.
Besides being awarded a significant chunk of the €35 million Kappara junction project through a consortium owned by Construct Furniture among other shareholders, the same shareholders are also behind Bava Holdings Ltd. Bava Holdings and Construct Furniture were awarded €526,000 in direct orders for the Ta’ Kandja shooting range project, the costs of which practically doubled throughout its development.
According to further news reports, Bava Holdings was also awarded three direct orders from Infrastructure Malta worth just over €1 million. Another company which is partially owned by Bava Holdings, BI Ventures, was awarded 14 direct orders in the first six months of this year alone, amounting to a total of €120,000.
Besides Bava Holdings and BI Ventures, the Camilleri family is also linked with Kis Services Ltd and Specialist Group Cleaners Ltd. The latter company was awarded an €814,520 contract to provide cleaning services for various sites administrated by Aġenzija Sapport this year.
Specialist Group Cleaners was also awarded a total of €2.3 million for the provision of ‘environmentally-friendly cleaning services’ spread out over two contracts, one covering services provided to colleges and State schools and the other for the Courts of Justice and the Attorney General’s office.
Another contract for the same services had been awarded to Specialist Group Cleaners through Identity Malta in 2015 – the exact value of that contract is unknown as the hourly rate rather than the full value of the contract was the only figure quoted in the Government Gazette.