Malta’s highest court has declared Transport Malta’s actions over a concession for an exclusive passenger ferry service in the Grand Harbour “scandalous” and imposed a rarely used procedure ordering it to pay the court’s legal costs, twice.
On Thursday, the Court of Appeal presided over by Judges Giannino Caruana Demajo, Anthony Ellul and Robert Mangion, concluded that Transport Malta’s request for a retrial from a previous ruling was a frivolous and scandalous attempt to delay procedures.
In its sentence, the court observed that while it may understand that whoever may have a commercial interest (the company which has the concession) may fall into the temptation of making frivolous attempts to protect their own interests, this is not acceptable from a public authority such as Transport Malta.
“That the Transport Authority presented to the court arguments that it could evade the law by doing things in secret is frankly scandalous,” the court declared.
The issue revolves around a decision taken by Transport Malta and Minister Ian Borg in December 2020 to extend an eight-year exclusive concession to Marsamxetto Steamferry Services Ltd by a further three years until the end of 2023, instead of issuing a new public tender as established by law.
Transport Malta and Minister Borg had kept the new concession extension secret, denying any information to other interested parties, against the rules.
The concessionaire is a company owned by the Zammit Tabonas of the Fortina Hotel and Bianchi Group.
A legal challenge to this irregularity was immediately launched by an interested company, Supreme Travel, which raised irregularities and the breaking of existing EU laws by the transport regulator and the government.
After the Public Contracts Review Board decided in the government’s favour, the court last August reversed the decision and re-ordered the PCRB to hear the case again and examine whether Transport Malta had acted illegally.
Transport Malta then claimed that the court had misinterpreted the law and asked for a retrial. This has now been dismissed by the Court of Appeal, dubbing the whole exercise by the government Authority as frivolous and scandalous.
The PCRB is now expected to re-hear the case.