Taxpayers paid €4.6 million extra for tunnels maintenance

A supposedly simple and straightforward project by Infrastructure Malta – the maintenance of four road tunnels in 2020 – is not only around 12 months late in completion, but has come with an extra bill to taxpayers of more than 4.6 million.

Following The Shift’s story last year that the project was running into millions of euros in extra costs, data published recently in the government gazette confirms this was correct.

It turns out that apart from the 12.5 million tender awarded to Bifra JV to perform maintenance works on the Kirkop, Regional Road, Msida and Sta Venera tunnels, the consortium was later allocated some 11 different direct orders or variations for so called “additional works,” that fell outside the scope of the tender.

While The Shift is informed that more “additional works” are still to be billed, to date the tender’s original costs have spiralled up by some 40% of the original value, to reach 17.1 million.

These variations and direct orders were approved in dribs and drabs by the finance ministry in different periods, thus avoiding attracting too much attention.

 

Some of the recent extra direct orders paid on the tunnels project

While five separate variations and direct orders were awarded in the last six months of 2020, a further six were paid in the last part of 2021 to Bifra JV. Some of the individual approved direct orders amount to almost 1 million.

The main beneficiaries of this ‘bonanza’ of additional orders are the shareholders of the consortium: Valerio Camilleri, known as Il-Hawsla of Construct Furniture, and his fellow shareholder Liam Ferriggi, a business associate of Labour pollster Vincent Marmara. Infram SRL, an Italian roads company from Naples was also involved in the consortium.

According to normal tendering procedures, offers are usually evaluated before their publication and bidders are guided to present their bids close to the estimated value of the tender.

However, ‘additional works’, variations and direct orders outside the tender, once awarded, have become a standard feature of   all major road projects carried out recently by Infrastructure Malta, including the Central Link project and the Marsa flyovers.

This means that while a contractor may submit a bid that beats competitors on price, they end up pocketing much more at the end of the project through additional direct orders given by the government.

Sources at IM told The Shift that “nothing is happening by coincidence and these so-called additional works are done by design for obvious reasons”.

It is not yet known whether the NAO is looking into the massive overruns of road project budgets, or examining whether taxpayers are getting what they’re paying for.

Most of the direct orders for additional works costing tens of millions of euros were awarded when IM was run by Fredrick Azzopardi and Minister Ian Borg.

Azzopardi left Infrastructure Malta immediately after Ian Borg was shunted away from the transport and infrastructure ministry, and has now joined James Caterers.

                           
                               
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