The Central Link project has already cost taxpayers a staggering €6 million over and above the €28 million costs of the original contract issued in 2017 by Infrastructure Malta (IM), an analysis by The Shift has found.
The main beneficiaries of the so-called ‘variations’ and ‘additional works,’ most of them undocumented, are road contractors V&C Contractors Ltd, Schembri Barbros and Schembri Holdings, known as Id-Dobbu, all companies known to be close to former Transport Minister Ian Borg.
Available public data, published in various issues of the Government Gazette over the last two years, show that while the original contract for the rebuilding of the road between Mriehel and Rabat was budgeted to cost taxpayers a total of €28.4 million, Infrastructure Malta, with the approval of the finance ministry, added on a series of extra works and variations, without a tender, to the same contractors, thereby increasing the cost of the project to over €34 million.
Industry sources told The Shift that spending on the works is expected to increase further as, contrary to the conditions of the original contract, which is partly financed by the EU, construction hasn’t yet finished, and a new unplanned underpass next to the MFSA headquarters in Mriehel was added, driving the costs up by a further, yet to be determined, number of additional millions of euros.
The underpass contract was once again awarded to the same contractors by Infrastructure Malta via direct orders, which it explained by saying it was better for the contractors who won the original tender to carry out the construction.
While according to Infrastructure Malta, the additional underpass should not cost more than the original value of the tender, this is not what has happened, and several further millions of euros are expected to be added to the final bill.
Apart from the €28.4 million budgeted in the original tender, the three contractors working under the name of Link-2018 JV Consortium were given three separate ‘variations’ to the costs of their work for a total of €3.7 million, while other ancillary works, not envisaged in the original contract, were added.
These included the resurfacing of the Mount Carmel Hospital ring road (€220,000); undisclosed additional works (€500,000); resurfacing of Vjal De Paul in Attard (€200,000); the resurfacing of Saqqajja Hill in Rabat (€850,000); the provision of hardstone blocks (€21,000); installation of potable water pipes (€451,000) and the design of the new underpass (€27,000).
According to industry sources, additional works and variations have become commonplace on large projects, thus increasing the profit made by contractors on these tenders significantly at the expense of other bidders who would have submitted higher but more ‘realistic’ offers.
V&C Contractors, owned by Vince Borg, known as Ċensu n-Nizz, a former PN activist who turned Labour after the change of administration, is experiencing the same taxpayers’ ‘bonanza’ on another multi-million-euro project he was entrusted with by Infrastructure Malta.
A new concert venue at the Ta’ Qali National Park, awarded to Ċensu n-Nizz for €12.6 million, and which is supposed to be already completed, is still a work-in-progress as more and more ‘variations’ to the original plans, and price, are approved.
During the last six months of 2021, two variations of €300,000 and €1.4 million were approved for the works which V&C are carrying at Ta’ Qali.
These have already hiked the costs of the project by 13% over budget, and more costs are expected to mount up in the coming months.
It is not known what type of inspections and auditing by the government to assure that it’s getting value for money on the additional millions of taxpayer euros being pumped into these projects, nor whether the costs of these variations are being accurately measured.