Tista’ taqra dan l-artiklu bil-Malti
Two private companies in which the brother of one of the most senior officials at Infrastructure Malta (IM) is a shareholder are receiving regular direct orders worth hundreds of thousands of euros from the government agency, The Shift can reveal.
Investigations show the companies started receiving lucrative direct orders shortly after Noel Vella, IM’s Head of Implementation of Projects, joined the agency after years of working for construction magnate Charles Polidano, aka Iċ-Ċaqnu.
According to the latest list of direct orders published by IM, two companies – Darna Properties Ltd and JV Infrastructure Ltd – were awarded four different projects with a combined value of almost €1 million in the first half of the year alone.
While The Shift had immediately flagged the issue that Darna Properties, a real estate agency, had started providing road works services, it now results that the company is co-owned by Jonathan Vella, a 32-year-old from Zebbug who is the brother of IM top official Noel Vella.
Jonathan Vella is also involved in a new infrastructure company set up in 2021, through his partner Amanda Muscat, which also started receiving direct orders from Infrastructure Malta.
According to the direct orders list, Darna Properties was the beneficiary of three separate direct orders over the first semester of 2022 – namely a €70,000 contract for the maintenance of rubble walls in unnamed rural areas, a €350,000 contract for road works in Għargħur, and another €200,000 contract for concrete road works in Rabat.
In the same timeframe, JV Infrastructure Ltd, the other company in which Noel Vella’s sister-in-law is listed as a shareholder, was given a €350,000 direct order to maintain existing rubble walls and resurface works in areas that the government agency did not specify.
In total, IM had given companies owned by relatives of its Head of Implementation division almost €1 million in work over the first six months of the year.
Asked to state who approved these direct orders and what was the involvement, if any, of Noel Vella or the division he heads in the decisions leading to direct orders being awarded to companies involving members of his own family, the IM CEO Ivan Falzon did not reply.
Instead, he gave a general response to The Shift’s specific questions, insisting, “The instances indicated are procurement cycles supported by validated and robust recommendations covered by legislation.”
Stating the companies mentioned by The Shift were “just two of over 70 contractors assigned work by IM,” he underlined that “the procurement process adopted by all IM internal departments is standard and is in line with procurement laws and regulations.”
“Various authorisations by authorised personnel are required for any procurement cycle to be concluded,” Falzon said, without explaining the Head of Implementation’s role in this process.
He also avoided further questions from The Shift asking whether he was comfortable with the fact that direct orders are being handed out to the relative of an agency key official.
He similarly refused to provide a list of how many direct orders had been directed to the two companies since Vella joined IM or to say whether those companies had been given any other direct orders by IM before Vella joined the government agency.
The Shift is informed that Noel Vella was recruited to IM by former CEO Frederick Azzopardi without a proper call.
This newsroom is also informed that Noel Vella is a key player at the government agency when it comes to deciding which work should be covered by direct orders and which companies would be assigned such work.
The Shift is informed that the amounts paid so far by IM to the companies involving Vella’s relatives are much higher than those declared in the latest IM direct orders list, indicating that a lot more work may very well have been assigned to the two companies since the end of June.
Registered in 2019, Darna Properties is co-owned by Johann Vella, the IM official’s brother, and Jeffrey Vella, a businessman from Luqa.
The latter is also a shareholder in the newly established JV Infrastructure Limited, together with Mario Vella from Naxxar. A third of the company’s shareholding is registered in the name of Amanda Muscat, the partner of Jonathan Vella, the IM official’s brother.
Reliable sources told The Shift that, through the arrangement, businessman Jeffrey Vella is making all the necessary investments in plant and machinery to be used in connection with the direct orders being forked out by IM for various works around the country.
Jeffrey Vella is also a shareholder in other companies, Sanotech Ltd and Valuru Company Ltd, which have no connection to the IM direct orders.
Infrastructure Malta has been hitting the headlines since its inception, with the value of direct orders issued for road and infrastructure projects being worth tens of millions of euros a year.
The bulk of these direct orders usually go to a selection of a few well-known mega-contractors who are known to be very close to the governing Labour Party, former Transport Minister Ian Borg and key IM officials.