Opposition MPs Adrian Delia and Alex Borg have filed a judicial protest against the Director of the Department of Contracts in a bid to force the department’s hand into investigating a €21.49 million tender for a new cancer treatment facility at Mater Dei Hospital’s Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre.
The move to take the case before the courts comes after the department failed to reply to a damning letter from the MPs last month in which they allege the tender had been “tailor-made” for the eventual winning bidder.
The MPs took that action after The Shift lifted the lid on how the tender’s price tag had almost doubled from the original €12 million, in what appears to have been a blatant move to favour one bidder, Technoline Ltd, over the others.
It was almost a month ago that the two MPs had taken their complaint to the department.
Delia and Borg believed that letter, which formally informed the department of technical compliance issues in the tendering process, would have obliged the department to have taken the appropriate steps to ensure there was nothing amiss with either the offer or the tendering process itself.
That letter, however, has gone unanswered by the department.
Delia and Borg are concerned that not only was the tendering process highly suspect, but that the country will be paying almost twice as much for the facility than had originally been planned.
Moreover, they are concerned that Malta’s cancer patients will not be getting the best equipment available on the market because the tender was geared toward one bidder in particular, and that their treatments could be delayed simply to accommodate the exigencies of one bidder.
“This tender smacks of having been tailor-made,” Delia had told The Shift at the time. “The short timeframes granted, the choice of the cheapest price method instead of the price to value evaluation and joining a specialised equipment request with a construction project all point to bad practices and a total lack of good governance and transparency.”
Given the Department of Contracts abject failure to look into the case – first following revelations published by The Shift, and secondly after last month’s caustically accusatory letter – the MPs said on Tuesday they had little choice but to bring the case to court.
“The director of contracts is obliged to investigate whether the tender was awarded fairly and lawfully, but so far, he has refused to answer,” Delia said outside the law courts this morning along with Borg after filing the protest.
The tendering process has been strange, if not altogether suspect, from the outset.
The call for tenders for the new cancer treatment facility had closed in June with only one bidder having submitted a tender at almost twice the contract’s original price.
As The Shift followed developments, it became increasingly clear that the tender was being designed to accommodate a single bidder, Technoline Ltd.
The Public Contracts Review Board (PCRB) was, in fact, asked to revoke the EU-funded tender over several “irregularities,” including breaches of EU rules.
The equipment itself accounts for just about half the tender’s value, with the increased costs of just under €10 million having been incurred by questionable need to build a bunker to accommodate the medical machinery offered by Technoline, which submitted the sole bid of €21.5 million.
During the first round of the procurement process, it was clearly stated that the new machinery would need to be able to fit inside an existing bunker at the oncology hospital, which had been left vacant for this specific purpose.
The problem was that the equipment being offered by Technoline did not actually fit into the available bunker. An internal report revealed by The Shift had actually found the bunker was perfectly fit for purpose, despite the authorities’ claims to the contrary.
Technoline Ltd was one of the companies the so-called ‘investors’ in Vitals Global Healthcare acquired in a bid to maximise profits during their much-maligned stint in Malta.
The health ministry, together with the management of Mater Dei Hospital and the Foundation for Medical Services, last year issued a Preliminary Market Consultation to assess potential suppliers for a cancer treatment facility that was to be funded by the EU recovery fund.
Investigations undertaken by The Shift revealed that by the end of that process, in December 2021, government officials realised the empty bunker earmarked for the new machine would not be able to accommodate the machinery being offered by Technoline.
At the same time, however, other bidders insisted that they had no in problem supplying equipment that would fit into the existing designated bunker.
But Technoline, whose machine’s dimensions did not fit the bunker in question, suggested the construction of a new fifth bunker – grossly inflating the project’s price from the original €12 million to €21.49 million, with the suspected sole apparent purpose of accommodating Technoline’s bid.
The Preliminary Market Consultation published on 22 November 2021, which called for the installation of the machinery (an MRI Linac) within the oncology centre’s fourth bunker, had specified, “The MRI Linac must be suitable to be housed in the current empty 4th bunker. Any structural changes within the bunker will be the onus of the supplier…”
Rushed plans for as fifth, arguably unnecessary, bunker
The PMC closed on 21 December but just 10 days later, on 31 December, the Foundation for Medical Services received a request for services for the design of a whole new bunker.
The MPs had drawn the department’s attention to the fact that plans for the fifth bunker were completed on 18 February, and the FMS had issued a structural report by 24 February.
Matters developed quickly and the tender for the EU-funded project, including the questionable fifth bunker, was published on 17 April and with a deadline just four weeks away.
Delia and Borg say they have now learned that Technoline’s offer does not even include automatic beam gating for the MRI, which the PMC had described as a ‘critical function’.
The PMC had, in fact, stipulated, “The system must avail itself of an automated gating mechanism which confers the ability for the machine to automatically turn the beam on and off according to the internal organ movements of the patient.
“This must be regarded as a critical function as it significantly enhances accuracy.”
But, the MPs noted in the unanswered letter, “The contracting authority decided against the use of the Negotiated Procedure, even if feedback it received from the PMC replies provided evidence that automatic beam gating is an innovative technology offered by one supplier only.
“Instead, it decided to promptly ask the FMS to design a fifth bunker and claim that the fourth bunker was not fit for purpose; blaming the issue on the corridor on the day of the hearing.”
The end result, according to Delia and Borg is that: “Technoline remains the only radiotherapy supplier at the oncology centre. Despite an abundance of funds, Malta will have a second-best option bereft of what experts in the field called for in both the PMC (automatic beam gating) and the tender document (reflexive technology).”