QP Management Limited – a Corinthia Group company focusing on building services, particularly for the group’s own hotels – was last year given nine separate direct orders, almost one a month, by a new government agency acting as the government regulator.
Sources at the Building and Construction Agency (BCA) told The Shift that the direct orders are all for the same project and the payments have been spliced up into separate direct orders of €10,000 each to bypass public procurement regulations.
According to new information published in the Government Gazette, the BCA in 2021, its first year, handed out 29 different direct orders amounting to €230,000.
While nine direct orders were given to the Corinthia company for “auditing services regarding method statements”, another seven direct orders were given to the Malta University Holding Company (MUHC), another government entity acting as a consultancy services provider to the private and public sector.
QPM Management is owned by IHI Plc – the Corinthia Group’s holding company. Air Malta Chairman David Curmi and Marcus Pisani, the son of the Corinthia chairman, sit on its board.
Other direct orders issued by the BCA were given to well-connected ‘advisors’ including Ernst & Young, Seed Consultancy and E-Cubed, which is owned by Bank of Valletta chairman Gordon Cordina.
Sources said that instead of trying to start a proper procurement system, since the BCA was relatively new the politically appointed CEO, Karl Azzopardi, sought ways to twist the rules to give work to certain companies.
According to procurement rules, services of over €10,000 need to be awarded through an open and competitive tender. But in the cases of QPM Ltd and the university’s company, the direct orders were split into batches so a tender wouldn’t be required.
Sources said that the system also has the blessing of part-time chairperson Maria Schembri Grima, one of Gozitan construction magnate Joseph Portelli’s main architects .
The Shift reported how Karl Azzopardi resigned from the BCA following a fall out he had with Minister Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi.
Azzopardi is currently suing his former employer for compensation, insisting he is entitled to a €200,000 pay-out for having his employment terminated. On the other hand, the minister claims Azzopardi resigned voluntarily and has no right to unpaid wages.