The Lands Authority is trying to fix a massive legal blunder it committed a few weeks ago when it inexplicably awarded a tender for the provision of specialised legal services to a cleaning company based in Birżebbuġa.
Following a call for tenders for the provision of legal services for the Authority for the next four years, LA officials decided to award the framework contract to several legal service providers.
The evaluation process was concluded, and an award notice was published.
At the point where contracts needed to be signed, the officials suddenly realised that one of those companies was not a legal firm but a cleaning services company.
Following consultations with the Department of Contracts over this ‘mistake’, it was decided that the assignment of the tender to ACJ Cleaning and Hospitality Services was not to be signed, while the rest of the successful bidders were to be awarded the framework agreement worth €2.1 million over four years.
The LA’s last-minute decision, after it spent months evaluating the bids, has now put the public authority into a further legal quandary as an objection has been filed by the cleaning company.
Protesting the exclusion before the Public Contracts Review Board (PCRB), lawyer Amadeus Cachia argued that the company’s name had only been used to submit his personal bid electronically, as he had been unable to access the portal by the tender’s closing date.
Cachia argued that the LA only objected to the tender when he had approached the same public authority to change the name of the award to him instead of the cleaning company.
Cachia insists that the company’s name does not make a difference as he had submitted all the requested personal requirements through the same company, including his warrant, and the LA officials evaluating the bid had no qualms and raised no issues.
According to the lawyer, it was also illegal to exclude only his bid, among several others, as, according to the law, a tender should be cancelled and issued afresh in its entirety.
After committing its massive blunder, the LA is now trying to correct its gaffe.
The LA has tasked Ramona Attard, a former ONE TV reporter turned Labour Party President, through a direct order to argue it had acted correctly when it realised the cleaning company was not registered as a legal services provider.
Attard, who has been put on several government retainers despite having graduated as a lawyer only five years ago while working for disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat, insisted with the PCRB that Cachia should be disqualified.
Legal sources speaking to The Shift said that while a call for tenders is commendable after years of direct orders being given to only the selected few, they cannot understand how such a blunder could have happened.
They argued that according to public procurement rules, a tender could not be cancelled piecemeal once a contract award notice is issued.
Among the other lawyers who have successfully bid for the tender are former Gozo Minister Justyne Caruana, ONE TV presenter Luke Dalli and his partner Matthew Paris, and Alexia Farrugia Zrinzo, sister of Minister Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi.
All these lawyers will be entitled to a remuneration of some €3,000 a month over the next four years, over and above the direct orders and retainers they have from several other government entities.
In April 2021, Cachia was accused of falsifying court decrees. He pleaded not guilty. The case is ongoing.