The concession for the management and extension of the Addolorata Cemetery has been derailed, with the health ministry having to pay hundreds of thousands of euros to make up for the private contractor’s failings, a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) reveals.
The NAO investigation shows how most of the concession’s requirements had been breached four years into the contract, with Minister Chris Fearne and the Foundation for Medical Services (FMS) doing absolutely nothing about the situation.
The contract was signed in 2018 between the government and Campo Santo Ltd, a consortium consisting of developer Charles Polidano, known as Iċ-Ċaqnu and Camray Company Ltd, which funeral undertaker Mario Tonna owned, but he exited the project in 2020.
The deal was to create some 3,000 new graves, and the company was to manage the site.
Campo Santo was also to take over the responsibility for employees of the government’s main burial site, although the workers would remain on the government’s payroll and paid by taxpayers.
The NAO report found that almost all of the clauses in the contract had been breached, and the health ministry led by Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne took no action to correct the situation.
Instead, the ministry forked out hundreds of thousands of euros in additional funds to make up for the contractor’s failings.
The audit established that while the government was supposed to sell the new graves at €8,000 each, an increase in the price of €3,000 per grave, it had to pass on the proceeds to Campo Santo to finance the project.
For some reason, this has not happened yet, even though the graves have been sold.
Campo Santo has taken the law into its own hands, delaying the project and charging the government for some of its obligations, supposedly being covered by the same company, the NAO report states.
For example, the NAO found out that while Campo Santo was obliged to pay the government a concession fee of €150,000 a year, this only happened for the first two years – and through a set-off – while the consortium never paid the rest of the annual fees.
The concession states that it is up to Campo Santo to pay the salaries of personnel at the cemetery. Still, the bill remains pending as the government continues to pay the salaries – the company owes close to €1 million in pending in terms of what the consortium owes the government in salaries.
Campo Santo has other bills pending, even though the contract said it should finance the cleaning of graves and restoration.
Invoices were raised and sent to the government, with Minister Chris Fearne signing off the payment, in complete breach of the concession agreement.
The NAO also discovered that the insurance policy necessary for the concession was inadequate and should have triggered the annulment of the concession.
“According to section 61 of the concession agreement, in such absence, although the contracting authority (Health Ministry) may terminate the contract, no action to this effect was taken,” the Auditor General said.
The Health Ministry delegated the oversight of this project to the FMS, controlled by Fearne’s chief canvasser Carmen Ciantar.
The NAO found that no progress reports were being sent to the Ministry according to various clauses of the contract while certification of the project is being carried through private architects, engaged through direct orders, and paid by the government instead of the concessionaire.
The Auditor General recommended Minister Fearne take action to ensure the protection of the public interest.