Questionable contracts issued by direct order were found to have been mismanaged by Esplora, the government’s interactive science centre in Kalkara, the National Audit Office has found.
In its audit of Esplora, the NAO found significant managerial weaknesses, including the lack of verification for specific contracts, particularly those dealing with cleaning, security and landscaping services.
Despite a government subvention of €4.3 million for Esplora in 2021, the centre still ended up running at a deficit.
In its audit, the NAO found several contracts had been renewed by direct order when competitive tenders were supposed to have been issued.
The NAO found that, in the case of security services, a total of 20 purchase orders amounting to almost €100,000 covering the period between 21 June and 22 July were issued for security services following three public calls for quotations.
“Since for every call issued, rates submitted by all bidders were always identical, the service was split between them, capped at €5,000 each,” the NAO found.
Executive Security Services Ltd, owned by Pullicino Orlando’s driver Stephen Ciangura, was one of the companies providing security services for Esplora.
While hundreds of thousands of euros were paid by taxpayers for cleaning services by a private contractor, no one was ensuring the number of cleaners that were meant to have been on site on any given day actually showed up for duty.
“Testing revealed that the attendance reports for cleaning, extracted from the electronic attendance verification system, were not being verified for correctness and completeness,” the NAO audit found.
As such, the NAO said it was “not in a position to verify whether the amounts paid were in line with the respective attendance”.
It was also found that in the case of the landscaping contractor, work was being paid for even though the supplier “was not submitting the required VAT fiscal receipts”. These payments formed part of a €62,250 contract awarded for a three-year period.
Pullicino Orlando, a former PN MP who shifted to the Labour Party before it was swept to power in 2013, was kept on the MCST payroll as executive chairman since then and paid €60,000 a year, even though his presence at the place of work was reportedly a rare occurrence.
The arbitrary use of public funds highlighted by the NAO ranged from highly profitable contracts for particular security services providers to the payment of some €5,000 to Move Smart Fitness Club Ltd, owned by Xandru Grech, the son of former Labour minister, party deputy leader and MEP Louis Grech. The payment was for MCST employees’ use of a private gym Grech owns in Kalkara.
Pullicino Orlando is now set to be replaced by a new chief executive officer. Although the government has not yet announced his replacement, The Shift has already reported that ARMS Ltd CEO Silvio Scerri will take Pullicino Orlando’s place.