Government utilities billing company ARMS spent more than €2 million on direct orders last year despite its limited functions in a water and electricity market monopoly.
An analysis of the list of direct orders (see full list) given out in 2022, tabled in parliament by Minister Miriam Dalli following questions from Opposition MP Mark Anthony Sammut, shows how the government continued to use the company to shore up a bankrupt Air Malta and to subsidise its operations indirectly.
Tens of thousands of euros were also spent on questionable advertising and legal services that were mainly awarded to well-known government cronies and friends of friends.
A massive €1.6 million direct order was given to customer services company Centrecom, whose holding company is half-owned by Air Malta.
ARMS has been using the Mosta-based company’s services to deal with clients’ complaints about utility bills for a number of years.
In this way, the government has been subsiding Air Malta through this company as well as other direct orders for customer care services for a number of other government departments.
In 2020, the Office of the Prime Minister issued a €35 million direct order for the company to handle all the customer care services related to the Servizzi.gov public service.
Air Malta is precluded from receiving state aid from the government under EU rules.
This has been going on for a number of years, and the European Commission is fully aware of the loophole.
Air Malta chairman David Curmi is even on the company’s board of directors.
ARMS’ list of direct orders also shows how it has been used to hand dubious retainers and sponsorships to party loyalists and friends.
For example, ARMS gave a €10,000 sponsorship to PBS’ Shark Tank game show, produced by former Nationalist Party functionaries Anton Attard and Mark Grech.
It gave another €10,000 to Labour’s ONE TV for advertising. ‘Indhouse’, another ONE programme produced by Pauline Agius, received a €5,000 sponsorship and €50,000 was given directly to PBS for unidentified advertising.
Several lawyers have also received direct orders.
ARMS Ltd paid €10,000 each to former Labour MP Luciano Busuttil, Minister Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi’s legal firm 360 Legal. Lawyers Joey Reno Vella, Kristina Camilleri Deguara, Dennis Zammit, Michele Cardinali and Stefano Filletti also received direct orders.
Street Media Ltd, a company co-owned by Fortina Group boss Edward Zammit Tabona and event organisers 356 Group – owned by Labour activist Kenneth Mizzi and former Labour deputy leader Louis Grech’s nephew Daniel Abela- were also among the beneficiaries of thousands of euros of ARMS advertising.