The Government’s plan to award a 65-year concession to turn Valletta’s iconic Evans building into a five-star luxury hotel has been derailed as one of the bidding consortia associated with the world-acclaimed Nobu hotels has filed an official objection over the “irregular” and “highly suspicious” handling of the process by the Office of the Prime Minister.
Paying the €50,000 down payment required for an objection, the Iconic Hotel Malta – Nobu consortium objected to the government’s announcement last month, ranking Valletta Luxury Projects in first place, despite it submitting a faulty financial offer.
The objecting consortium, fronted by seasoned entrepreneur Michael Bianchi, asked the Public Contracts Review Board (PCRB) to annul the whole process and also disqualify two bidders due to gross irregularities allowed to take place by the OPM’s selected adjudication board, headed by criminologist Saviour Formosa.
According to lawyers from Fenech Farrugia Fiott and Adrian Delia, the OPM’s preferred bidder, composed of the Decesare family of the Eden Leisure Group and Mark Weingard of Iniala Hotel, submitted their offer wrongly and should have been disqualified.
The objector argued that unlike the irregular interpretation “gratuitously made” by the adjudicating committee, the Decesare/Weingard bid was published in the appropriate channels as being a global offer of €1.2 million and not €1.2 million every year.
Additionally, no corrections were made following the bidding process, and the other bidders were not informed of any changes, as is required by law.
Thus, according to the objector, the OPM awarded the bid wrongfully and unlawfully.
Iconic Hotel Malta – Nobu also asked for the disqualification of the bid by Katari Hospitality due to gross irregularities.
Referring to the “inexplicable extensions” to the closing date of the tender’s submissions, it was established that during these extensions, Katari Hospitality “changed its financial statements by filing last-minute amendments consisting in major adjustments to its financial entries, enabling it to turn its non-compliant” financial bid into an acceptable one.
The objector charged that this points towards “suspicions of collusion”, procedural irregularities, and “a vitiated process” for which the OPM’s adjudication committee is responsible.
Katari Hospitality is owned by Paul Attard from GAP, also the Malta Developers Association’s secretary general. He has been in the news over the past years due to his proximity to the prime minister and the takeover of public land.
The objector’s lawyers also gave two other reasons for the PCRB to annul the whole process, including the wrongful decision to disqualify it from the process due to a wrong financial calculation by the selection committee and the “not sufficiently motivated” score given “subjectively” to the bidders by the evaluation committee.
The Public Contracts Review Board is now expected to take months to decide. The latter will also be subject to a final challenge in front of the Courts of Appeal.