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PN leader Delia met contractors to get ‘information’ on €274m direct order

Extension at home for the elderly was part of catering contract

Opposition leader Adrian Delia met representatives of James Caterers and Malta Healthcare earlier this week to obtain “first-hand information” on a €274-million direct order to enlarge St Vincent de Paul Residence.

The Times of Malta is informed Dr Delia had a meeting with James Barbara, of James Caterers, and Silvio Debono, chairman of the Seabank db Group, the day after the Sunday Times of Malta reported the government had issued the biggest direct order so far to JCL-MHC Consortium, which has been entrusted with the elderly people’s home extension.

The meeting was held on Monday at the contractors’ request.

Dr Delia, who is also the Nationalist Party’s spokesman for good governance, confirmed he had met consortium representatives and expressed serious doubts as to whether public procurement rules were followed by the government in granting the direct order.

“I met representatives of the two companies involved to get first-hand information. I am ready to discuss with whoever has information on the project and wants to put this information on our table so we can come to our own conclusions,” he said.

Read: Mega direct order approved one week before contract signed

Dr Delia admitted he had “serious concerns” about what was going on and expressed shock that Finance Minister Edward Scicluna declared he did not know about the direct order.

“Independently of how this contract has been awarded, the fact that the Finance Minister did not know anything about a quarter of a billion-euro project funded by taxpayers’ money is very worrying,” he said.

He said he would be willing to call for an investigation if the government continued to refuse to explain in detail what was going on.

James Barbara of James Caterers. Right: Silvio Debono, chairman of the Seabank db Group.James Barbara of James Caterers. Right: Silvio Debono, chairman of the Seabank db Group.

“There are strict public procurement rules in place to protect the way taxpayers’ money is used. Until now, we are not satisfied with the government’s explanations and we will not hesitate to insist on the necessary checks and investigations if this is necessary,” Dr Delia remarked.

According to The Malta Government Gazette, the €274-million direct order was approved last November by the Ministry for the Family. Still, the government said in an official statement it was not a direct order but part of a tender in which it negotiated a better offer after the tender was awarded.

The government has, so far, failed to explain the notice carried on its official publication.

In 2015, the government issued a call for tenders for the procurement of catering services and the construction of a new kitchen at San Vincent de Paul, in Luqa. A clause in the tender also asked for an unspecified “additional investment” by the bidders.

James Caterers and the db Group subsidiary, who proposed to build an extension to the facility worth €30 million, were selected.

It has since emerged that, following the award of the contract, the government agreed to negotiate a better offer with the selected consortium so their “additional investment” would consist of a 500-bed extension.

In return, the government agreed to grant the consortium the management of the new facility for a number of years and the direct order was issued.

As a result, the value of the original tender shot up from €58 million to €274 million.

Requests to see the contract it signed just a week after obtaining the approval of the mega direct order have been rejected by the government. Also, questions about the matter sent to the government were not answered at the time of writing.

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