A letter by the managing director of James Caterers, which threatened the National Audit Office (NAO) with legal action, was in breach of parliamentary privilege, Speaker Anglu Farrugia has ruled.
Last week, it emerged that the company’s managing director James Barbara had written to the NAO threatening to take legal action against it and its officers, should an ongoing investigation portray the company in a bad light.
In a ruling delivered in Parliament this evening, upon the request of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Farrugia ruled that the company had in fact breached parliamentary privilege.
The NAO is in the process of auditing tenders awarded to the company in relation to St Vincent de Paul home for the elderly. While the original 2015 tender was for the provision of meals and a kitchen, it eventually developed into a project to extend the home. The multi-million euro deal was won by a consortium, which includes James Caterers Ltd.
“We trust therefore, as stated by your good selves in our interview, that JCL and the consortium are under review, and therefore should not be the subject of any censure or comment,” read the letter.
“Please note however that in the event that negative or adverse comments are raised with respect to JCL or the consortium prejudicing thereby the final sensitive negotiations currently underway, JCL will have no option but to hold the NAO and its officers personally responsible for the reputational and material damage which JCL will suffer.”
Auditor General Charles Deguara reported the letter to the PAC and accused the company of trying to intimidate his office and influence its investigation.
“Of concern to the National Audit Office is the intimidation that James Caterers sought to convey in this correspondence, which this Office deems entirely unacceptable and intended to influence the outcome of this audit,” the NAO said in a letter to Public Accounts Committee chair Beppe Fenech Adami.
“While the NAO will not be intimidated or adversely influenced in its work for Parliament, the matter is being brought to the attention of the PAC, whose support is being sought.”
The case will now be investigated by Parliament’s privileges committee, which could recommend further action.
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