Minister for the elderly Michael Farrugia has insisted that the latest contract for the provision of meals within the community which was awarded to James Caterers is only a temporary measure put into place until a proper tender is awarded.
Earlier this week, Lovin Malta reported that the government had awarded a contract to the catering company through the same procedure that was criticised by the auditor general in an investigation into the way in which a contract for the construction of a kitchen and additional residential blocks at the St Vincent de Paul home for the elderly was awarded.
The procedure, known as a negotiated procedure, allows the government to engage companies to provide services without needing to go through the standard tendering process. However, a contract can only be awarded through a negotiated procedure if certain conditions are met, such as for example, there not being any other companies providing a particular service, or if there is an urgency for a service to be procured.
Sources, who have spoken to Lovin Malta in recent weeks have said that this negotiated procedure is being abused, with the government intentionally issuing tenders late, in order to then be able to justify the use of a negotiated procedure on the grounds of urgency.
Asked about this latest case, the minister refuted the assertion that a negotiated procedure had been used, pointing out that what had happened was that an existing tender, which had expired, had been extended as a temporary solution until a new tender was awarded.
“There was a tender for our Meals on Wheels programme and it expired. A new tender has already been issued and we’re currently at the end of the evaluation, but it still hasn’t been awarded. The evaluation report needs to go to the Department of Contracts to see if it agrees with the evaluation committee.
“In the meantime, there is a period during which we need to decide to either leave the elderly without food or else to take an existing tender and prolong it by a few weeks until the tender is approved and is awarded.”
“We’re talking about a matter of weeks, till about June to give the Director of Contracts time to decide. What interests me is that the tender has been issued and the evaluation completed,” Farrugia said.
Asked whether he could commit to the new tender being awarded by June, Farrugia said he “hoped” so, but couldn’t be certain.
“We need to see, I don’t know if there is going to be another appeal, or whether the case will have to go to court,” Farrugia said.
The value of the negotiated deal has not been confirmed.
Nothing wrong with ‘illegal’ San Vincenz contract process before 2017
The minister was also asked about political responsibility regarding the contract awarded to a consortium, that also included James Caterers, for the construction of a kitchen and four new blocks at the St Vincent de Paul home for the elderly.
So far, while the government has said that it is looking into reviewing procedures on how such contracts are awarded, there has been no political responsibility shouldered.
Asked whether he had investigated who was responsible, given that he was the minister responsible for the home during the period when the tender was issued, Farrugia insisted that there had been no wrongdoing prior to 2017, adding however that an audit firm had been engaged to evaluate the cost of each bed and whether it was the case that the government was paying exorbitant rates in this case.
He said that in 2014, a decision had been taken to build a new kitchen at the home and a tender was issued. After it was granted, the decision was appealed and the case was sent before the Public Contracts Review Board (PCRB).
“Eventually it was appealed in court and the court said that the process and evaluation of the tender couldn’t be criticised,” Farrugia said.
“So, the director of contracts, the PCRB, and the court in 2017 clearly said that everything that happened before then was done properly. The evaluation was made and the bidder that should have won did in fact win.”
“Eventually, there was an election and after that discussions started between the consortium and the St Vincent de Paul. during that process, decisions were taken. I am speaking about the period after the election.”
Asked whether that meant that his successor was responsible, Farrugia stressed that the auditor’s report had not called for political responsibility to be shouldered.
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