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NEWS | Wednesday, 19 March 2008

The business of migrants’ detention

Over €2 million in direct orders to businesses. By Matthew Vella

Almost €2.2 million in direct orders were issued to companies for services rendered to the immigration centres between 2005 and 2007, benefitting companies that did not undergo the rigorous process of a tendering competition.
The figure shows the scale of business that was generated by the detention of asylum seekers. The revelations were both published in MaltaToday and It-Torca.
In 2005, James Caterers were awarded a direct order of Lm435,996 (€1,015,597) to provide meals to detained migrants. Government had claimed the surge in arrivals had reached an “unprecedented level” by the second half of 2005, adding that the AFM and police catering facilities could not cope with the demand. Due to the “evident urgency of the matter”, three quotations were sought for the immediate supply of meals to illegal immigrants. James Caterers was chosen as the most advantageous offer.
Construction company Ballut Blocks also received a Lm451,500 (€1,051,712) order for the construction of accommodation facilities. The government had said it was faced with an emergency situation with regards to accommodation facilities, having to resort to tents to alleviate the problem.
The works carried out in the Hal Far open centre consisted of concrete platforms for the erection of tents – platforms which according to witnesses sloped unevenly, gathering rainwater and making the tents uninhabitable in certain cases.
The works were carried out by Ballut Block Services Ltd for construction works of Lm322,000, electrical works of Lm41,500, draining and tiling Lm70,000 and electricity Lm18,000. Other expenses incurred included the Enemalta Corporation for Lm12,500 and Lm15,600 to Surplus Adventure for 30 tents. Attrans Commercials were paid Lm13,800 for 300 bunk beds and Lm11,682 for a three-phase generator. In total, these amounted to €1,176,525 (Lm505,082).
Together with the catering contract, it is known that detention services have benefited companies to the tune of €2,192,122.
Direct orders have always been controversial, because the call for “urgent” supplies of goods and services often justifies the award of public money to companies belonging to favoured constituents, or government supporters. Usually, orders of over Lm20,000 (€46,587) have to be cleared by the finance ministry – a not insurmountable hurdle.
Cases of questionable direct orders have included the Foundation of Tomorrow’s Schools, when in 2003, MaltaToday unveiled Lm401,886 (€936,143) in the form of 483 direct orders issued to the private sector in just 16 months between January 2002 and April 2003. At least 30% were invoiced by companies and individuals from the former Education Minister Louis Galea’s two electoral constituencies.
Earlier, back in 1987, Galea as employment minister had founded the Auxiliary Workers Training Scheme to absorb a number of unemployed workers to work in government services such as refuse disposal. The AWTS would later come under investigation by the Permanent Commission Against Corruption, which revealed that most machinery was being rented out from acolytes and constituents of Louis Galea’s two electoral districts and Lm4 million in expenditure was carried out without normal financial controls.
Whatever the case, direct orders are a source of government money which benefits suppliers and contractors without having to undergo the rigorous process of tendering. Entirely legal – but how does it compare with the jobs available to asylum seekers whose forced detention in Malta (12 months maximum, unless their applications for asylum were definitively refused while in detention) is also a source of good business for companies?
Statistics for 2007 show that just 6% of Malta’s entire foreign workers hailed from Africa, mainly sub-Saharan, also the likely source of Malta’s asylum seekers. Last year, just 382 legally employed workers hailed from the Horn of Africa mainly – 119 were from Eritrea, another 95 from Somalia – and who generally benefit from humanitarian protection which allows them to seek employment.
People from the African continent also account for 35% of the 328 foreign workers engaged in elementary jobs. Going further into the statistics, workers from East African countries such as Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan and Eritrea provided 82 workers in the lowest-paid category.
It is not known how much in remittances – money sent back to their relatives at home – has been generated from their labour in Malta. Some of that money earned by working migrants themselves goes towards paying the nominal rates for the food provided at the open centres themselves or for alternative accommodation.
The government itself has come under criticism from development NGOs which claim it does not give enough aid to developing countries to reach its Millennium Development Goals to award 0.18% of the gross national product in aid to Africa.
According to the European Commission’s April 2007 figures, Malta spent €7 million or 0.15% of GNI on ODA in 2006 – less than what it contributed in 2004, when it spent 0.18% in overseas development aid. The figure then was claimed to be inflated by over 40 per cent, according to European development NGO Eurodad.
It will be interesting to see how the new minister of foreign affairs Tonio Borg – who for the last 10 years was the architect of government’s evolving asylum policy – will be taking up this challenge.


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