MaltaToday | 13 August 2008

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NEWS | Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Lion’s share of AFM direct orders to two companies

Over €4 million to James Caterers and Ballut Blocks for emergency direct orders

More direct orders worth millions of euros, over and above normal procurement procedures, found their way to private companies, as papers laid in parliament show a total of €4,469,364 awarded to just two companies over the space of three years.
The direct orders concern services to the Armed Forces of Malta for the detention of irregular migrants, by companies James Caterers and Ballut Blocks.
James Caterers received a direct order of €1.01 million in 2006 for the provision of food for irregular migrants, but it was again awarded monthly direct orders in 2007, totalling €1.42 million.
When the first direct order came to an end, a public tender was issued for the provision of meals at the Hal Far centre but was nullified by the Public Contracts Appeals Board soon after. Until a new tender was issued, James Caterers was awarded another direct order for twelve months in 2007.

Emergency orders
A spokesperson for the Office of the Prime Minister said that in the second half of 2005, AFM and Police kitchens were not coping with the demand for meals due to the soaring rates of migrants.
“Three quotations for the supply of meals for the supply of meals to illegal immigrants were requested. James Caterers Ltd, who had the cheapest quotation, was given a direct order to supply meals with amounts that were to vary according to arrivals,” the spokesperson said.
In the meantime, a tender for the provision of the meals issued in May 2006 became the subject of an objection by James Caterers against the proposed award to Corinthia Palace Hotel, which were chosen because they were cheaper.
James Caterers argued that the industrial kitchen the Corinthia Palace Hotel intended to use was leased to them by Air Malta only for the exclusive provision of in-flight meals for the aviation industry, and that therefore they could not operate from that kitchen for the purpose of the AFM tender.
James Caterers themselves were however found not have to provided certificates confirming that their vehicles were capable of transporting food and licensed to transport food.
According to the minutes of the appeals case, the AFM said it could have “technically” disqualified James Caterers, but it did not resort to such line of action “because Corinthia Palace Hotel Co Ltd was cheaper and, as a result, satisfied the financial parameters”.
In its final decision in November 2006, the public contracts appeals board declared that since the Corinthia premises could not be used for the purpose of the tender, and that James Caterers itself had not complied with all requirements, the contract award had to be nullified and a fresh call for tenders issued.
But in the meantime, a direct order approval was sought monthly from the Ministry of Finance, to extend the direct order awarded to James Caterers for another 12 months throughout 2007 – costing €1,424,828.
And even though a new tender drafted by February 2008, it was only finally re-issued seven months later in October 2007 pending “the required approval and following several amendments.”
Eventually, James Caterers was awarded a one-year contract, on 19 February 2008, by public tender.

No investigation
In a parliamentary question tabled by Owen Bonnici, the Labour MP has asked the government whether it has investigated “serious allegations” on the direct orders when these were issued by the AFM under the stewardship of former parliamentary secretary Tony Abela.
The Office of the Prime Minister has stated that no investigations have taken place.
The OPM also said it was “not aware” that a direct relation of an AFM superior entrusted with the supervision, care, or operation of irregular immigrant centres is employed at James Caterers Ltd.

More direct orders
The company Ballut Blocks Ltd. was also the recipient of over €2 million in direct orders over three years.
The company was assigned three jobs in 2007 for €714,602.84, one job worth €1,051,712.09 in 2006, and €262,625.21 for two jobs in 2005 – all without a public competition for tender.
The government once again reiterated that the substantial influx of irregular immigrants in 2005 and 2006 was facing government “with an emergency situation which had to be addressed without delay”.
“In fact, illegal immigrants were being held in tents pitched out in the Hal Far army football ground due to the lack of space and increase in number of arrivals. All requests for works carried the approval of the Ministry of Finance, which was granted after ascertaining the urgency of the required works. The decision to build these centres is always tied to the unpredictable increases in the arrivals of irregular immigrants and are therefore of an urgent nature.”
The works carried out included construction works at Hal Far, and the rebuilding of a security wall at the Safi detention centre.

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13 August 2008

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