Evarist Bartolo| Sunday, 02 November 2008

Gonzi should apologize

Six hundred young people will probably start their Information Communication Technology (ICT) course at MCAST in January 2009, when they should have started weeks ago.
To catch up and complete their first year of studies they will have to cram their course into more hours every week, or extend their academic year into the hot months of summer.
A fortnight ago Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi had the gall to blame me for this delay. He said that the courses had not started as I had asked the police to investigate whether irregularities had been committed in the tendering process to award private training providers the contract to educate these 600 students in private centres as MCAST does not have the facilities to cater for them.
Five companies tendered for this contract: Key Services (CC Training), Swatar Training Centre (STC), Computer Domain, Future Focus and St Martin’s. The board established various criteria that bidders had to meet to be awarded the contract. These criteria included accessibility for disabled students, five years’ experience in teaching ICT and educational premises with the necessary Education Ministry and MEPA permits.
Every bidder had to obtain at least 70 marks on the basis of their ability to meet the established criteria. The selection board drew up its first report and awarded the five bidders these marks: Key Services (61), STC (64.2), Computer Domain (72.6), Future Focus (65.6) and St Martin’s (64.2). Instead of awarding the contract to the only bidder who qualified, the board changed the marks they gave originally and all the five bidders were awarded 70 marks or over. These were the new marks they were given: Key Services (70), STC (71.6), Computer Domain (79.2), Future Focus (74.2) and St Martin’s (73.2).
At the end of September I asked Ministers Austin Gatt and Dolores Cristina to look into the tendering process and verify whether a number of abuses had been carried out by the board appointed to award the tender. I asked them to answer the following queries:
1) Is it true that according to the criteria established by the board, a bidder had to get at least 70 marks to qualify and that originally only one bidder got over 70 marks, and the other four bidders got below 70 marks?
2) Is it true that despite this, the selection board recommended to the Government Contracts’ Committee that the contract should be shared out among all the five bidders?
3) Is it true that the selection board shredded its original report and submitted a final report where all the marks were changed with all the bidders now getting 70 marks or over to enable them to qualify for the contract?
4) Is it true that some of the bidders should have been disqualified as they do not meet the established the criteria such as accessibility facilities for disabled persons, educational premises with the necessary permits and a minimum of five years experience in ICT education?
Ministers Gatt and Minister Cristina did not even bother to respond to my request, to tell me that they were looking into the matter, or to dismiss my call and reassure me that there was nothing wrong with the tendering process. So a month ago I asked the police to investigate and provided them with all the information that I had. I would have given the same information to the ministers if they had bothered to ask me to substantiate my call for an enquiry.
In the meantime one of the bidders, Computer Domain, took the case to court and even lodged an appeal with the Public Contracts Appeals Board. This has stopped the award of the contract and the case is still pending.
A fortnight ago Prime Minister Gonzi blamed me for stopping the award of the tender and depicted me as a heartless politician depriving hundreds of young people from following their ICT courses that are so crucial for their future.
Prime Minister Gonzi should be ashamed of himself for attacking me instead of looking into the matter and ensuring that things are done seriously by Minister Gatt, MCAST and the Government Contracts Committee. He should have asked for a proper internal investigation and I would have cooperated fully with government to make sure that the public tenders in question are processed and awarded fairly, with good value for money and guaranteeing top quality education for our young people.
Does Prime Minister Gonzi agree with boards and committees that first establish criteria, and then break them and change the marks they awarded to the bidders? Is he going to look into who ordered the marks to be changed? Does he accept that the selection board and the Government Contracts Committee were ready to award the contract to bidders who they knew had made false declarations about the accessibility and the required permits of their educational premises?
Prime Minister Gonzi should apologise to the 600 young people who are still waiting to be called by MCAST to start their ICT courses and should take all the necessary steps to ensure that the same mess and abuses are not repeated next year when Minister Gatt and MCAST issue a new tender for ICT courses.

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