The Malta Independent 18 October 2021, Monday

Infrastructure Malta dished out over €41 million in direct orders since 2019

Albert Galea Sunday, 19 September 2021, 07:30 Last update: about 29 days ago

Data compiled and analysed by The Malta Independent on Sunday shows that Infrastructure Malta handed out 364 direct orders worth €41.7 million in the space of two years and a half.

The National Audit Office have discouraged the use of direct orders, saying that these should only be used in exceptional cases and should be approved by the Finance Ministry before being awarded into.

However, while some of the 364 direct orders do concern tasks of a more specialist nature, the vast majority of them are for road works – some either deemed as “urgent” or “emergency” – or things related to road works such as road signs and landscaping.

The same data shows that there were a further 106 variations to previously awarded contracts, which resulted in an additional spend of almost €7.7 million, in the same period.

The period analysed was from the beginning of 2019 to June 2021.

Questioned about its use of extensive direct orders two weeks ago, when The Malta Independent on Sunday reported that the roads agency had splashed out over €10 million in direct orders in the first six months of this year, an Infrastructure Malta spokesperson said that “in situations where direct orders are required, Infrastructure Malta ascertains affordability and value for money through several checks and balances, including, where possible, requesting quotations from different service providers or suppliers capable of providing the specified products or services.”

The spokesperson said that direct orders are generally used to launch “urgently required repairs” or to provide additional services to contractors of major projects to provide services which “could not have been possibly foreseen during planning stages.”

Such variations meanwhile, the spokesperson had said, are permissible and stipulated as part of the normal, long-established conditions of all works contracts. “These conditions allow for variations of up to 50% of the original contract values to make sure that if any such unforeseen requirements are identified, works can continue without unnecessary delays.”

The analysis of the data, which is all published in the Government Gazette, now allows us to draw up a list and profiles of the companies who have received the most off of Malta’s roads.

Bonnici Brothers

The brainchild of four brothers - John Bonnici, Mario Bonnici, Emanuel Bonnici, and Benjamin Bonnici - Bonnici Brothers is the company which received the highest amount of money in both direct orders and variations.

Indeed, the company received nine direct orders worth €3.91 million and another nine variations worth €1.86 million – bringing the total received up to €5.77 million – 2 million more than any other company in this list.

The largest of those nine direct orders is a €1.4 million contract for the “reconstruction of Ta’ Qali Phase 3” on 25 March 2019, which was subsequently followed by an €845,000 direct order for Phase 4 of the same project – a direct order also issued on 25 March 2019.

Two variations meanwhile also exceeded €500,000 – with the company being granted a variation of €559,156 for the widening and upgrading of Triq Ħal Qormi and Triq San Tumas, Ħal Luqa, and another €541,734 for the widening and upgrading of the same roads again.

The company was involved in the Coast Road project and has been on the receiving end of a number of multi-million tenders from other ministries, such as a recent €3.4 million tender from Water Services for the construction of a storage warehouse and over €6 million in direct orders for the Ta’ Kandja shooting range – a project which went well over its budget in 2018.

B. Grima & Sons

A company which was established in 2004 and which specialises in street furniture was the one which was on the receiving end of the most direct orders in terms of quantity.

In fact, B. Grima & Sons – led by Abraham, Isaac, and Adam Grima – received 23 direct orders in the period analysed, which together were worth a total of €621,615.

The vast majority of these were for “emergency” signage for projects or line markings as part of projects.  The largest of the direct orders was a €112,140 direct order for the “supply, lay and install line markings and signage at the Marsa Junction.”

Galletta Construction

Owned by Adrian Muscat and registered in February 2018, Galletta Construction received the second highest amount of direct orders from the state roads agency.

A total of 17 direct orders were awarded to the company, worth a total of €2.53 million.

All of these direct orders are for road works, with the vast majority being for “emergency concrete resurfacing” of certain roads. 

The direct orders with the company however have seemingly tailed off as of late: only one of the 17 contracts was awarded in the first six months of 2021.  13 were awarded in 2019 and the remaining three were awarded in 2020.

Matthew Bongailas Turnkey Services

Matthew Bongailas Turnkey Services was on the receiving end of 15 direct orders in the two-and-a-half years surveyed by this newsroom, with the total amount being received from these contracts being just over €1.5 million.

Bongailas himself is a massive, self-professed supporter of Robert Abela’s administration, and he subsequently had encouraged party members to vote for the now-Prime Minister in the Labour Party leadership race in January last year.

He continues to frequently post pro-government content on his Facebook profile.

Most of his direct orders are related to resurfacing works, save for one where the state agency paid €61,988 for the installation of planters in a street in Qrendi, and the largest one is a €416,463 direct order for “resurfacing Concrete Works, Potable Water and Replacement of Irrigation Pipes at Triq Ħabel Gendus, Burmarrad.”

BAVA Holdings

The company, opened in August 2013, is owned by Brigida Agius, Valerio Camilleri, Adolphus Camilleri and Alviero Camilleri – some of whom are also shareholders behind the well-known company Construct Furniture. 

They received three direct orders worth just over €1 million from Infrastructure Malta, with the bulk of that being made up by a direct order of almost €800,000 for works at Triq il-Fortizza in Mosta.

BAVA Holdings and Construct Furniture have been on the receiving end from other ministries – including the Office of the Prime Minister – in the past.

Construct Furniture itself in fact received a €31,000 direct order from Infrastructure Malta for the provision of office furniture.

Philip Agius & Sons

Known as ‘Ta’ Maksar’, Philip Agius & Sons was awarded the most variations – 22 – from anyone in the two and a half years surveyed.

The company received €337,503 across the 22 variations along with €141,241 across four direct orders.

Polidano Bros

Polidano Brothers – led by Charles Polidano, who is better known as ‘ic-Caqnu’ – needs very little introduction.

The company received just two direct orders in this period – worth €571,012 – but is involved in a number of consortiums and joint ventures which received substantially more than that.

Polidano was also black-listed by Infrastructure Malta in 2020 because it had racked up a huge tax bill worth some €40 million which stretched back all the way to the 1990s.  Polidano reportedly eventually struck a deal to settle his dues with the taxman.

He has also had a number of well-documented run-ins with the Planning Authority over his facilities at Hal-Farrug and the Montekristo Estate in the same area.

Kosta JV

Kosta Joint Venture, made up of Polidano Brothers Ltd, Philip Agius & Sons and Central Asphalt Ltd and their sub-contractors, was initially formed to work the €49 million Coast Road tender.

The joint venture however then received no less than 12 direct orders from Infrastructure Malta, worth a total of just over €3 million, and three variations worth just north of €700,000.

The largest direct order was of €625,570 in connection with the upgrading of a junction which was specified in a tender, while €524,435 was also paid in a direct order for the upgrading of the Canon Road bypass.

Out of the three shareholders, only one doesn’t feature in the list of direct orders issued: Central Asphalt Ltd.

That company is solely owned by Carmel Vella Limited – which is what seems to be a family business established in 1971. 

Amongst the shareholders of that company (she has the least shares out of any shareholder) though is Josette Schembri Vella – the wife of former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri, who was charged with money laundering in connection with a separate company just last Friday.

ELC

Established in 2003 as the Environmental Landscaping Consortium, ELC is a consortium led by Calamatta Landscapes and Polidano Group which has entrusted with landscaping and general maintenance work in public areas and gardens. 

It received a total of €1.77 million across 14 direct orders – the largest of which being a €1 million direct order for the “embellishment” of the Central Link project.

 RM Construction Ltd

RM Construction is a company which is set up as a collaboration between Asfaltar, who didn’t receive any direct orders in this period as an isolated company but were on the receiving end of €195,469.85 across six tender variations, Bonnici Brothers, and Schembri Infrastructures.

Registered in April 2013, the company was awarded the €15 million tender for the development of the underpass which now runs underneath the Tarxien-Santa Lucija roundabout, and it was also involved in the Central Link project.

It received a total of seven direct orders worth €1.6 million and another two variations on tenders worth just over €165,000.

BIFRA JV

It is unclear who this joint venture is made up of, but public records do show that it is registered at the same address as BAVA Holdings and Construct Furniture is in Luqa.

It didn’t receive any direct orders, but won the €10 million tunnel rehabilitation project – for which it has received an additional €1.1 million in variations for.

Link-2018 JV

Link-2018 JV is the consortium which was awarded the massive Central Link project is made up of a company called V&C Construction, Schembri Barbros, and another company called Schembri Holdings.

It received two direct orders worth €478,411 and a single variation worth just over €1 million, which was for the “upgrading of the Comprehensive TEN-T network between Mrieħel and Rabat” – believed to be connected to the addition of a tunnel underpass to the Central Link project at the MFSA junction.

Other companies which received significant amounts of direct orders:

Elbros Construction: €2.8 million across three direct orders, €1.9 million of which was a single direct order for works on Jetty 3 at St. Thomas Bay in Marsascala.

Ballut Blocks Services Ltd: €2.81 million across two direct orders, which were for underwater and quay edge repairs at Cirkewwa and the construction of a wave wall in Mellieha.

Schembri Barbros Ltd: Received two direct orders worth a total of €470,000 and a tender variation of just over €100,000.  Forms part of Link-2018 JV as well.

Schembri Infrastructures: €483,201 across five direct orders along with another €387,143 across eight variations.  Forms part of RM Construction Ltd as well.

Tal-Maghtab Construction: €493,733 across for direct orders. The Malta Independent on Sunday last year had reported how the company was operating out of a batching plant which had no PA permits for the last 20 years.  That plant was finally approved earlier this year.

T&C Ciappara Construction Ltd: €812,570 across two direct orders.

Boat Maintenance Ltd: €1.58 million across four direct orders, the bulk of which was a €1.2 million direct order for repairs at Balluta Bay in St. Julian’s.

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