The Malta Independent 26 June 2022, Sunday

PN calls on Director of Contracts to stop abuse of power on direct orders

Sabrina Zammit Tuesday, 21 June 2022, 13:13 Last update: about 5 days ago

The Director of the Contracts Department must exercise his statutory role as guardian of public producrement rules and vet Government practices to limit direct orders which are discouriging  competition and forcing honest enterpreneurs out of business, PN spokesperson Peter Agius and Chair of the Public Accounts Committee and PN MP Darren Carabott said in an open letter to the Director of the Contracts Department published on Tuesday. 

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‘Your role is to ensure the application of the law, which foresees direct orders as the last resort. Under this administration and under your watch they have become the norm. Do not let the Ministers bend the rules. Do not be complicit in illegality!,’ the letter read. 

Agius and Carabott further described how two court sentences have exposed two instances of dubious dealings by the Department of Contracts, for which they ask the Director of Contracts whether there are any measures being taken to address the shortcomings underlined by the Courts. 

The first case mentioned in the letter explains how a direct contract awarded by the Ministry of Education to an entity called ‘Specialist Group’ was done, instead of a call for tenders. It was noted how this was not in line with procedure as the matter was not of any ‘real urgency’. 

“This was a clear case of incompetence on the part of the Ministry of Education and the Director of Contracts approved this procedure to hide the administration’s shortcomings making the office an accomplice to this illicit behaviour,” Agius and Carabott said

The other court sentence – Pharma-mt Ltd. Vs Director of Contracts and Others – which was decided in March stated that; 

“The Court feels, or rather, suspects, that someone somewhere wanted to dismiss the plaintiff as an excuse or wanted to favour E.J. Busuttil Ltd. This transpired because the main reason for disqualification was clearly a wrong one, as it contradicts what was expressly provided for in the call, while the second reason could and should have been clarified without violating the principle of proportionality and transparency governing the matter.” 

Commenting on this Agius asks in the letter whether the Department of Contracts is taking any steps to address these accusations. 

Both MPs turned to quote the primary function of the Department of Contracts as set out by law ‘Monitor public procurement activities with a view to ensuring that these regulations are complied with and to ensuring that the results of these monitoring activities are made available to the public through appropriate means of 'information’, as a way to remind the Director of what his obligations are.

“Looking at these court judgments, it seems that instead of ensuring that these things do not occur, your department is being complicit in them,” Agius and Carabott said. 

Both PN representatives warned: “A department that plays such a crucial role in ensuring that public finances are spent conscientiously, and that wealth is distributed in an equitable manner, comes across as toothless at best, and allows these abuses to take place. Do not continue to be complicit in this!

 

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