The Malta Independent 19 April 2024, Friday
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Murky moguls

Kevin Cassar Sunday, 31 March 2024, 07:54 Last update: about 19 days ago

The last decade has been a golden age for crony capitalism in Labour’s Malta.  Murky moguls have become increasingly entangled with Labour and its ministers. The net worth of Labour’s tycoons has soared, their fortunes ballooned.  But none have benefitted more from Labour’s profligacy with public funds than those closest to Prime Minister Robert Abela.

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Abela and his wife Lydia entered into a business deal with Gilbert Bonnici, a Bonnici Brothers director, to purchase and develop a property in Iklin.  The Abelas made a massive profit from their business arrangement with Bonnici. So it came as no surprise when a Bonnici Brothers consortium was awarded a €600 million deal to build and run a waste-to-energy plant in Maghtab. Bonnici Brothers have absolutely no experience in the field of waste management. But who cares?

The two international competing bidders claimed the whole process was irregular.  Both pointed out it was impossible to deliver the plant at the price Bonnici Brothers quoted - €599.66 million. The bids of the other two competitors were €781.5 million and €830.7 million.  Remarkably Bonnici Brothers, without any experience in waste management at all, claim to be able to deliver a highly complex project at a fraction of the cost that other world-leading companies could.

Instead of being suspicious of the offer, Wasteserv defended Bonnici Brothers, insisting their €599.66 million proposal was actually higher than the official public estimated contract value of €549 million.

When Hitachi appealed, the Public Contracts Review Board rejected their claim.  The Board also ruled that the €50,000 deposited to lodge the appeal won't be reimbursed. Labour wanted to teach Hitachi a lesson and send a message to the rest.  Don’t try and interfere with who we award tenders to. Don’t even bother submitting a bid, and don’t ever lodge an appeal. Labour will make you pay for your impertinence.

Wasteserv’s CEO Richard Bilocca celebrated the Board’s ruling and remarked that the verdict showed Wasteserv had delivered “a gold standard procurement process”.  That was far from the case.  The whole process was botched from the start. The first call had to be cancelled. Confidential financial data was published prematurely during the second. Wasteserv initially failed to reply to questions about why sensitive data had been divulged to competitors. Then they claimed it was “meant to happen” and that “the information was not confidential and the competition was not distorted”. The NAO is now investigating the whole process.

Richard Bilocca, a Konrad Mizzi political appointee at Water Services Corporation, is now WasteServ CEO. He’s Labour’s man through and through. He re-employed ONE radio presenter Manuel Micallef, Norma Saliba’s husband, as a Wasteserv top manager on a €60,000 package.  But Micallef has no fixed place of work or office, his role rather hazy.  Bilocca also recruited Labour ONE TV reporter Pearl Agius as a Wasteserv lawyer before she’d even obtained her warrant - without a call.

That €600 million deal isn’t the only one Bonnici brothers won.  They’ve been awarded millions in direct orders and contracts. In November 2020 they won a €3.4 million government contract for “construction of a storage warehouse facility”.  In May 2023 they were awarded a direct order of €291,231 for “trenching”.  In the second half of 2023 they got another direct order worth €629,206. Moviment Graffitti claimed the company received over €7.7 million in government contracts and direct orders in just two years.

Bonnici Brothers’ €2.1 million Ta’ Zuta Quarry was partly financed by taxpayers through Malta Enterprise and inaugurated by Bonnici Brothers’ former business partner, Robert Abela. How much we, the taxpayers, paid for that quarry Labour kept secret.

Bonnici Brothers are not the only beneficiaries of Labour’s generosity. They’re not the only ones whose business suddenly expanded beyond their wildest dreams.  There are others - DB group, James Caterers, Construct furniture, Joseph Portelli. There’s Polidano ic-Caqnu, the Zammit Tabonas, Vincent Borg (known as Censu n-Nizz), There’s companies like TEC Ltd, the events and logistics service company providing Labour and its many MPs with its services and rewarded with a constant supply of business.

And of course there’s another of Robert Abela’s friends and business partners - Chris Borg, now accused of kidnapping and money laundering.

Robert Abela made €45,000 profit from a suspicious property deal with Borg on a “small Zabbar plot” while serving as the man’s lawyer. Three months after Borg was arraigned over serious offences including kidnapping he was awarded a €150,000 contract to lease vehicles to LESA. He was awarded another €200,000 euro contract to supply Transport Malta with 41 cars. Borg was about to land another €3 million tender to provide vehicles to the judiciary. That tender was cancelled only after a disgusted judiciary applied pressure on the Prime Minister’s office.

This is Labour’s new “robber baron” era. That cronyism is central to Labour’s vision for Malta. It is key to Labour’s iron grip on power. From dishing out direct orders, to giving away public land for peanuts, to awarding building permits even next door to world heritage sites like Ggantija - that is Labour’s strategy.

While democratic governments push for open competition and transparency, Labour does the opposite. It stifles competition, rigs public tenders and conceals details of who benefits from their extravagant spending.  We still have no clue who got those €3.9 million spent on the Mediterrane film festival.

Malta is a nation where politically connected businessmen prosper - not because their companies provide best value for money - but because they’re linked to Labour’s top brass. Labour’s strategy of crony capitalism works beautifully for them, but disastrously for the nation.

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