The education ministry has awarded a €118,800 direct order to a private company to set up a tracking system for school transport, a measure that was first promised to parents four years ago.

According to a notice published in the Government Gazette, the ministry awarded the contract to Handson Systems Ltd to provide a “three-year monthly support and maintenance for fobs tracking solution for school transport system”.

A fob is a hand-held electronic device that can be attached to a keychain.

The same company was awarded another direct contract worth €132,500 to provide “additional equipment to install on 250 new vehicles under the free state school transport”.

According to regulations, government procurement is not to exceed €10,000 by direct order unless in exceptional circumstances and as a last resort.

Sometimes, urgency is used to justify a direct order. As a rule, however, calls for tenders are to be issued for procurement above that amount in order to promote competition, transparency and the best use of taxpayer money.

When the free school transport scheme was launched in 2018, then education minister Evarist Bartolo said that every vehicle would be equipped with an electronic reader that would notify parents through an app whenever their children exit the vehicle.

However, the system has yet to materialise, with former education minister Justyne Caruana saying that parents had mixed reactions to the system. The issue came to the fore again in 2021 when a three-year-old girl was locked in a garage for hours after she was forgotten in a mini-van that was part of the free school transport scheme.

The education ministry did not reply to a request for comment by the time of writing.

Times of Malta asked why, given that three years had elapsed since the system was promised, were the provisions for these services awarded through a direct contract and if a call for tenders had ever been issued for the provision of the fob school tracking devices.

The auditor general has repeatedly called on the government to restrict the use of direct orders and open calls for competition. 

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