More than €10 million have been handed to the same cleaning company by the government after three competitive tenders fell apart.  

Three negotiated procedure contracts – direct orders by another name – were issued to the same firm by the Education Ministry to clean all of Malta’s state schools in line with rules introduced because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The contracts did not allow for a competitive process and in one instance were slammed by the courts as illegal and a result of government incompetence.

In 2019, Brightness JV, a joint venture between local firm Specialist Group Cleaners Ltd, owned by Valerio Camilleri and Wilson Mifsud, and Italian company Diemme, won a two-year contract to clean all state schools.

Then, in August 2021, the Education Ministry tasked the company to do the same job, this time awarding a contract by ‘negotiated procedure’, claiming its hands were tied by the virus outbreak.

Ministry claims 'extreme urgency'

Justifying the decision, the ministry claimed there was an “extreme urgency” due to new protocols issued during the outbreak. It said it could not wait to go through the lengthy tender process.

In 2021, the Health Ministry released rules for what it described as ‘enhanced cleaning’ in schools. These, however, contained no material changes to guidelines already issued a year earlier.

The guidelines meant toilets had to be cleaned at least three times daily, all common resources and tools shared among students were to be regularly washed as well as surfaces, handles, railings and other grips.

The ministry claimed that this extra work meant that the pre-determined number of cleaning hours in the original tender was reached early, and a new contract was needed urgently. 

However, a rival cleaning company suspected the government of trying to prefer Brightness JV over others.

Managing Consulting Service Industry Limited said that the urgency which led to the scrapping of a tendering process had, in fact, been caused by the ministry’s “negligence and delay”.

The authorities had only moved to go for a negotiated procedure several months after they became aware of the problem.

Moreover, it had done this literally “on the eve” of the issuing of a new tender and it was not as though the pandemic had only just started. The government was, in effect, circumventing the open tendering process, blocking others from being in with a chance of winning the contract. 

Court of Appeal rules contract is torn up

The matter went before the Public Contracts Review Board, and the complainant asked the contract to be declared null and void. The board threw out the complaint, but the complainant did not stop there, going on to take the matter to the Court of Appeal.

It clearly results that the urgency, if there was any, was created by the government itself through its procrastination- Court of Appeal judgment

The court, presided by Chief Justice Mark Chetcuti and judges Joseph Micallef and Tonio Mallia, eventually ruled that the contract be torn up.

“From the way the government behaved in the case, it clearly results that the urgency, if there was any, was created by the government itself through its procrastination,” the judgment reads.

“The competent authority that dragged its feet on the issue, cannot, after time has passed, say that the issue had become urgent.”

The complainant will now seek, and likely be awarded hundreds of thousands of euros in damages from the government.

However, the story does not end there. 

Third contract worth €4.5 million

While the court was deliberating on this matter, the government set about issuing a new tender, again to clean all the country’s state schools. 

However, this tender process, like others before it, fell through.

This time, not by the government’s hand, but contested by E.C. Municipals Ltd, a company owned by Alexander Fenech.

The company is involved in marine and maritime activities but shares the same lawyer as Brightness JV – the company which had by this point been handed two direct orders. 

As the tender was effectively blocked by this appeal, the government moved to award a third direct contract again to Brightness JV in April. This time the contract was for €4.5 million, almost double the amount laid out in the original contract awarded two years ago. 

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