Entities falling under the political remit of Justice Minister Owen Bonnici persisted in the allocation of direct orders despite warnings by the National Audit Office.

More than 280 direct orders were handed out to individuals and companies in the first six months of last year. Many of the recipients are either associated with the Labour Party or senior officials and political appointees.

Sharp Shoot Media, a company owned by the brother of the Prime Minister’s spokesman, Kurt Farrugia, received almost €25,000 for marketing services “and other related services” to the ministry. It was also contracted by the National Orchestra to film three concerts, for which it received almost €10,000.

According to a list of direct orders published last month, the Arts Council, headed by former One TV chief executive Albert Marshall, and the Valletta 18 Foundation, chaired by Labour TV station head Jason Micallef, were by far the largest spenders in terms of direct orders awarded.

Both entities resorted to direct orders even when procuring basic services

The Arts Council issued about €1.5 million in direct orders and V18’s expense for the same purpose in the period under review exceeded €1.6 million.

Industry sources acknowledged that direct orders could be justified in the arts sector, particularly when engaging specific artists. However, the published list indicates that both entities resorted to direct orders even when procuring basic services such as media facilities, architectural expertise, marketing and even the purchase of ornamental plants.

Staff members were also engaged through the direct order system, thus bypassing the need to issue a public call and then implement a selection process. Consultancies in various areas too were granted in the same manner.

Żurrieq Labour mayor, Natius Farrugia, for example was awarded a direct order to “help” the Arts Council deal with local councils and former Labour Cabinet minister Reno Calleja is paid €12,000 a year to give advice and consultancy “as required by the Arts Council”.

XYZ Ltd, an architectural firm co-owned by Labour Party president Daniel Micallef, was hired to render its services to the ministry for almost €10,000.

According to public procurement rules, direct orders are to be used as “a last resort” and should be limited in scope and value.

The Auditor General has repeatedly called on the government to restrict the use of direct orders and open calls for competition. Yet, the Finance Ministry continues to approve hundreds of direct orders every month.

Some of the ministry’s latest direct orders:

Direct Order Task Value
George Busuttil Assessment of medicinal products €25,000
Natius Farrugia Consultancy for arts council €7,200
Reuben Pace Artistic and musical service to Arts Council €60,000
Joe Brown Associate conductor Malta Concert Orchestra €57,600
Paul Abela Associate conductor Malta Concert Orchestra  €57,600
Halo services Supply of artistic animation and special effects to V18 €112,500
Jean Pierre Magro Strategy and communications to V18 chairman €35,000
Angelle Xuereb Corporate business coordinator to V18 €32,500
Pierre Cachia Advise national cleaning campaign €20,094
XYZ Ltd Architectural services €9,900
Sharp Shoot Media Marketing services for Justice Ministry €24,960

 

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