The award of a €26 million tender for the building of a health centre in Paola has been halted amid “serious doubts as to how the evaluation procedure was executed”, the Times of Malta has learnt.
After hearing three appeals, the Public Contracts Review Board blocked the award to the preferred bidder identified by the Health Ministry and ordered that all bids be appraised again by a new evaluation committee.
The board also found that two “key experts” nominated by separate bidders had serious conflicts of interest in the tender process, as they were also engaged in the project through their roles within the Health Ministry’s Foundation for Medical Services.
After a long tendering process concluded, the ministry announced last March it had awarded the project to design and build a mini-hospital in Paola to SP BB International JV, a consortium of contractors made up of Ray Vella & Co Ltd, Pantalesco and Shapoorji, an Indian firm that served as contractors to the now-disbanded Vitals Global Healthcare.
Key experts had serious conflicts of interest
The successful bidders’ offer was €3.6 million more expensive than the cheapest bid, as all the other bidders were deemed “non-compliant” and disqualified, it resulted from the hearings.
Ergon-Technoline Joint Venture, which submitted the cheapest offer, argued that though the evaluation board was supposed to award the tender to “the cheapest-priced offer satisfying the administrative and technical criteria”, the ministry still gave the contract to a company whose price tag was 16 per cent higher.
The Public Contracts Review Board, chaired by Anthony Cassar, upheld the arguments that two of the consultants nominated by two bidders had a conflict of interest. It noted the evaluation board came to the wrong conclusions when it dismissed the bidders on technical grounds.
In one case it resulted that engineer Christopher Sammut, who was employed with the Foundation for Medical Services when the tender was issued, was also acting as key expert for Egron-Technoline.
The board commented that the engineer’s appointment as a key expert for the consortium “will incur a conflict of interest, as, in fact, he had access to sensitive information with regard to the project”. Another of the experts, architect John Papagiorcopulo, was also found to have a conflict of interest, in that he was project coordinator of the foundation and also a key expert for another bidder – CMC di Ravenna Società Cooperativa.
“The board is credibly convinced that the inclusion of Perit Papagiorcopulo as a key expert in the bidders’ offer does create a conflict of interest and does grant an advantage to the bidder’s offer,” it remarked.
The board decided that all evaluation committee members were to be changed and a new evaluation process conducted.
The Paola health centre was initially meant to become operational in 2020, however it is already considered to be significantly behind schedule. The new evaluation process is likely to delay the completion date further.