A notice that appeared on The Malta Government Gazette on the €274-million direct order in connection with an extension at St Vincent de Paul Residence was “a mistake”, a parliamentary secretary said on Tuesday.

Parliamentary Secretary Anthony Agius Decelis, who is responsible for active ageing, explained that despite the notice, which appeared on July 20, the contract for the building of a 500-bed extension at the home for the elderly was not a direct order.

“We have been informed by the management that publishes The Malta Government Gazette they misplaced the notice, which should have been printed in another column not related to direct orders,” Mr Agius Decelis said.

The Malta Government Gazette is the official journal of the Maltese government and has a legal standing. It is published by the Department of Information, within the Office of the Prime Minister.

The Government Gazette notice.The Government Gazette notice.

Its standing is such that certain measures can only come into force when gazetted.

READ: Finance Minister gets to know of €274m direct order through newspaper

This was the first time a government official said the notice was a “mistake” despite it having appeared a month ago.

Questions sent by the Times of Malta to Mr Agius Decelis’s secretariat three weeks ago asking about the published notice remained unanswered.

Should have been printed in another column not related to direct orders

It is not yet known whether the government plans to officially correct the “mistake.”

Asked to explain how a €60 million contract for the provision of meals and the building of a new kitchen at St Vincent de Paul Residence morphed into a €274-million contract for a full blown extension of the facility, Mr Agius Decelis only said the process followed public procurement regulations as stipulated by law.

He said the government would have no problem if the contract, still unpublished, was scrutinised by the competent authorities, including Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office.

According to EU public procurement rules, a public tender cannot be extended beyond 50 per cent of its original value. In this case, the value was inflated by more than four times.

So far, the Nationalist Opposition has not committed itself to take the mega contract awarded to James Caterers and the db Group subsidiary in front of the Public Accounts Committee.

An artist’s impression of the extension at St Vincent de Paul Residence.An artist’s impression of the extension at St Vincent de Paul Residence.

Opposition leader Adrian Delia, who met James Barbara, of James Caterers, and Silvio Debono, of the db Group, a day after The Sunday Times of Malta had reported about the contract, said he was still waiting for explanations by the government on how the deal was done.

The Democratic Party, which has two MPs on the Opposition side, last week called on Nationalist MP Beppe Fenech Adami, who presides over the Public Accounts Committee, to call an urgent meeting on the contract.

No meeting has been held yet.

The government has refused to publish the contract signed last November citing “commercial secrecy”. The Times of Malta has asked the Commissioner for Data Protection to look into the government’s refusal under the Freedom of Information Act and to order the Family Affairs Ministry to publish the publicly-funded deal.

A decision is still pending.

The contract between the government and the successful consortium was signed a week after the approval of the €274 million allocation by the government.

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