[WATCH] Prime Minister admits SVPR contract slammed by audit office should have been approved by Cabinet

Prime Minister Robert Abela says a multi-million-euro management contract awarded by direct order at St Vincent de Paul should have been presented to Cabinet for approval • Sees no conflict in having Michael Farrugia analyse report

Prime Minister Robert Abela addressing a special Cabinet meeting held at Inspire in Marsaskala (Photo: DOI)
Prime Minister Robert Abela addressing a special Cabinet meeting held at Inspire in Marsaskala (Photo: DOI)

Updated at 2:35pm with video of PM's comments after the Cabinet meeting

A contract like that awarded by St Vincent de Paul, which the National Audit Office said broke the law, should have been approved by Cabinet, Robert Abela said.

The Prime Minister said on Monday that the NAO report was being analysed in detail and government “will learn from the mistakes”.

“A project like that should be approved by Cabinet,” he said, acknowledging one of the irregular issues flagged by the NAO.

The €274 million management contract was awarded by negotiated procedure to James Caterers and the DB Group after the companies won a separate tender to build a new kitchen at SVPR. The original tender had also requested “a gift”, which turned out to be a 500-bed extension to the facility for the elderly.

The NAO found that the contract had not been discussed by Cabinet, no approval had been sought from the Finance Ministry by SVPR and the negotiated procedure adopted was in breach of the law. The rates agreed with the companies were also found to be inflated.

READ ALSO: St Vincent de Paul €274 million contract for James Caterers and DB broke law

Addressing a Cabinet meeting held at the Inspire Foundation in Marsaskala, Abela defended the project, insisting the 540 beds were important to reduce the waiting lists for elderly seeking accommodation. He also partially justified the cost, saying that he was told that the services offered by SVPR were more akin to that of a hospital and unlike those offered by homes for the elderly.

“I have always made it clear that we have to build on the good and not repeat the mistakes… the NAO report has to be analysed in detail and we will learn from the mistakes,” Abela said.

On Sunday, the Elderly Ministry said it was reviewing the damning audit report.

Asked after the meeting was over whether he saw a conflict of interest in having Elderly Minister Michael Farrugia analyse the report when he had been responsible for kicking off the project in the previous legislature, Abela said no such conflict was flagged by the NAO.

He reiterated that a project like this should have been discussed and approved by Cabinet "in its entirety".

The Cabinet meeting focussed on social solidarity, the elderly and persons with a disability.

Ministers Michael Falzon, Michael Farrugia and Julia Farrugia Portelli, responsible for social services, the elderly and inclusions respectively, also addressed Cabinet.

Cabinet heard how Malta will soon unveil its national strategy on rights for people with a disability, which will ensure conformity with the UN convention that Malta was a signatory to.

“The strategy will offer tangible ways of increasing inclusivity and encouraging independent living within the community,” Abela said.