Updated | Mater Dei inquiry concludes '1996 concrete tests fraudulent'

Independent inquiry into allegations of concrete of inferior quality used at Mater Dei Hospital’s emergency building concludes that tests on concrete quality presented in 1996 were ‘fraudulent’

An independent inquiry led by retired judge Philip Sciberras has concluded that tests of concrete quality carried out in the first half of 1996 were “fraudulent”. It was established that the pillars in question, found at the emergency department, were built using concrete of inferior quality.

Four out of every five samples presented to the Works Division for tests were rubberstamped by Skanska Malta Joint Venture. Other samples included the rubberstamp of Blokrete Ltd. The inquiry said responsibility for the tests could not be shouldered by the workers of the Works Division because the samples were provided by the contractor.

The inquiry established that the concrete of the pillars in question was predominately supplied by Mixer Ltd, but not alone: concrete was also supplied by Blokrete Ltd, Maghtab Ltd and Devlands Ltd.

The final responsibility of the concrete quality however sits with Skanska Malta Joint Venture who certified the concrete. Moreover, it was found that the concrete taken for sampling, supposedly from the site, was personally delivered by SMJV to the Works Division.

The scope of the inquiry was to determine civil and legal liabilities with a number of individuals appearing before the board, that kicked off its inquiry in September. The report was presented to the government oday.

Parliamentary secretary for health Chris Fearne said: “The inquiry established that the concrete of pillars in question were placed in the first half of 1996 and the concrete was supplied by Mixer Ltd, but there were also Blokrete Ltd, Devlands Ltd and Maghtab Ltd,” Fearne said.

“The inquiry has concluded that tests provided by the contractor are fraudulent. Four out of five of the tests were carried out by SMJV. The tests carried out by the contractor are fraudulent.”

The inquiry, he said, stated that the concrete quality was “not a mistake or an oversight but a concerted effort by which SMJV, sub-contractors and third parties possibly benefitted”.

The inquiry’s conclusion is based on a comparison between the report presented by UK engineering firm Arup and the certification of concrete samples that had been presented in 1996. Arup’s report concluded that concrete of inferior quality had been used (C18 as opposed to the C30 as stipulated by the original contract).

“The activity is criminal. Such activity had to be carried out on such a massive scale that it had to be intentional,” Fearne said, citing the inquiry report. The intention was one that would see SMJV gaining financial at the detriment of the client.

The inquiry, Fearne said, also found the subsequent administrations of failing by omission for its failure to intervene when faced by growing concerns affecting the project. In July 1996, Ortesa Spa had flagged serious deficiencies. The board at the time was chaired by then health minister Louis Galea and MPs John Rizzo Naudi and Antoine Mifsud Bonnici as member and board secretary respectively.

“It would be naïve to think that the government did not know of the dire situation of the works at the hospital. The inquiry cites a direct testimony of a witness who spoke of ‘direct political intervention’ in the choice of suppliers,” Fearne said.

Skanska, the inquiry found, at one point was given Lm2 million as “a gesture of goodwill” when a design and build cost plus agreement was signed.

Minister Konrad Mizzi said that “this web of concrete” was reflected in 18 years of a Nationalist government: “There were ministers and persons of trust who led this project along different years. A project that cost €600 million and the Nationalist Party has a lot to answer for … whether it’s John Dalli, Tonio Fenech, Lawrence Gonzi, Louis Deguara, Louis Galea or Joe Cassar. Someone must answer.”

The inquiry found that former minister Louis Galea had received a letter pointing towards a number of deficiencies but no action was taken.

The inquiry goes on to raise questions over the Project Closure Agreement. It found that originally, the PCA was meant to be a settlement agreement. “It however became a PCA and the general waiver was included,” Mizzi said, referring to clause of 9 of the PCA. The PCA already included a reciprocal waiver of claims in clause 2.

“Paul Camilleri [former FMS president] told the inquiry that there was  malicious intent and possible fraud by the contractor when asked by the inquiry about the waiver. Why was it signed then?” Mizzi asked.

The inquiry found that two minutes of the same FMS board meeting had been found: the first said that Camilleri had read the PCA to the board; a second said that the board was given an overview of the agreement. It also transpired that clause 9 first appeared in the drafts in January 2009, a few weeks before it was signed.

The board of inquiry also said that “it wasn’t convinced” that Brian St John, then FMS CEO, “had no recognition of the discussions pertaining to such an important clause”.

The Sciberras inquiry examined the civil and contractual responsibilities and the PCA fits in with the rest of the agreements. “For the inquiry it is evident that clause 9 could ultimately hinder the government from seeking civil remedies but this will not stop the government from trying. We are putting together a formidable legal team, including Maltese and foreign lawyers, to fight it,” Mizzi said.

For criminal responsibility, the inquiry said in an outright statement that weak concrete was the result of fraudulent activity. The inquiry recommends that the report is passed on to the police from criminal investigation.

The government will also be passing on the report to the Attorney General and the National Audit Office.

“We feel pain in seeing this state before us, a case of blatant corruption in every stage of the hospital be it the concrete, the design and the construction. We telling Simon Busuttil that he can’t wash his hands off this one. He took credit for the interconnector project; he can’t shrug off responsibility.”

The House of Representatives is being briefed over the inquiry report. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Opposition leader Simon Busuttil are both present. Both the inquiry and a copy of the Arup report will be tabled in parliament.

Repair works will cost a total of €35 million.

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