De Marco, lawyer for winners of controversial direct order, wants Auditor General inquiry

The Nationalist MP says his role for James-DB was on technical appeal on PPP element dealing with meals provision, not on 500-bed extension proposed by his clients

The Nationalist MP who served as a lawyer for the James Catering and db consortium on the contested €274 million St Vincent de Paul direct order, is now backing a call for the same contract to be investigated by the National Audit Office.

Mario de Marco represented the consortium when rival bidder Vassallo Builders contested the award of the public private partnership to the James-DB joint venture.

The NAO will be investigating the PPP, which is legally a direct order, upon request of the Democratic Party MPs Godfrey and Marlene Farrugia.

The PPP issued in 2016 invited bidders for offers to build a new kitchen at the SVDP home for the elderly together with the provision of meals for residents and staff. But the tendering document included a call for “additional investment” to address long-term accommodation of elderly patients: bidders were accorded a 60% score on the latter offer, and 40% on the kitchen and meals component.

READ MORE Why elderly home PPP is a direct order, and why its label could have been misleading

After Vassallo Builders lost both an appeal at the Public Contracts Review Tribunal and in the Court of Appeals earlier in 2018, the Times reported that the PPP was a “direct order” and that the original request had ballooned into a 500-bed extension to SVDP after it was proposed by the James-db group as “additional investment”.

The government has contested claims that the winning bidder was ‘gifted’ the original kitchen contract by proposing the 500-bed extension as an unspecified clincher – the additional investment was included in the PPP document, albeit not having been specifically included in the title of the procurement notice.

“The Opposition knows well enough, indeed precisely, that the contract was according to the rules. Adrian Delia himself said he had met the winning investors who gave him the information ‘directly’,” said parliamentary secretary for the elderly Anthony Agius Decelis.

Mario De Marco, who signed off the PN statement calling for the NAO probe, told MaltaToday that the involvement of the Guido de Marco & Associates firm for the DB Group stopped in April 2017 – when the firm was at the time engaged on DB’s bid for its St George’s Bay City Centre project. De Marco said the appeal before the contracts tribunal took place in 2016 “on the technical evaluation to the original tender which related to the catering provision.”

De Marco said the PN’s call for an NAO inquiry now refers to the SVDP extension. “The time-frames and contexts are different,” he said when asked by MaltaToday over his role as MP and lawyer to the James-db consortium in the tribunal appeal.

“The procedure that the government used must be made clear,” the PN said in a statement issued yesterday afternoon by party leader Adrian Delia and MPs Mario De Marco and Maria Deguara.

The PN said that it had made its decision after the Government failed to immediately clarify the facts surrounding the procedure used when awarding the contract for the extension. A direct order for €274 million was issued by the Ministry for social solidarity.

The extension is yet to be built but excavation works have started, with former PN minister George Pullicino as architect for the winning consortium, and former PN deputy leader Mario de Marco acting as their lawyer in a recent public contracts review tribunal hearing on the case. 

READ ALSO: Government mum on elderly home billed as record €274 million direct order

The PN noted that while the Parliamentary Secretary for Disabled Persons and Active Ageing had denied the direct order had been issued, the contract had been listed in the Government Gazzette on 20 July 2018. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Finance had then said that the Ministry had not approved this direct order and requested a report.

“Minister Edward Scicluna said he was unaware of this tender for over a quarter of a million Euros,” the PN said.

The Department of Information (DOI) had subsequently denied that any mistakes had been made when published the notice for the contract.

Mario de Marco right of reply

Reference is made to reports that appeared in certain sections of the media wherein it is claimed that I had ‘defended’ the contract entered into in November 2017 between Government and the JCL-MHL consortium for the extension and management of St Vincent de Paul.

The facts are the following:

1. In 2015 Government issued a public call for tenders for the provision of catering services to SVDP;

2. In 2016 one of the bidders appealed before the Public Contracts Review Board (PCRB) the technical evaluation of its bid. As its customary other bidders attend with their lawyers to follow the public hearing. I attended in that capacity as a lawyer. The bidder went on to appeal before the Court of Appeal the decision of the PCRB on the technical evaluation of its bid. I was one of the lawyers to the other bidder that was notified with the appeal. The appeal was heard and decided in late 2016.

3. In March/April 2017 my firm and I renounced to our legal brief as lawyers to the DB group and any further involvement stopped there.

4. Reports in the media indicate that in November 2017 a direct order for the management of the extension to St Vincent de Paul was issued in favour of the JCL-MHC consortium and that the contract was entered into a few days later.

5. At no stage was I or any member of the firm involved in any of the negotiations that may have been held between government and the interested parties leading to the award of the direct order or the final contract.

6. Given that Government has failed to provide clarity on various questions that have arisen and the scope of the final scope appears to be wider from the original tender for catering services it is pertinent to request the Auditor General to investigate the process.

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