The Ministry of Health gives 36 million euros in direct orders in 6 months… including for spiritual services
Chris Fearne’s Department of Health handed out some 36 million euros in direct orders in the last six months of 2021, according to a list of 256 direct orders published recently in the Government Gazette.
Analysis by The Shift shows that while some of the direct ordering can be justified in some way, for example when it includes the direct purchase of drugs from local agents, who may be bound by the exclusivity, many of the millions distributed for services are readily available from various companies that offer competitive prices. However, as has become the trend, the government has preferred to resort to direct orders and negotiated procedures.
Described by Ministry of Health sources as one of the most “unique” direct orders ever given, the Ministry paid the Church’s Franciscan Conventual Friars nearly €70,000 to provide “spiritual services to patients receiving treatment in the UK’.
“This must be the first time brothers have put a price tag on their normal spiritual services,” a ministry source told The Shift.
As has often happened in recent years, where the direct order system has been used and abused, friends and acquaintances have made the most of public funds.
Technoline, an importer in the medical sector linked to the agreement with the contaminated hospitals, received 31 different direct orders worth more than 3 million euros. One of the direct orders, involving the supply of immunoassay kits (e.g. for Covid-19 antibody tests) cost taxpayers some 2.5 million euros.
The island’s few local private hospitals have also become regular consumers of state-funded direct orders.
St James’s Hospital, run by Jean Claude Muscat, a close friend of Health Minister Chris Fearne, has been awarded an additional €1m for contracts ranging from washing theater equipment to providing tests MRI and swab facilities.
Its rival, St Thomas’s Hospital, owned by former Labor MP Louis Buhagiar, has benefited from around €2m in direct orders, including a €1.3m contract with Caring First Ltd – a another company controlled by Buhagiar – for the supply of long-term beds for the elderly.
Minister Fearne’s current chief of staff, Carmen Ciantar, who has been put on an irregular financial envelope of €163,000, worked for Buhagiar when he was still in politics.
The health services group – owned by James Barbara and Silvio Debono – received a new €0.5million direct order to supply nurses, while owners James Caterers and DB Group received €220,000 supplements for social workers in the primary health care system.
Other beneficiaries include 360 Legal Services Ltd, the law firm of Parliamentary Secretary Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi, Signal 8 Security Services run by Jovan Grech, a former member of the brutal police ‘riot squad’ in the 1980s , and Mall Systems Limited owned by current PBS Executive Chairman Mark Sammut. Until 2020, Sammut’s wife Carmen was Chief of Staff to Minister Fearne.