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Network News • 24-11-2022

MCESD - fledgling procurement rules

Author: George Mangion - Senior Partner PKF Malta
Published on Business today: 24th November 2022

Times of Malta reported that more than 300 public contracts were found to be irregular over the past six years.

Last week the finance minister tabled in Parliament 338 public contracts overturned or revoked after they were reported by rival bidders to the Public Contracts Review Board previously headed by Dr Anthony Cassar (pictured on the left with Central Bank Governor Edward Scicluna).

In February last year, PCRB chairman Dr Cassar resigned after concerns were raised about him featuring his involvement in an investigation into a major fuel smuggling ring.  Cassar confirmed he had been questioned by police but strongly denied any wrongdoing.

Since then, 20 months later, nothing was heard about the outcome of such investigations.

PKF Malta Limited is writing this commentary concerning a tender reference CfT: SPD7/2021/021 – Tender for the Provision of Evidence-Based Research and Delivery of Training for MCESD as part of ESF Project with publication date 25th May 2021.  The schedule of bids featured five consultants. It revealed that PKF’s bid was the cheapest and compliant.

Yet it received a disqualification letter dated 20th August 2021.

Naturally, MCESD concurred with the Evaluation Committee’s response notwithstanding that PKF’s bid was the cheapest bid.  This is the primary criterion in the awarding of ESF-funds for an EU project.

What PKF finds perplexing is that the second, third and fourth cheapest bids were also rendered unfit from being awarded the tender at hand, and instead, the tender was bestowed upon the highest bidder Idea Management Consulting services headed by Dr Silvio De Bono for undisclosed reasons.  MaltaToday reports that Silvio De Bono was previously elected as the chair of the MCAST board of governors.

It writes about an allegation by an ousted HR executive Josephine Abdilla that Silvio allegedly was pocketing a ‘commission’ from new teaching recruits.  Paradoxically, Josephine was unable to back up her claim when repeatedly asked by a ministerial inquiry set up to investigate her reports on backhandling arrangements.  De Bono was alleged to have recommended prospective candidates for a teaching job at MCAST.

In new revelations on the inquiry’s findings, it results that Abdilla had alleged that Dr Silvio De Bono as chairperson of the board of governors in MCAST, had solicited a one-month salary as commission from MCAST recruits.

She claimed that despite being “so upset with the practice”, she had apparently placated De Bono by having her own daughter take up a course at his own private educational institute, IDEA, for which she paid €500.  De Bono was surprised at the accusation, when he testified before the board of inquiry, stating that he was under the impression of having had a good working relationship with Abdilla.

He denied having demanded any ‘commission’ from MCAST staff.  He himself admitted to the inquiry board of having taken an active interest in prospective applicants for a teaching job, saying he would pass on his recommendation to Abdilla so that should the applicants fare well in their interviews “then they should be considered”.   

According to MaltaToday, De Bono appears to have also acted as a messenger for the Office of the Prime Minister, saying that Castille would request that certain applicants be given a job.  De Bono said he would always see that such candidates satisfy the required criteria first and foremost, before they be allowed to progress in the selection process.

Back to the “Research and Training” tender issued by MCESD, approved procurement rules dictate that adequate reasons are given before disqualifying any bid or subsequent cheapest bids.

This is something which has never materialized, apparently the reasons for the refusal of the subsequent bids are still unknown.

Apart from tendering the cheapest bid, PKF Malta Limited also provided in its technical offer a well-structured strategic plan on how it intends to ensure how it performs the required tasks in an efficient manner.  PKF Malta Limited has internal specialized software which allows it to procure out data analysis as well as effective visualization tools such as graphs, charts and maps which eases data analysis.

PKF Malta Limited makes use of only the finest tools in order to perform its obligations, in fact, we at PKF Malta Limited resort to Tableau Software which is the industry’s standard for data visualization and analysis.

On a separate note, PKF Malta Limited has in its arsenal a group of talented and professional economists who strive to deliver work of premium quality and who have set up an incredibly high standard vis-à-vis the quality of work they are confident in conveying.

As a matter of fact, PKF Malta Limited boasts the hired services of renowned university lecturer whose name is synonym with quality work and impeccable professionalism.  His PhD coupled with his remarkable experience in the sector make him one of the most suitable personalities to perform the duties of this tender.

Moreover, this expert specializes in econometric modelling and use of specialized software to assemble economic models necessary for the forecasting of economic scenarios in the long-run.  It cannot be stressed enough, how PKF Malta Limited provided a more than adequate response to the Clarification Letter dated 23rd July 2021 by virtue of its response letter dated 30th July 2021; whereby our firm tackled each clarification individually and meticulously referencing where the queried information could be found.

Furthermore, PKF feels aggrieved by the Disqualification Letter dated 20th August 2021.  This was a rather pedantic attempt to justify PKF’s disqualification.  In the aforementioned letter, it was criticized that PKF copied and pasted the terms of reference, as well as provided additional assumptions for which PKF was thus unilaterally reprimanded.

It goes without saying, that these objections were particularly minor aspects in the technical offer and it is also customary for bidders to use such practices when it comes to the submission of bids so as to maintain accuracy and poignancy.

PKF is satisfied it ticked all boxes and had fairness prevailed, it could have rendered sterling work on this particular tender performed at a competitive rate. To conclude, PKF has satisfied the cheapest bid criteria and was technically competent. It decided not to contest the issue at the PCRB.

Author: George Mangion - Senior Partner PKF Malta
Published on Business today: 24th November 2022
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