€700K direct order paid to architect for project which was not carried out

FILE PHOTO: People gather at the Great Siege Square calling for the resignation of Joseph Muscat following the arrest of one of the country's most prominent businessmen as part of the investigation into the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, in Valletta, Malta November 20, 2019. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane/File Photo

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Mimcol chair and former Projects Malta chair Adrian Said and former executive chair of Projects Malta William Wait testified during the public inquiry into the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, on Wednesday.

Caruana Galizia who was assassinated in a car bomb on 16 October 2017, would have turned 56 on Wednesday.

In the previous sitting former police commissioner, Lawrence Cutajar testified.

During Wednesday’s sitting, Wait, an accountant by profession, told the board that Maniera Architects were given €700,000 to prepare a project for ITS which was not carried out. The board pointed out that this was equivalent to almost the entire budget for the year, with the witness clarifying that the funds had been allocated separately.

In Brief:

  • Adrian Said told the board that the Vitals Global Healthcare project came out of the blue, insisting that it bypassed Projects Malta;
  • The hospitals’ privatisation deal was subcontracted through direct orders;
  • Said told the board that he got to know about the memorandum of understanding between the government and VGH through the media recently;
  • Said said that in his opinion, projects were carried out hurriedly referring to the hospitals’ privatisation deal;
  • William Wait, the Executive Chairman of Projects between between November 2015 and July 2017, confirmed that a €700,000 direct order was given to an architect to prepare a project for ITS which was not carried out;
  • Wait and Said told the board that no one from Projects Malta was involved in the Electrogas deal as this pre-dated the entity.
11:43 The board of inquiry are planning out the next sittings and who will be called to testify.

On Friday at 9.30am, Alfred Camilleri from the finance ministry will testify.

On Wednesday 2 September, Ing. James Camenzuli and Minister Michael Farrugia.

On Friday 4 September, Lawrence Cutajar will continue his testimony. In case Cutajar cannot make it on the day, former Deputy Prime Minister Louis Grech would be called to testify.
Monique Agius
11:42 Wait walks out of the courtroom.
Monique Agius
11:41 Wait quotes an excerpt from Caruana Galizia's blog on this issue.

"Mr Wait, who was extremely polite and civilised unlike so many of the uncouth savages I need to call in the course of my work, many of whom think that public officials have two options called ‘be rude and extremely hostile to journalists’ and ‘don’t bother answering their calls or questions’, was extremely clear in his answers to my very specific questions." [https://daphnecaruanagalizia.com/2017/02/lie-us-please-just-love/]

Wait says that he had hopefully done the same today.
Monique Agius
11:38 Judge Lofaro asks about Sai Mizzi.

Wait says that Mizzi was employed at Malta Enterprise.
Monique Agius
11:36 The board asks whether Projects Malta was involved in projects in Montenegro and China.

The witness says that Projects Malta had nothing to do or any contact with Montenegro and China.
Monique Agius
11:35 Wait says that the Deloitte valuation was higher.

Wait says that he had no interactions with former Minister Konrad Mizzi. He would deal a lot with Ronald Mizzi at the time.
Monique Agius
11:33 The NAO said that the value of the ITS land was 67 million, which was 11 million more than what was agreed between DB group and the government.
Monique Agius
11:30 Dr Azzopardi reads out from the NAO report. The Auditor General had observed that the residential component of the ITS project was given limited exposure.

Wait says "limited" is a subjective word.
Monique Agius
11:28 Dr Azzopardi continues on the transfer of the former ITS site.

The Government Property Department was only involved at the end to sign the contracts.
Monique Agius
11:27 Chief Justice Emeritus explains to Wait that other witnesses before him, had told the board to address their questions to Projects Malta.

Judge Lofaro remarks that they're passing the buck but no one is replying.

Wait is criticized for the due diligence process at projects Malta. This comes after he says that a number of decisions were ultimately taken by the cabinet
Monique Agius
11:25 He is asked about the ITS concession.

Wait says that he was in charge of administering the concession. Wait says that they did not go to the contracts department because it was a concession.

Judge Mallia intervenes in disbelief, "you've got a site worth millions of euros, and you keep it on yourself and not involve the Contracts Committee? Is not a duty to make the committee aware of what is happening?"
Monique Agius
11:23 Dr Azzopardi asks about the private enterprises he is involved in, including TUM finance, TUM invest and Luxury Living.

Wait says that TUM finance and TUM invest are something recent and that he got involved after he resigned.
Monique Agius
11:21 The witness was given four direct orders after he left Projects Malta. He is asked whether this was the case because he had already been working on the projects prior to his departure.

Wait says that he was given four direct orders including one concerning the Chalet project. He clarifies that he was not working on them before leaving the entity.

He says that he had too much on his plate and that is why he had resigned. He adds that he does not like controversies and that one is criticized for doing something.
Monique Agius
11:18 Dr Comodini Cachia asks about a €700,000 direct order to Maniera Architects. This was given between July – December 2016 for an architectural electricity consultancy.

Wait explains that Maniera Architects were paid €700,000 to prepare a project for ITS which was not carried out.

"The payment was made," he says.
Monique Agius
11:16 Dr Comodini Cachia asks how come when Mifsud Bonnici was on the evaluation committee, Projects Malta dished out direct orders to his law firm.

Wait says that Mifsud Bonnici carried out services over and above his role.
Monique Agius
11:15 Wait confirms that Konrad Mizzi was responsible for Projects Malta when he was Health Minister, when he was stripped off his portfolio and when he was tourism minister.
Monique Agius
11:13 Dr Comodini Cachia shows him the documentation. Mifsud Bonnici's resignation as company secretary (9 March 2018), and his resignation as director 3 December 2015.

Aron Mifsud Bonnici held several roles at the same time, he confirms.
Monique Agius
11:10 Dr Comodini Cachia asks about Aron Mifsud Bonnici – whether he sat on the evaluation committee at the same time when he was company secretary to Projects Malta.

The witness says he was, but asks to be shown the dates in order to be sure.
Monique Agius
11:05 Wait was appointed as executive vice chair in May 2015.

He adds that there were more board meetings if one takes into account when he executive vice chair.

The witness says that as far as he was aware, the board never held meetings at the energy ministry and Konrad Mizzi was never present. Sometimes permanent secretary to the Energy Ministry would be present, he says.
Monique Agius
11:03 Wait says that the board has met around ten times in eighteen months.

The meetings would be held in the board room at the Finance Ministry.

Chief Justice Emeritus remarks that he could not understand how the Finance Minister said that he was kept in the dark.

Wait says that Projects Malta was situated in a small flat and could not hold board meetings there.
Monique Agius
11:01 The board asks about the former ITS site which was handed over to db Group.

Wait says that the process was similar to that of the hospitals' privatisation deal. Projects Malta facilitated the process.
Monique Agius
10:59 Projects Malta was looking into developing further the embellishment of the streets.

Wait says that Projects Malta was also looking at property, mentioning Chalet.

"It's a pity that Chalet is abandoned. It is a sin," he says.

He mentions other projects, an international school and ITS.
Monique Agius
10:59 The witness says that he had never dealt with VGH.
Monique Agius
10:56 Judge Lofaro suggests that 138 direct orders were given out by Projects Malta.

The witness says it could be, because there were many direct orders.

The direct orders would be decided by a committee consisting of himself, the chief financial officer and Joe Cuschieri, the deputy chair.

These would be then passed on to the permanent secretary, he explains adding that Konrad Mizzi was not involved in the awarding of direct orders.
Monique Agius
10:56 Nobody from Projects Malta was involved in the Electrogas deal, he insists.
Monique Agius
10:53 Wait says that by the time he was appointed chairman, the hospitals' privatization deal had already been through the evaluation process.
Monique Agius
10:49 He is asked about the role of Projects Malta.

Wait names the people on the evaluation board and the negotiation board.

The evaluation board includes James Camenzuli, Manuel Castagna and Aron Mifsud Bonnici as secretary.

Aron Mifsud Bonnici was also the secretary on the negotiations board.
Monique Agius
10:48 Judge Lofaro says that Minister Scicluna had described Projects Malta as non transparent and hard to get information out of it.

The witness says that whenever information was requested, we always gave it in full. it would be routed through Alfred Camilleri.
Monique Agius
10:47 Projects Malta had no involvement with the Electrogas deal and was set up after it was entered into, the witness adds, denying any involvement with the said deal.
Monique Agius
10:44 Wait says he cannot explain why only he was criticized for his conflicts of interest, when there were others who had this problem.

Wait says that Projects Malta had no contact with Keith Schembri, little contact with Joseph Muscat while they would receive direction from the permanent secretary, Ronald Mizzi.
Monique Agius
10:43 As non-executive director of so many companies, he has many conflicts of interest, he says. He would be careful to excuse himself from the effected board meetings.

"I am very careful," he says.

William Wait, an accountant by profession, sits on the boards or acts as the secretary of a number of private enterprises, which are also clients of the government’s investment arm.
Monique Agius
10:40 Judge Lofaro asks about the companies he is involved in.

The witness says that there are a number of companies and he could not possibly remember all of them.

He lists some companies in which he is involved.

Judge Lofaro mentions a "Chinese" company. He says that it belongs to him and is involved in Hong Kong. She also mentions TUM Finance and asks whether it is related to Yorgen Fenech.

He says no, eventually saying that it is owned by Anthony Fenech (a relative of Yorgen Fenech).
Monique Agius
10:36 The witness gives an introduces himself – he is a non-executive chairman at Malta Enterprise, he was chairman at Water Services Corporation in 2014, explaining that it was a direct appointment by Konrad Mizzi.

When Projects Malta was set up, in April 2014, he was appointed as director. In May 2015, he was appointed as Deputy Executive Chairman at Projects Malta and later succeeded Said.
Monique Agius
10:35 William Wait takes the witness stand.
Monique Agius
10:34 The last question before the witness steps off relates to former OPM Chief of Staff Keith Schembri. Said says that Schembri had nothing to do with Projects Malta.
Monique Agius
10:29 Dr Azzopardi refers to a report by the NAO.

Said says that he was never summoned by the National Audit Office. He adds that it was from the report that he got to know about the MoU.

Said says that he went back and verified the minutes. He explains that given the space, various ideas were floated around about the potential use for St Luke's Hospital. At the time the government was looking for a rehabilitation hospital.

When verifying the minutes, Said found that in January 2015, they had discussed the possibility of having an administration city – that is the relocation of other government agencies to St Luke's Hospital.
Monique Agius
10:26 Asked by Chief Justice Emeritus Said Pullicino, he says that the when the preferred bidder was announced a meeting was held in the last week of June 2015.

Said was not invited to the meeting. The witness adds that he had asked who was invited, and was told that the consultants and other people from Projects Malta were there. By that time, he had already resigned and entered a non-executive role at Projects Malta, which could have been the reason why he was not invited.

John Valenzia, Eman Schembri and William Waitt from Projects Malta were present.
Monique Agius
10:25 For somebody to cough up the money for a concession of hundreds of millions for a project like the hospitals, would an investor be able to do this in the time frame? Azzopardi asks.

The witness replies that this is possible only if the investors have the financial strength.
Monique Agius
10:22 Dr Azzopardi asks about a memorandum of understanding signed in October 2014, between the government, the finance ministry and VGH.

"Yes, I got to know about it recently from media reports," he replies.

In May 2015, an RfP was published and the a short time frame was given for the size of proposal. He had felt it was not sufficient, Dr Azzopardi suggests.

The witness agrees.
Monique Agius
10:22 Dr Azzopardi asks whether the hospitals' privatization deal to the private sector is the biggest concession given by the government in recent years.

"Yes, it is one of the biggest," Said says.
Monique Agius
10:21 When Projects Malta was launched, it was placed in Mizzi's portfolio. The idea was to streamline the ministries.
Monique Agius
10:20 Dr Azzopardi questions witness.

Projects Malta was set up in 2014. Said was executive chairman.
Monique Agius
10:19 "Every project in Malta has its controversy and I do not personally like controversy," he remarks.
Monique Agius
10:17 The witness says that he is used to the private sector and would have absolute control over projects and in the government sector it was different.

He felt that the project was carried out hurriedly.

Elaborating further, Said comments that he was not involved in the project, and in the drafting of the RfP.
Monique Agius
10:15 Chief Justice Emeritus Said Pullicino asks whether disgraced former EU Commissioner John Dalli was present at Projects Malta.

Said says no.
Monique Agius
10:12 Said says that from that day, he had turned down various job offers from the government.

Judge Lofaro comments on his earlier statements and the reason for his resignation.

Dr Comodini Cachia asks the witness whether the reason behind his resignation was because at Projects Malta the ministry would impose on the company while at Mimcol there was no such interference.

The witness replies in the affirmative, he adds that in his opinion the RfP for hospitals' privatization deal should have been longer.

"At the time, I felt that I should not stay on at Projects Malta," he says, adding that there were strong personal reasons not to remain there.
Monique Agius
10:10 Dr Comodini Cachia is asking about Mimcol.

"MIMCOL is the technical advisor to Malta Government Investments (MGI) subsidiaries as well as consultancy arm to the Cabinet of Ministers and other agencies," she reads out MIMCOL's description.

Said says that he has never given a presentation to the Cabinet as Mimcol.

After his time with Projects Malta, he says that he was aware that the evaluation board did give a presentation to the government.
Monique Agius
10:08 Judge Lofaro press the witness on the reasons for his resignation.

Said says that he did not resign because of irregularities he was witnessing.

The witness replies he wanted to start something new.
Monique Agius
10:05 Judge Lofaro asks why he felt sidelined, and by who.

Said says that the hospitals' privatisation deal came out of the blue (bhal sajjetta) and had bypassed his company and was directly subcontracted by direct orders

He says that the consultation was given by direct orders – and that the finance ministry would approve such orders.
Monique Agius
10:03 Said explains that while Minister Scicluna might have his reasons, the permanent secretary had issued a statement on the matter saying that the Finance Ministry had all the information it required on the hospitals' privatisation deal.

Said says that he was never requested for any information by the Finance Ministry. He however did inform the ministry about certain projects.
Monique Agius
10:02 Dr Comodini Cachia refers to the testimony of Finance Minister Edward Scicluna and his statements on Projects Malta, that it lacked transparency.

Said says that the permanent secretary of the Finance Ministry sat on Projects Malta board.
Monique Agius
10:00 Said says that Projects Malta was never involved in the drafting of the RfP of Electrogas since this happened in April 2013.
Monique Agius
09:58 The RfP had already been drafted by a "prominent" legal firm, the witness explained.

Projects Malta was not involved in the drafting of the RfP, he says, adding that Projects Malta was tasked to coordinate it and which is why the deal came as a surprise.

The main coordinator was Aron Mifsud Bonnici had approached Ganado to draft the RfP.

Mifsud Bonnici was a company secretary to Projects Malta.

"I think his role was more directly linked to the ministry than to Projects Malta," the witness says, adding that he had asked the same at the time.
Monique Agius
09:55 Lawyer Comodini Cachia asks the witness what he meant by "periphery role".

He says that until September he was involved in Trade Malta.

"Then in March a request for proposal for the privatisation of hospital was published, with the process started before Projects Malta," he says.

The witness confirms that the privatisation deal was an idea of the government and that the it was handed over to them.

He resigned on 2 May, and stayed on until end of June.
Monique Agius
09:55 Asked about the sale of Cafe Premier, the witness says it pre-dates Projects Malta.
Monique Agius
09:54 Said says Electrogas pre-dated Projects Malta. He says that Projects Malta was registered in 2014.

"I have nothing to do with Electrogas and was never involved in any capacity," he says.
Monique Agius
09:52 During Said's tenure there were four – five projects:
"First of all Trade Malta, secondly yachting promotion, another project was embellishment of roads but a public-private-partnership, embellishment of public beaches, that's all I can remember," he says.
Monique Agius
09:51 Chief Justice Emeritus Said Pullicino asks whether lessening bureaucracy meant bypassing procedures.

Said replies saying that it was not the case, but to have more effective coordination.
Monique Agius
09:51 He says "obviously there would be political direction".
Monique Agius
09:49 At the time, Konrad Mizzi was the minister responsible for Projects Malta.

Asked whether Mizzi was directly involved, Said says that Projects Malta was in communication with the permanent secretary, Ronald Mizzi.
Monique Agius
09:48 Said says that ideas were floated around – either by Projects Malta board, the ministries, or private individuals.

Mentioning St Luke's Hospital, Said said that until January 2015 the idea was to have an "administrative city".
Monique Agius
09:47 Projects Malta is fully owned by the government.

He explains that Trade Malta is a joint venture between the government and the Chamber of Commerce, unlike Projects Malta.
Monique Agius
09:46 Said explains that Projects Malta was set up a commercial company. Adding that its role was to have more effective coordination.
Monique Agius
09:44 Said explains that Projects Malta was created in 2014. Projects were identified, he explained, mentioning joint ventures with the Chamber of Commerce, yacht clubs and embellishment and a number of ideas about St Luke's Hospital.
Monique Agius
09:43 Said says that he had resigned from executive chair at Projects Malta.

Asked about the reason, Said it was a personal reason. He felt his role was "too much on the periphery".
Monique Agius
09:41 Judge Emeritus Michael Mallia starts questioning the witness. Said says he has a background in economy. He spent 16 years in economic research and management consultancy He worked at Mimcol and later became an executive chairman at Projects Malta.

He is a non-executive chairman at Mimcol.
Monique Agius
09:40 Dr Adrian Said from Projects Malta takes the stand.
Monique Agius
09:38 The panel of judges has just walked into the courtroom. We're in session.
Monique Agius
09:37 Lawyers Roberto Montalto and Dean Hili are also in the courtroom. They will be assisting Adrian Said.
Monique Agius
09:32 Lawyers Therese Comodini Cachia, Jason Azzopardi and Peter Caruana Galizia are in the courtroom.
Monique Agius
09:29 Good morning and welcome to this live blog. Newsbook.com.mt will be live from Hall 20.
Monique Agius

The public inquiry into the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia is tasked with determining whether the state did all it could to prevent the assassination.

The board of inquiry is chaired by Judge Emeritus Michael Mallia, and composed of Chief Justice Emeritus Joseph Said Pullicino and Madame Justice Abigail Lofaro.

Lawyers Therese Comodini Cachia, Jason Azzopardi, and Peter Caruana Galizia, assisted the family.

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