Joseph Portelli bid for Ras Ħanzir cargo facility thwarted by Bonnici Bros appeal

Joseph Portelli’s consortium first won the €55 million tender to build a cargo facility at Ras Ħanzir, but the contract must now be cancelled

Ras Ħanżir is a dock area by the Kordin Grain Terminal
Ras Ħanżir is a dock area by the Kordin Grain Terminal

A bid by Gozitan mega-developer Joseph Portelli to take over the Ras Ħanżir oil depot and build a cargo facility has been thwarted by a successful appeal by Bonnici Bros.

Bonnici Bros appealed Portelli’s consortium Excel Sis, which won the tender for the Ras Ħanżir cargo facility with a €55.4 million bid.

But Infrastructure Malta was forced to cancel the contract after the Public Contracts Review Board (PCRB) found that rival consortium NQuay-MT, owned by Bonnici Bros, had offered to fulfill the tender for €18 million less.

NQuay-MT was the cheapest bidder at €37.5 million, but was disqualified on the grounds that their bid was, administratively, not compliant. As the second cheapest bidder, Excel Sis won the tender with an offer of €55.4 million.

Refusing to go down with a fight, NQuay-MT’s lawyer John Gauci successfully argued that their exclusion from the tender was unfounded.

Bidders were required to present a list of completed works, with two dates between which the works had been completed. NQuay-MT presented certification of the works with a date of completion, but Infrastructure Malta argued that the end-date on the certificate was not enough to establish the relevant completion dates. “From the proof submitted, that of an invoice/final payment certificate date, it cannot be ascertained that the project was completed within the timeframes stipulated in the tender document,” Innfrastructure Malta told the bidders in a letter sent last September.

NQuay-MT argued that the tender document did not require bidders to provide proof, but simply a self-declaration by the bidders in line with EU Public Procurement Directives. It also said Infrastructure Malta had a duty to contact bidders for further clarifications if it had any doubts on the works cited.

IM also faulted NQuay-MT’s bid for failing to submit start and end dates for works proving their experience in soil consolidation using vertical drains. “Since the bidder’s reply simply made reference to the documentation submitted as proof, [Infrastructure Malta] could not come to the conclusion that the project was completed within the timeframes stipulated in the tender document but merely that works were approved for payment on 07-09-15,” IM argued.

NQuay-MT rebutted saying the payment certificate showed the completion of 51,900 linear metres of vertical drains, as required by the tender.

And while the tender dossier also only required a ‘self-declaration’ and not proof of relevant experience, the PCRB noted that the wording of the tender had been somewhat misleading.

The PCRB in fact pointed out to Infrastructure Malta that the ambiguity of the tender dossier could have been resolved through a simple explanation. In such a case, any Contracting Authority should exercise their right to clarify such information. “This Board is of the opinion that the principle of proportionality was not observed by [Infrastructure Malta]. The same could not be said, had the Contracting Authority contacted the ‘end-user’ and confirmed that such start/end dates did not fall within the requirements of the tender dossier.”