Egrant: ‘The most expensive cover up in Malta’s political history’

You won a difficult battle in court and gave the public access to the full results of the Egrant inquiry. You said you were “disgusted” by the findings.

I will say three things. First, I refer to the Court judgment itself. We have an Attorney General who has been declared by our supreme court to have breached my fundamental human rights, breached the European Convention, freedom of expression and discrimination for political imbalance.

Second, the total content of the report. For 18 months, this had been in the possession of the Prime Minister, his Chief of Staff, the Justice Minister and (another) three Ministers, the Head of Communications… they knew about these facts and they knew of all the happenings and illegalities and intricacies of Pilatus Bank, of Konrad Mizzi, of Brian Tonna and Karl Cini of Nexia BT – all of them. And did nothing. The government persevered in protecting these people.

Third, to publish or not to publish the report till the last minute.  The government tried to say that this report would show that this was “the biggest lie”… The main issue here was the truth – all the truth had to be given to the public because the public deserves the truth. And then everybody can come to their own conclusions.

We could have chosen – like the government – to get out parts today, parts tomorrow and put black lines on parts we did not like, and influence people by our own political conclusions, but we didn’t because the message here was transparency.

The intricacies of planning where, at every stage, you have the Karl Cinis and Nexia BTs of this world, then involved by the same government to create all the structures overseas, to advise on the Electrogas contract, to advise on the Vitals contract, with the participation of a private-public partnership of sorts between Maltese and Chinese and the Minister and his wife Sai Mizzi, to defraud our citizens. It says a lot about what kind of government we have today. Who knew all this and persevered.

You thanked PN MP Simon Busuttil for never giving up the fight against corruption. Yet, when Muscat published part of the conclusions last year, you immediately tried to sack Busuttil. Do you regret that?

I do not regret that move because the context changed. The decision then, and it was not to sack Simon Busuttil, was to change direction because there was a judgment of a Magistrate who the Nationalist Party had insisted is beyond reproach, who had found, after the elections which we had lost badly, against those allegations. Muscat tried to depict this as “the biggest lie in history”. My wish as a Leader was to first ask and insist to get this report, which I did. And that is the change I wanted to do.

But you made the announcement before you won this battle.

Yes, yes, because I had decided at that point in time that it would be futile politically to keep on insisting that Egrant belongs to somebody when we have the report and we can first see the report.

It is a political decision – that first we insist on getting the report. I was already confident that I would get the report. I regret the way things turned out. It seems that it was because I wanted to sack or fire or fight with Simon Busuttil – not at all. We are both against corruption, we are both against manipulation of government institutions and we are both doing everything within our power to fight corruption…

I will be judged for that political decision too and I respect that. But the most important thing today is that now we know that this was not the biggest lie that Muscat depicted it to be but the most expensive cover up that our citizens were made to pay.

€1 million – not out of his money but ours – when the key question of who Egrant belong to was not even investigated…The question (in the inquiry) was not who it belonged to but who it didn’t belong to.

People turn and say ‘what’s the alternative’? They are demanding a new kind of politics, a different way of doing things.

All this came to a head as a result of investigative journalism and the effort of civil society that has taken a key role in recognising that they have a voice and that voice has a consequence when used clearly and loudly. And the Opposition, which has its role in parliament… and elements also from overseas – 84% of MEPs have last week condemned our government and asked for the immediate resignation of Joseph Muscat.

The Opposition has also said it no longer recognises his position as being tenable in these circumstances… Our role as the Opposition is in parliament, it is in highlighting the deficiencies of government. At this stage, it is also to give some hope.

In the last days, we have presented a 15-point plan to renew and to give robustness to our democracy on separation of powers, the institutions in our country, which had been there but had never been structured or created with the idea that there could be a criminal gang which takes over government. So our institutions were not prepared for this… This is the time to overhaul how our democracy works.

You promised ‘a new way’ and instead you were criticised for bringing more of the old. We have not yet seen any politician drawing a line and saying ‘out with the old and in with the new’.

I totally agree that we need to do things in a new manner. Absolutely. I totally agree that we can no longer do things in the manner of major parties having the monopoly on everything.

What I do not agree with is that we are not drawing that line. We are. And in those proposals you will find that what we are saying, for example, on Party financing: Let’s cut the dependency of Parties on any donations which are, or are seen to be, coming from major contributors…

We are proposing to strengthen the small media, we are proposing that the big Parties no longer have the monopoly of media – the creation of this media landscape came when there was only State monopoly on information so it was the time for pluralism and it was the Nationalist Party that introduced pluralism in our country. That has now become bi-polarism.

So what we need to do is change that system where we don’t have just red or blue all the time but a State that provides for media which is paid by taxpayer money where every single voice has its own time, including civil society, including investigative journalism where we are also proposing that we strengthen and we fund and we encourage, not suppress, investigative journalism whether it’s critical of the government or the Opposition or whoever.

These proposals are not set in stone. We are taking them to civil society groups for debate. If we need to go further than that, we will.

The issue is not a lack of proposals and promises. It’s moving from words to action. Has the PN accepted funding from Yorgen Fenech? What is the relationship between the Party and the family? Citizens are questioning the relationship between business and political parties as being corrosive to democracy. How are you addressing that?

We ensured that we have no funding or donations from Yorgen Fenech… not just now, but even when 17 Black was exposed. That is fact. But we need to go further than that.

There are laws on Party financing that cap donations and declarations, but we are saying there has to be a system where there are no major contributions whatsoever. Under the current laws, I have made sure we are not dependent on such major contributions from business donors – I don’t like to use the word ‘business’ because not all business is bad. They can be operating right and doing well. The problem is dependency and trading in influence…

The Nationalist Party doesn’t depend at all on any major contributions, but what I want is that this becomes law. For this to happen there must be incisive, legislative interpretations to enable Parties to survive. Otherwise you don’t have Parties that work well. So certainly cut off the dependency but then create structures that exist like in other countries. We’re not reinventing the wheel. Parties cannot be seen to be dependent or under the influence of a lobby. This is fundamental.

It’s not only business that must not be seen to be buying influence but also the government because with the system we have of backbenchers, government is paying them off to keep quiet through lucrative briefs, contracts and consultancies. So the most important thing is that we ascertain that our people know that the political parties are there to promulgate their own ideas and direction for the country.

Do you think you handled the situation with Kristy Debono and Hermann Schiavone right in the context of all that you are proposing?

At that point in time, there wasn’t all the information that we know now. But at that point in time, what I did was to pass through the Party structures. There was Hermann Schiavone who actually suspended himself and passed through the Board within the Party which deals with these issues, and I had no intervention at all, and it was found that he did nothing untoward, illicit or unethical.

I did express my view at the time that this was a terrible error of judgment.  I had said that immediately. But when we put things into perspective, with all that’s going on now with corruption and criminality and investigations of murder, and considering the context of somebody who has done far less than that, I think there also has to be a sense of proportionality.

Leading by example is going to be a key issue in our politics from this point forward. I think that it is clear…

I have made this point very clearly. Our stand against corruption is zero tolerance. Period.

Ok, let’s talk about zero tolerance.

You need to make statements and stick by them. When we are talking about the investigations and corruption scandals, I need to refer to, for example, contracts. The number of contracts given by the government – whether in direct orders or the major contracts manipulated to become machines of funding or money laundering or corruption.

Whether it’s Vitals or Electrogas –  these are massive contracts on health and energy. We are proposing that the law is strengthened but we are absolutely clear that we will have nothing of that at all because this is the people’s money. Even if it were not, it would be illegality itself, and we need to give those guarantees. We are saying straight, and we will not budge an inch on that kind of..



We have a situation where (suspected middleman) Melvin Theuma had a job / non job paid from taxpayer money not to even turn up for his job. People have linked that similarity to what Kristy Debono is doing with earning a salary from the Malta Gaming Authority and not turning up for work. What’s your answer?

First of all, I am not appraised at all that she is not turning up for work. There is a massive difference whether someone has a job or whether someone is given a job to then use that position in a criminal attempt or assassination or introduce him into this network of criminality. It’s absolutely a different kind of story.

However, in our proposals we are saying that parliamentarians should be full time. Parliamentarians should have a decent wage so that they concentrate…

There are different parliamentarians and they are not all in this situation.

I don’t want this to be about one person – there are a number of parliamentarians who have jobs with government. A number – not one – a number from both sides of parliament. Under the current situation, where you have part time parliamentarians, if that were not the case, they wouldn’t survive. No person can survive with the income that an MP has – it’s simple. So they need jobs. Some of them are professionals, some of them are employed, some with the government.

So if we need to change the system, we do not pick on one person or two. We say that if we want MPs dedicating all their energy to this then we need to change the system. And we need to have full time MPs earning a decent wage… because the key issue here is whether MPs have conflicts of interest.

Are you implementing these changes you are proposing within your own Party?

I cannot. Let’s say there are four MPs who are currently employed with government and don’t have any other income and there is only a remuneration from parliament – I can’t tell them to starve themselves. So in order for that to be implemented we need to have a full time job as a parliamentarian with an income to raise a family. Otherwise it wouldn’t work. I cannot from Opposition decide that people’s income is diminished by half or by one-third or whatever it is, but I can propose that we change the system so all our MPs become full time and they can earn a living being of service to our country.

You yourself face accusations. The Times of Malta had a story on an FIAU report on you that says suspicions are there but the case is just too hard to crack and the agency has other priorities right now.

Very, very simple. Either there is an FIAU report, or there isn’t. I am not aware of it at all. So if there is, I haven’t seen it, I haven’t been called in, I haven’t been investigated. If there is such a report, then the government has failed to prosecute. If there isn’t, somebody is lying.

We don’t need to hide behind a report. I’m not hiding behind anything. How can I know what accusations there are in the report if I’ve never seen it?

And if somebody has seen it, it means that government – because it is the Attorney General who heads the FIAU – is leaking information purposely to destabilise the Opposition. If there is something at all, I challenge them to proceed. Anything at all.

My comfort and my guarantee is that they will never do that because there is nothing which they could have found because there is nothing at all to find. But to leak out false information or otherwise to try and cast doubt…

I am not the government. I am not in power. I do not control the FIAU. I do not instruct the Attorney General. I do not tell them when to proceed or when not to proceed, so I am certain that if and how they chose to proceed against members of government to protect their own, if they had an ounce of anything against me they would have, and they didn’t. If they do have something, they are failing their obligations to the State.

All these topics we have discussed are linked to assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia who exposed the scandals. Yet you called her “biċċa blogger”. Do you regret saying that?

Completely. Completely. I said this already. It was a mistake. I said it once, twice, many times. I need to say it. I said it to her husband. I wish to be able to say it to her family, to their faces that, yes, I regret it completely. Totally.

I don’t want to defend myself by saying that in the same speech I had also said that I don’t agree with what she is saying about me but that I would fight till the end for her right to say it. I had said that in the same speech but obviously nobody mentions that – it’s no excuse maybe, but it’s what I feel.

On a human level, absolutely. No words are enough to… literally… to say sorry is the best and easiest way to say it. But from a political point of view, I am a lawyer by profession. I have argued all my life. I have disagreed with nearly most people I met throughout my life and the fact that people disagree, people challenge you, people attack you, for me it’s how I live and the fact that, we disagree, the fact that we argue, the fact that I don’t agree with you on 99% of what you say or disagree on 1%, it can never ever justify any kind of violence, let alone assassination.

                           
                               
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