Finance Minister Edward Scicluna on Wednesday spoke of his ministry’s struggle to obtain information from Projects Malta on deals such as the Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) hospital deal, and did not exclude that former government officials could be the beneficial owners of VGH.
He slammed the entity for lack of transparency and complained that his ministry found it difficult to get information from Projects Malta and at one point even had to work with the Health Ministry in order to obtain the desired data.
Projects Malta fell under the responsibility of disgraced former Minister Konrad Mizzi and was responsible for many public-private partnerships, including the ITS deal, Electrogas and the Vitals hospitals deal.
Scicluna was testifying before the public inquiry set up to investigate whether the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia could have been prevented.
“I can say Projects Malta was not transparent… the data would come eventually but it would require great effort to acquire it,” he said.
Replying to questions by Caruana Galizia family lawyer Jason Azzopardi, Scicluna said that he does not know who the real owners of VGH were, but did not exclude Mizzi, and former chief of Staff Keith Schembri from being so.
Asked by Azzopardi whether he (Scicluna) could exclude that the owners of VGH included Schembri and Mizzi, Scicluna replied: “No, but it is a hypothetical question”.
Referring to the controversial deal, Scicluna also spoke about the importance of having a track record in a particular area, and said that if he were providing consultation to a client he would have advised the client to steer clear.
VGH was given a deal to run three of Malta’s hospitals, although they had no prior experience in the industry.
In his testimony, the Finance Minister also spoke about the existence of a ‘kitchen Cabinet’ within the government; a term which refers to unduly influential unofficial advisers to someone holding office.
The “kitchen Cabinet” whom he “feels let down by” included Schembri and other consultants, including individuals from top legal firms who were involved in both the Elctrogas and VGH deal.
He told the board that although a number of ministers were close to the core of the group, he was not.
The influential group was previously mentioned by Foreign Affairs Minister Evarist Bartolo in a previous public inquiry testimony.
During the sitting, Scicluna also told the board how he had summoned former police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar and told him that he gave the relevant ministry a “blank cheque” to beef up the economic crimes unit.
This backs up a previous testimony by former FIAU director Manfred Galdes, who had said that he would find necessary support from Scicluna when it came to financing resources to tackle money laundering and terrorism. But, things would somehow stall when it reached the Office of the Prime Minister.
Scicluna also acknowledged to the board that Mizzi should have resigned after his involvement with offshore companies was uncovered in the Panama Papers. In a similar tone to that of Bartolo, Scicluna said that he applied pressure on Muscat to distance himself from those involved in the scandal and force Mizzi out.
Despite this, and also like Bartolo, Scicluna had voted to retain Mizzi, along with all the Labour Party parliamentary group in 2016.
He justified this move by telling the board that had he voted differently, he would have had to resign. This did not seem just to the minister, who said he had left a comfortable Brussels job which earned him over €100,000.
“I’m sorry but it was my first political decision, I weighed the options and decided not to resign,” he said.