Issues linked with corruption can begin from the tendering procedure, Auditor General Charles Deguara told the public inquiry board on Friday, emphasising the importance of transparency.
“Sometimes, the tender will ask for one thing, and the final result will be something completely different,” Deguara told the board of inquiry investigating the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
“Some things seem to be organised around the needs of the businessmen,” retorted Chief Justice Emeritus Joseph Said Pullicino. Deguara agreed, emphasising the need to strengthen project management.
Deguara also noted that governments, in general, have always seemed “weak” with big contractors. “Though you cannot generalise, every case is different,” he added.
Asked about the Memorandum of Understanding(MOU) for the sale of the three hospitals to Vitals Global Healthcare done before the Request for Proposals, Deguara said: “That was not supposed to happen”.
“There can never be a case, never, never, when an MOU happens before a tender,” the Auditor General stressed.
Deguara told the board that the National Audit Office mostly found cooperation from government. “In the exceptions when we are not given a document, we indicate it in the report,” he said.
One of the cases where not all information was given was the Vitals’ audit, Deguara confirmed, referring to the MOU. He said that when it came to the audit on Electrogas, they were mostly given the requested information, including some 50 agreements.
He told the board that the NAO does not have executive powers to sanction. “What we do is name and shame,” he said, later explaining that if it were him who was named and shamed in a report by the NAO he “would not sleep, as it is something serious”.
“I see my work as a doctor, we propose the medicine but it is up to the government to take it,” he said.
Questioned by Caruana Galizia family lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia, about record keeping and lack of paper trails, Deguara said that his recommendations on minute-keeping repeatedly seem to fall on deaf ears.
“There have been many cases throughout the years where minutes have not been kept as they should be, where I’m like a voice in the desert,” he said.
Deguara said that more often than not the government does take notice of recommendations, even if not enough: “80% of those recommendations are being looked into. If you ask me if it’s enough, I’ll tell you it’s not – 100% would be good, but 80% is a good indication”.
Deguara also emphasised the need to improve planning on big capital projects and timeliness.
“Even with these projects there are sometimes issues with late payment – when there is a derailing in a project, it is the citizen who suffers,” he said.