The time for platitudes is over. As yet another PL government scandal shakes the nation with revelations of public funds being thrown away on an illegally awarded mega-contract to Party donors, Prime Minister Robert Abela and Police Commissioner Angelo Gafa must step up to the plate and do the jobs they seem to have forgotten they were appointed to do: safeguard the country and its resources and protect the population from crime.
Opposition Leader Bernard Grech’s most crucial purpose at this time should be to hold the government to account. That means doing what he has so far failed abysmally to do: state, clearly and unambiguously, what he intends to do about illegal contracts and their recipients.
For too long, wrongdoing by government ministers and officials has been waived off with excuses, justifications and obfuscations as the guilty are shielded from consequence and rewarded instead of punished. This can’t be allowed to continue. Nor can the St Vincent de Paul DB Group/James Caterers contract.
The consortium is being paid over €18 million a year, for a total of €274 million, to construct and service the additional 500 beds at St Vincent de Paul home for the elderly that their generous contract covers. To put that into context, Malta’s entire GDP in 2020 is estimated to have been around €12.5 billion.
The National Audit Office has slammed the deal as “illegal” and concluded that Malta’s taxpayers are paying more than double the going rate per person per day under this quarter of a billion-euro contract, awarded abusively via direct order rather than through the required competitive process.
There have been so many moments, since 2013, when the shock of yet another government corruption scandal has left people shaking their heads in disbelief. Not only at the scandal in itself, but at the brazen arrogance with which the perpetrators were allowed to respond to accusations, the mendacious, gaslighting, reality-distorting justifications they were permitted to get away with.
And despite a change in prime minister, despite the election of a new opposition leader, despite the appointment of a new police commissioner, here we are again. PL government ministers and junior ministers involved in abusively awarding a mind-bogglingly huge contract to two companies that donate generously to both the PL and the PN.
We learned yesterday that the police have decided there’s no need to investigate the contract that the NAO, after a three-year probe, declared to be illegal. And while the PL umms and the PN aahs, anyone with even a smidgen of sanity is left watching aghast as DB Group and James Caterers hunker down and continue raking in the cash, undeterred.
The NAO, in the meantime, have washed their hands of the matter, declaring that they’ve done the job they were asked to do and it’s now up to “the authorities” to take action or not. As if the fact that the Maltese population has been scammed into paying for someone else’s favours, via a contract declared unequivocally by the NAO to be illegal, is some kind of philosophical question that’s up for debate, and not a downright corrupt, illegal, brazen instrument to transfer the taxes people work so hard for into the undeserving pockets of those with “friends” in high places.
The police, responding to questions from the media, claimed an investigation “isn’t necessary,” and failed to explain how and why they reached this conclusion – though by now we have become used to getting this kind of arrogant dismissal from public servants who have clearly not even remotely grasped what their actual role is.
Having spent eight years under a Labour government that looks more and more like a kleptocracy every day, Malta desperately needs to see right prevailing over wrong for once. With practically every single big project/contract undertaken by disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat’s government proving to be riddled with corruption, criminality and theft, Abela and Gafa must act fast if they’re not to be tarred with the same brush as their predecessors.
Social Solidarity Minister Michael Falzon, under whose portfolio this contract falls, must be sacked by Abela and investigated by Gafa. Not allowed to resign, as suggested pusillanimously by Bernard Grech, but sacked, for having, at the very least, permitted his juniors to act illegally in the awarding of the contract to DB Group/James Caterers, and for letting the same two companies swindle the Maltese people out of hundreds of millions of their hard-earned euros.
The contract itself should be cancelled forthwith. There is no excuse for not terminating it immediately. It was awarded illegally, the costs it burdens the nation with are extortionate, more than double the going rate, and the two companies themselves, known donors to both parties, should be excluded from receiving any further public service contracts in the future.
What will it take to shake the Maltese people out of their extended stupefied acquiescence to anything “their” politicians do? Even when those self-same politicians and the parasitical businessmen riding heavily upon their backs commit outright, brazen theft of the country’s resources, the majority of our compatriots shrug their shoulders, muttering “tsk, tsk, kollha l-istess,” as though they were powerless to do anything about it.
But they’re not powerless. Public outrage got rid of Joseph Muscat, Keith Schembri, Konrad Mizzi and Chris Cardona, as well as the delinquent former police commissioner, Lawrence Cutajar. Corruption fatigue in the midst of a devastating pandemic may be weighing heavily on morale, but the country must not let this one slide, no matter how challenging it may be.