“One is either for the people or against” Joseph Muscat bellowed on 26 April 2010. He was livid at the PN government’s failure to publish the BWSC power station contract. “Those who do not fight corruption are corrupt,” he declared.
Embarrassed, Lawrence Gonzi’s government asked BWSC to rescind the confidentiality clause to allow publication of the contract. BWSC acceded and the contract was published. Muscat mocked Gonzi for having to ask permission from a private entity to publish the contract.
On 11 June 2014, a Freedom of Information (FOI) request was made for Muscat’s government to publish the Henley and Partners passport sales contract. Muscat refused. His excuse was that government had signed a confidentiality clause. Publishing it would render government in breach. Muscat did not ask Henley and Partners to rescind the clause.
At the Public Accounts Committee, the Opposition insisted on its publication. Labour refused. It was “not in the public interest”. Besides, it would have a “substantial adverse effect on the ability of government to manage the Maltese economy”.
In Muscat’s infamous “Malta Tagħna Lkoll”, chapter 18 was ‘Democracy and Transparency’: “We believe in politicians whose actions are transparent”. But that only applied until Labour gained power. Once the public was conned, transparency became an inconvenience.
Instead, Labour put into action its unwritten policy: minimum disclosure, maximum delay. With ruthless efficiency, Muscat concealed all major contracts.
In December 2014, Muscat travelled to Azerbaijan on a secret mission. Accompanied only by his three closest allies, Konrad Mizzi, Keith Schembri and Kurt Farrugia, no information was released until just before their flight. No diplomats, no civil servants and no press were invited.
Muscat agreed on a deal with Azerbaijan’s SOCAR on supply of liquefied natural gas (LNG). That agreement remains secret. The government even hid it from the European Commission. The agreement was terminated in November 2017 but remains concealed.
In May 2014, a Freedom of Information request was made to Enemalta to publish the Electrogas contract. After three months the request was declined. No reason was given except “there is a good reason for withholding the document requested”.
A damning report by the National Audit Office highlighted multiple instances of non-compliance by Electrogas. Labour’s MPs – Glenn Bedingfield, Clayton Bartolo, Ian Castaldi Paris and Alex Muscat – all voted down a request to provide the Public Accounts Committee access to the Electrogas contracts. Labour desperately conceals its contracts, for good reason.
Electrogas director Paul Apap Bologna set up a UAE company, Kittiwake, which was identical to Yorgen Fenech’s 17 Black in July 2015. Hundreds of thousands of euro were moved from Kittiwake to Fenech’s company.
For months, Labour refused to publish the Vitals Global Healthcare contracts. In October 2016, Chris Fearne finally tabled them in parliament. Entire pages were redacted and the rest were full of blank spaces. Forty-three pages in the services concession agreement and 23 pages in the health services delivery were deleted.
The notorious Memorandum of Understanding with Vitals has remained secret for years. Two FOI requests to publish the MOU were declined. The government spent years battling against disclosure in the courts claiming secrecy and confidentiality agreements. After three years Judge Joanne Vella Cuschieri, an ex-Labour candidate, bizarrely agreed that the MOU “no longer had any validity”.
The NAO made numerous requests for the MOU but “certainly no copy of the MOU was provided”. The Labour government falsely claimed it had lost the document. Miraculously, within 24 hours of Robert Abela’s demand, it was retrieved – and handed to the Auditor General, only after his report was concluded.
The NAO found collusion between the government and Vitals. The concession was “staged and deceitful”. The MOU remains secret.
In February 2017, two FOI requests to publish the Gozo swimming pool agreement with a private company were declined. Public land was transferred to the private company for a swimming pool complex to be built on the condition it would be accessible to the public for a meagre 10 hours per week.
When the NAO carried out an investigation on the ITS land at St George’s Bay given to Silvio Debono’s DB Group, Konrad Mizzi refused to meet the Auditor General despite numerous requests. Ironically, Tagħna Lkoll item 18.3 promised: “We will strengthen the Auditor General with more power especially in the case of those who refuse to collaborate”.
In 2019, Labour turned down a Freedom of Information request to publish the quarter-billion SVP contract. Partit Demokratiku filed a judicial protest for its publication. Minister Michael Falzon argued that the contract contained “personal data” and its publication would “prejudice the competitiveness of the private consortium”. The government’s reply was signed by Nadine Lia, Pawlu Lia’s daughter-in-law, a person of trust engaged by Chris Cardona later appointed magistrate.
Robert Abela lived up to his promise of continuity in the secrecy stakes. When asked how much money was spent on public relations and marketing since 2013, Abela shamelessly replied: “No entity or department in the OPM spent any money on PR”.
In August, he refused to explain why his luxury yacht was kept at Marina di Ragusa luxury VIP area, whether it was leased or registered in his name, or how much he paid for it. In January 2021 he refused to divulge whether he recused himself in the decision on Vince Muscat’s pardon. “Even if you ask me a hundred times, I won’t comment,” Abela insisted.
For months he concealed a report into Miriam Pace’s death. When he was asked how much money his office spent on media publicity, he answered “the information will not be provided as it would exceed the advisory cost limit”. The entire Cabinet failed to divulge the number of jobs handed out during the 2017 campaign.
Labour’s pre-electoral promise of transparency is another glossy public relations con. The United Nations sustainable development goal 16 seeks to provide public access to information to ensure accountable, inclusive and just institutions. Yet Labour’s ‘progressive’ government determinedly conceals its shady deals.
Why is Labour so fearful of letting its people know what it’s up to with their own money? To echo Muscat’s words: “One is either for the people or against”.