Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia’s pledge to establish and regularly publish a transparency register has still not been fulfilled 18 months after the novice politician made the commitment.
In January 2020, a few days after Prime Minister Robert Abela promoted Farrugia from Parliamentary Secretary for EU Funds to Environment Minister, the first-district politician said he would create the public transparency register in order to strengthen his government’s transparency credentials.
Farrugia said at the time that his ministry, which is responsible also for the controversial Planning Authority, was going to keep a register to record all the meetings he and his chief of staff held with individuals, NGOs, constituted bodies and all other lobbyists.
He further pledged that, in the name of transparency, the register and all its information would be accessible to the public.
Three months later, in March 2020, the environment minister reiterated the promise in a Twitter post that said he was “looking forward to unveiling the Transparency Register platform within my Ministry by the end of the month”.
More than a year after this second pledge, Farrugia’s transparency register has yet to materialise.
Neither Minister Farrugia nor his publicly paid spokesperson, Tia Reljic, have replied to questions sent by The Shift, despite repeated reminders.
Sources close to environment NGOs told The Shift that when they’ve raised the subject during private meetings with the minister, Farrugia has offered offered various excuses and rapidly changed the subject.
“It seems that Farrugia is finding it difficult to keep his promise. Some of his cabinet colleagues say that he rushed to announce his initiative for a publicity stunt which is now coming back to haunt him,” an NGO representative told The Shift.
“The government does not want to be transparent, especially on meetings ministers have with developers and businessmen, who at the end of the day end up financing the same political parties and the candidates themselves. So Farrugia has found himself in quite a fix,” the representative said.
Farrugia’s claim 18 months ago was that he was determined to make a difference and that transparency would be his topmost priority.
“I am committed to the highest level of transparency in decision-making. In the interest of good governance, as a ministry, we shall regularly publish the list of all meetings held by the minister and his chief of staff,” the Farrugia had said.
The minister said his pledge was in line with the Labour Party’s 2017 electoral manifesto – which he co-authored – and with the European Commission’s proposal on a European Transparency Register and best practices in EU member states.
Farrugia, 41, has had a meteoric rise in politics. Elected for the first time in 2017, he was immediately appointed by disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat as parliamentary secretary for EU funds.
After Muscat’s forced resignation, newly elected Labour leader Robert Abela made Farrugia responsible for the environment and the Planning Authority.
With Malta in the throes of a construction frenzy that leads some to describe the island as one big building site, the government is constantly accused of being in the pocket of developers and businessmen. The latter make significant donations to both major political parties, which leads many to suspect they’re rewarded with favours, including lucrative building permits and the sale of public property to be used for speculation.
During the first Labour administration, between 2013 and 2017, Farrugia was given a lucrative government job as CEO of the Freeport Authority. On top of receiving a generous salary, Farrugia was also in a position to ‘push’ some of his constituents into a job at the transshipment container terminal.