Energy Minister Miriam Dalli has again refused to reveal the names of developers and construction companies who were given a total of €4 million in grants, and has turned down a request made officially in parliament.
Following a parliamentary question by PN Deputy Leader David Agius, asking the minister to give parliament a list of beneficiaries and the total allocation they were each given, Dalli denied the request, citing the same argument used by Malta Enterprise to stonewall the information.
Dalli told parliament that the amounts of public funds given to construction developers to purchase ‘environment friendly’ equipment cannot be divulged according to provisions of the Malta Enterprise Act, approved by the same house of representatives.
The Shift has already reported that Malta Enterprise, under the direction of Dalli, has refused to share the information requested via a series of FOI requests filed by The Shift.
Malta Enterprise – led by Kurt Farrugia – the former communications Head of disgraced ex-Prime Minister Joseph Muscat – cited provisions in the law regulating the state agency banning all information on how it disburses state funding and grants through its schemes.
However, the same law includes provisions that may bypass this ‘confidentiality’ as it gives the power to the minister to obtain the necessary information and make it public in the interests of transparency and accountability.
On Tuesday Malta Enterprise announced that a new company, MGC Pharma, which has opened a new €4 million plant, was given a €3.1 million cash grant to make its ‘foreign direct investment’ in Malta.
This announcement was made in the presence of both Dalli and her CEO at Malta Enterprise, though they failed to explain why they’d decided to bypass the ‘confidentiality’ law in this particular case – after invoking it in so many others – raising questions over whether the law is being manipulated to serve motives of political expediency.
The lack of transparency around the granting of public funds to private entrepreneurs – meaning there is limited, or no, element of checks and balances – is not a new issue. It was also a criticism made of the pre-2013 PN administration, though to a lesser extent.
The blanket secrecy adopted by Malta Enterprise contrasts sharply with the required practice in the EU, where all grants using taxpayers’ money are accounted for with all the information made available for the public online.
This also happens in Malta where it comes to EU funds, that are not administered by Malta Enterprise.
However, Malta Enterprise itself continues to use the law to conceal all its grants, as well as the recipients of taxpayers’ money.
The latest scheme – support for the construction industry to replace existing machinery – was launched last year and over 90 applications were received. Only 40 were selected and given €4 million to share for specific projects, details of which are also kept confidential by Malta Enterprise.
Industry sources complained to The Shift about the total lack of transparency by the state agency as “no one can really establish who got what and whether the funds were administered fairly and according to the guidelines.”
“We really cannot understand what the problem is of being transparent and accountable if everything was above board,” one of the applicants who was refused a grant said.
“If the law doesn’t make sense anymore then it must be changed and not used as a puerile excuse”, another developer said.
The Shift has now filed a request for an investigation by the Data Protection Commissioner under the FOI law.