A confused, stormy Public Accounts Committee meeting that saw Electrogas shareholder Paul Apap Bologna returning to testify after an absence of several months, was, for those following the live stream, most notable for the abysmal quality of the transmission. Disgraced former minister, Konrad Mizzi, did not appear, reportedly because he is suffering from a “serious illness”.
With the broadcast interrupted or suspended every few seconds, it was almost impossible to decipher most what was going on during the meeting, beyond the usual periodic flare-ups, squabbles and outright shouting matches.
One thing did come across however. Apap Bologna, once again accompanied by his lawyer, seemed to have few objections to responding to questions about the controversial gas-fired power-station project put to him by PL MP Glenn Bedingfield, which made a stark contrast to his repeated refusal to reply to most of the questions put to him by PAC Chairman and PN MP Beppe Fenech Adami and his PN colleagues in his previous sessions.
Through the continual stop-and-start of the stream, it also became clear that the thrust of the PL MPs’ questions was focused on the pre-2013 PN government’s decision to invest in a heavy-fuel oil power plant, despite having considered the possibility of a potentially cheaper gas-fired plant.
At one point, Bedingfield asked Apap Bologna why he had said previously he’d felt “intimidated” by the PAC. The witness said is was because words were being put into his mouth, and questions were being used to try and influence him. He was later also asked whether he was being investigated for anything else, but refused to answer, saying he invoked his “right to silence”.
Towards the end of the frustrating session, the PN MPs began pressing Apap Bologna to explain why he and his partners had involved Gasol in the project, given that the National Auditor made it clear in his report that the company’s financial situation was already clearly problematic from before the start of the project.
They asked when Apap Bologna became aware of Gasol’s lack of capital to make its contracted investment contribution. The Electrogas shareholder said he believed he learned of it around a month or two before the Gasol shares were transferred to the rest of the shareholders on 22 July 2015.
After a long, frequently disconnected, discussion over whether Apap Bologna had discussed the Panama Papers revelations with his partners after the news broke in April 2015, Apap Bologna said he couldn’t remember discussing details with any of his fellow shareholders, and, after being pressed on the issue, he fell back on his invoking his right to silence.
Again, a potentially interesting thread was begun when the PN MPs asked Apap Bologna why the partners had included Gasol in the consortium when, according to the auditor, it was clear the company was never in a financial position to take on the project, meaning the rest of the partners were obliged to buy out Gasol’s shareholding just a year and a half later.
Apap Bologna’s reply, which for viewers was interrupted by the constant issues with the live stream, was that Gasol had the contacts the Maltese partners didn’t, and was backed by another company, Afren, a company that was later also caught up in a fraud scandal of its own.
Disgraced former Minister Konrad Mizzi had also been asked to attend the meeting, however he failed to appear for the second week running, having reportedly been taken ill and hospitalised with a “serious illness”.
During his first appearance before the PAC a month ago, after he’d missed the three previous meetings to which he’d been summoned, Mizzi ate up the entire two-hour meeting with the first part of his extended ‘oral statement.’ The proceedings were interspersed with bickering, shouting and the trading of accusations with the Opposition members of the Committee.
His second appearance the following week was no more peaceful, as he continued his rambling statement on endless ‘technical’ aspects of the controversial Electrogas project.
According to press reports, his illness means that he probably won’t be able to attend any further sittings this year.