‘Government contracts should have National Audit Office approval’ – Joe Giglio

Lawyer and PN candidate Joe Giglio told The Shift that scrutiny of public procurement processes could be tightened by giving the National Audit Office (NAO) further investigative powers as well as amending legislation to ensure any deals signed by the government must first have the Auditor General’s approval.

Giglio’s comments were given following a press conference in which the Opposition denounced the government for spending €31 million on the rental and refurbishment of the Malta Business Registry’s current premises, among other similar cases of questionable spending of taxpayers’ money.

Last month, The Shift revealed that Economy Minister Silvio Schembri turned down a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to disclose the contract to lease parts of a new building in Zejtun from the owners of Alex Mercieca Bathroom Centre, which is where the MBR relocated after the contract was signed in 2018. The information was also denied to parliament.

“We can strengthen legislation, provide further investigative powers to the National Audit Office and propose that one ought to seek their approval before such transactions are concluded,” Giglio said when asked about what practical changes to the system could be brought about to minimise abuse of public procurement practices.

Describing the MBR contract as one example in which the government decided to issue a direct call, Giglio also suggested increasing the thresholds of when direct orders can be issued as well as making these calls subject to further parliamentary scrutiny.

“I am sure there are many valid changes that may be implemented to improve the situation. However, ultimately the problem is not in the regulations or procedure but in the mentality of those in charge who are abusing the system that needs to be changed,” he added.

Besides the MBR contract, the Opposition’s press conference on Wednesday also flagged numerous other instances also reported by The Shift in which the government flouted public procurement regulations, including the €15,000 contract awarded to former education minister Justyne Caruana’s partner, Daniel Bogdanovic, and the €30,000 golden handshake the disgraced former minister is set to receive.

“Public funds are not there for who is in government and those in cohort with them to fill their pockets but they are there for the advancement of Malta and Gozo and such funds ought to be invested to provide a better future for those who come after us,” Giglio said.

When asked about what the Opposition can do in the short term to ensure the government is held accountable and the rampant abuse of public funding reined in, Giglio said the Opposition’s role is to “clearly and unequivocally” ensure that public funds are spent according to the country’s best interests.

“If the Opposition is privy to information that the government is not following regulations and procedures, then it has the duty, the right and obligation to question such decision-making. When the Opposition is not satisfied with the explanation provided by the government, then it must voice such discrepancies and incorrectness, explain the reasons why such action is not acceptable and provide the way forward,” Giglio said.


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