“I am very happy,” Edward Zammit Lewis declared. Had he been offered another lavish holiday at Yorgen Fenech’s Hilton in the French Alps? Had he been promoted to cabinet? No. He was very happy with the GRECO report.
GRECO is the Council of Europe’s body tasked with preventing corruption and promoting integrity. It just concluded its report on Malta’s compliance with 23 recommendations it issued in its evaluation report.
Zammit Lewis pompously bragged that “Malta implemented more than half of its recommendations”. Zammit Lewis was being deceitful. The man who arrogantly called his own party’s supporters “ġahan” needs a simple mathematics lesson. GRECO issued 23 recommendations of which Malta only implemented two. Not twelve. Two is not more than half 23.
That wasn’t Zammit Lewis’ only lie. “Malta implemented more than half its recommendations, especially in laws against fraud and corruption which I led.” he boasted. That was another lie. The only two recommendations implemented related to the police force – strengthening training programmes and updating standards of conduct. That was not part of Zammit Lewis’ portfolio.
Nothing related to his portfolio was implemented. Quite the contrary. GRECO lambasted the utter failure of the Maltese government. In many areas, reforms had not even been initiated, let alone implemented.
“The development of an overarching anti-corruption strategy for government and its top executive officials has not yet been initiated,” GRECO said. Zammit Lewis had no interest in implementing any anti-corruption strategy. The man who dined with Yorgen Fenech is even less interested in “disclosure of contacts between top executives and third parties” which GRECO noted hasn’t yet been accomplished.
Zammit Lewis was responsible for ensuring that special investigation techniques, such as wiretapping, could be used in the investigation of corrupt politicians and be considered admissible evidence in court. GRECO didn’t pull its punches – “No steps, not even a legal analysis, have been taken by the authorities”.
That was Zammit Lewis’ job. He did nothing.
That’s hardly surprising. In a functioning democracy, he would have been investigated and prosecuted for trading in influence. His sycophantic relationship with alleged money launderer and murderer Yorgen Fenech has been catalogued – hundreds of puerile messages, pleas for meetings and requests for jobs. He’s hardly going to make it easier for law enforcement to investigate corruption.
His empty boasts hide his wilful resistance to enact legislation that could potentially jail him and his former colleagues.
Zammit Lewis cynically concluded: “I am privileged to have had the opportunity to create a better Malta”. He surely had the opportunity, but boy did he blow it.
Thanks to the very voters he abused, he clung to his seat. Thanks to the prime minister, the country’s been spared more of Zammit Lewis’ depravity. Relegated to the backbenches, the damage he can wreak is curtailed.
Malta scored a big F on the GRECO test. Labour’s government was meant to develop and implement an integrity strategy for top executives – that’s primarily the prime minister and his ministers. Instead, the government set up an inter-ministerial committee. If you want nothing done, form a committee.
GRECO wasn’t fooled. “Even though an inter-ministerial body has been set up, the actual work has not yet been initiated,” the report said.
GRECO recommended that rules are laid down on contacts between ministers and lobbyists. It demanded such contact and the topics discussed be disclosed. It was referring to meetings such as the one between Michael Farrugia and Yorgen Fenech, after which policy was changed. Or the meetings between Joseph Muscat and Konrad Mizzi with Yorgen Fenech.
What did Labour’s government do? It “examined a number of proposals”. GRECO said that “at this stage there are no rules or laws to regulate contact, not even at drafting level”.
Malta was required to establish clear guidelines managing conflict of interest as well as procedures and deadlines for solving conflict of interest situations. The government reported that “discussions are underway regarding drafting a policy”. GRECO pointed out that “no procedures or deadlines have been put in place”.
Everybody is “left to their own devices in determining whether they have a conflict of interest”. That’s exactly what’s been happening.
The latest arrogant addition to the mob is Alicia Bugeja Said whose election campaign was funded by fishing industry moguls. She’s now parliamentary secretary for fisheries – but she’s decided she has no conflict of interest.
When Zammit Lewis sat on the Standards Committee to decide about improper relations between Yorgen Fenech and Rosianne Cutajar and Joseph Muscat, he decided that his own close relationship with Fenech didn’t constitute a conflict of interest: “Certainly not you or anyone else will tell me what is a conflict of interest (sic)”.
When Joseph Cuschieri travelled to Las Vegas with Yorgen Fenech, Robert Abela leapt to his defence claiming “there exists no conflict of interest”. For Robert Abela, his own defence of the Maksar brothers did not constitute a conflict of interest when he decided on Vince Muscat il-Koħħu’s pardon request.
GRECO recommended that parliamentarians’ asset declarations should be detailed and should be “systematically, easily and publicly accessible online”. They should be subject to effective checks and that clear consequences and effective dissuasive sanctions should be applicable to guarantee accuracy, including referral for criminal investigation.
Of course, the biggest offender is Robert Abela. He’s submitted his declaration late, failed to declare his income and refused to publish his tax return. He’s failed to explain how his bank account shot up by €45,000 when his income dwindled. He’s done everything in his power to keep his income, his wealth and his taxes secret. It’s no suprise that GRECO complained that “no information has been provided” and “no steps have been reported to make declarations available online”.
Abela will make it as difficult as possible for the public to know anything about his financial situation and that of his colleagues. He will make it impossible for Labour’s corrupt ministers and former ministers to be prosecuted. No wonder Zammit Lewis is very happy.