How many times must we witness the very people entrusted with overseeing the country’s public affairs not only mismanage those affairs but then brush off any responsibility by claiming they had no knowledge of those affairs in the first place?
The alleged corruption racket at Transport Malta is simply the latest episode in maladministration, some of which have had far-reaching consequences, but we have yet to see top government officials shoulder a modicum of responsibility.
Nobody knows anything
Last week, Transport Malta director for the Land Transport Directorate Clint Mansueto, former Żebbuġ Labour councillor Philip Edrick Zammit and Raul Antonio Pace were all charged with corruption for helping learner drivers cheat on their tests.
While being questioned by the police, Mansueto claimed that he was pressured by a minister into helping certain individuals pass their driving test, adding that the individuals were allegedly working in the minister’s villa.
When the press sought answers from former Transport Minister Ian Borg, now foreign affairs minister, his spokesperson replied that he was not involved in the alleged corruption racket.
“Regarding the particular claims you are referring to, he has no recollection of such episode, nor has he ever had ‘Arab nationals’ working at his residence. He does not own any villa either,” he said.
Similarly, a spokesperson from the Office of the Prime Minister told the Times of Malta that the prime minister was “not aware of any charges having been issued against any government minister, or of any pending judicial proceedings”.
Well, it seems he did not bother to ask, either.
Nobody knows anything about Electrogas
On Sunday, The Shift revealed that the government gave what is effectively an unconditional guarantee to SOCAR Trading that it would step in to cover any of Electrogas’ debts.
Even before this latest revelation, parliament’s Public Account Committee (PAC) has spent the last two years trying to investigate the Electrogas deal after a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) highlighted “various shortcomings” and described major, often undocumented, flaws in the selection and evaluation process.
The NAO report revealed that taxpayers were overcharged by millions of euros, with the Auditor General expressing “serious reservations” about an “irregular” and “unprecedented” €360 million loan guarantee given to Electrogas by the government.
Former Enemalta chairperson Charles Mangion told the PAC that when the board endorsed the decision to award the power station contract to the Electrogas consortium, he was not aware of financial issues involving Gasol, one of the partners in the group, claiming that his role was only to “ratify” the decision to award the contract to Electrogas and this was based on the “expert advice” given to the board.
Meanwhile, Electrogas director and shareholder Paul Apap Bologna was cautioned several times by the Board of Inquiry looking into journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination as he told the judges he was unaware of several factors tied to Electrogas, some of which had been in the public domain for several months, if not years.
He even said he did not know that Electrogas had gone into default, despite it being mentioned in the Auditor General’s report, telling the board that he did not read the report “in its entirety”, leaving the three judges incredulous.
Even Konrad Mizzi, the very man at the centre of two of the country’s ruinous deals, claimed in front of the Public Accounts Committee that he was ‘just an observer‘.
Nobody knows anything about Vitals/Steward Healthcare
During his testimony in a court hearing related to the Vitals agreement – a case brought by PN MP and former Opposition leader Adrian Delia in the hopes of erasing the hospitals’ privatisation deal, former Finance Minister Edward Scicluna admitted that he was unaware of a €100 million termination clause in the Vitals agreement signed by Konrad Mizzi.
Despite serving as finance minister when the deal was being negotiated, Scicluna confessed to the court that he first heard about the side letter signed by former minister Konrad Mizzi through media reports, adding that the deal was handled largely by the health ministry.
Scicluna said was also uninformed of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), signed by former economy minister Chris Cardona six months before a call for proposals was issued. The MOU went into lost and found mode when journalists pressed for answers.
The hospital deal may have been handled by the health ministry, but Chris Fearne claimed he knew nothing and was not involved in anything but backed the project anyway.
Despite a damning NAO report on the hospitals’ deal, Fearne placed responsibility for that deal squarely on his predecessor as health minister Konrad Mizzi.
It was Mizzi who controlled Projects Malta, and he continued to hold the project’s reins even when he was ostensibly stripped of his ministerial portfolio, Fearne told the Board of Inquiry looking into journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination, saying was only brought in after the adjudication stage.
Nobody knows who is responsible for detecting financial crimes
During a visit to Malta earlier this year, the EU’s chief prosecutor said she could not identify the institution in Malta responsible for detecting financial crimes, recalling how nobody could provide her with answers on fraud investigations.
Laura Codruța Kövesi from the European Public Prosecutor’s Office raised concerns that Malta only supported her office with words and “not with facts”.
“I visited Malta, I had meetings with the national authorities, and after two days, it was very difficult for me to identify the institution that is responsible for detecting the crimes because all of them said: “It’s not me, it’s them,” Kovesi told MEPs.
Everything must change so that everything can stay the same
Chief Justice Emeritus Joseph Said Pullicino summed up the lack of accountability by our former and current political leaders when he noted that all officials appearing before the public inquiry board looking into the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia seem “keen on passing the buck”.
And for as long as the public will put up with it, shifting blame and shoulder-shrugging will continue to suffice as an answer in Malta.