The European Commission is still assessing the fallout from a European Court of Auditors report that flagged irregularities in the use of EU funds for the Coast Road project, despite government assurances that these ‘lost’ funds have already be reallocated to other projects.
Last October, the European Court of Auditors recommended withholding 25 per cent of EU funds allocated to the Coast Road project – some €11 million – over concerns about how certain contracts were awarded.
Parliamentary Secretary for EU funds Ian Borg was quick to point out that these funds had been reallocated elsewhere, including some funds being used to credit Tal linja card users.
However, a spokesperson for the EU Commissioner responsible for EU funding said the Commission is still looking into the European Court of Auditors’ report and the amount of funds to be withheld.
In comments to this newspaper, Nationalist MEP Roberta Metsola had warned that the government should not underestimate the European Court of Auditors (ECA)
“The ECA is the guardian of every single penny spent by member states and EU institutions,” she said. “Once an irregularity is flagged, then it is obvious that several eyes will open in Luxembourg over how the other projects are being handled in Malta. This goes right to the crux of public procurement,” Dr Metsola added.
The Commission spokesperson said the Maltese government will only be able to reallocate these funds once this assessment has been completed, jarring with Dr Borg’s assertion that the funds have already been reallocated.
“The Commission is currently assessing the possible implications of the Court of Auditors' findings, namely in terms of possible financial corrections to be applied to expenditure declared by the Maltese authorities in relation to the project concerned.
“This assessment is still on-going, thus the Commission has not yet taken a decision in relation to the value of the possible financial correction to be applied and the amount of EU funding to be withheld from this project.
“In case the Commission's assessment mentioned in the previous point concludes that the amount of EU funding earmarked for the project must be reduced in whole or in part, the Maltese authorities will be requested to correct the expenditure already declared or still to be declared to the Commission for this project,” the spokesperson said.
It is only then that the government may use the corresponding amount of EU funding for other projects, as long as the expenditure was incurred before 31 December of last year.
Asked for an update on where the ‘lost’ Coast Road funds have been used and whether all these funds were successfully recuperated, the Parliamentary Secretariat for EU funding again insisted that no funds were lost.
“Please note that no funds were lost in this case.As we had already pointed out in the past, all the funds in question have been fully allocated on a number of other projects.
“These include educational equipment in state schools and MCAST, as well as the removal of hazardous material (asbestos) at Hal Far,” a Secretariat official said.