The Malta Independent 20 March 2019, Wednesday

TMIS Editorial: This laissez-faire attitude will come back to haunt us

Sunday, 9 December 2018, 11:30 Last update: about 4 months ago

Earlier this week we learned that Nexia BT's Brian Tonna was engaged as a consultant with the Justice and Culture Ministry and had an annual salary of around €55,000, a figure which, as Reuters put it, is close to the the salary of the Prime Minister.

Now, Nexia BT does not need much of an introduction. It became a household name in April 2016 when the first Panama Papers revelations were made and it emerged that the San Gwann-based company had been used by Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri to set up their infamous Panama companies and their New Zealand trusts. The company tried to open up bank accounts for Mizzi and Schembri the world over.

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It is also the financial advisory firm behind Egrant - the company that was so secretive that the name of its ultimate beneficial owner could not be given by email like the others.

 Brian Tonna and his partner, Karl Cini, ultimately resigned from the Institute of Accountants and there have been numerous calls on the Accountancy Board to revoke their warrants. Tonna was employed on a full-time basis at the Justice and Culture Ministry until August 2016 and was then employed on a part-time basis until August 2017. This meant that he was retained as an adviser by Owen Bonnici even after Nexia BT's role in the Panama Papers became crystal clear.

In comments to the Times of Malta, Owen Bonnici insisted that Tonna had been engaged because he was very competent in the technical process of applying for EU funds. The truth of the matter is that Bonnici should have terminated Tonna's contract immediately after the Panama Papers revealed Nexia BT's involvement with Mizzi and Schembri and with the notorious Mossack Fonseca - the Panamanian company whose bosses have since been arrested in connection with a major corruption scandal in Brazil. 

Tonna's expertise on EU funds should not have served as an excuse by the minister. Once it became clear that Nexia BT was involved in one of the country's biggest political scandals, Nexia BT's services should have been stopped.  But perhaps the Justice Minister should not be the only one under the spotlight here. Brian Tonna was, after all, made a consultant by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, and his firm has been promoted at several government events. Despite the toxic fallout from the Panama Papers, the company continues to thrive, and its work for the government has not stopped.

In most European countries it would be inconceivable for a company that has been embroiled in one of Malta's biggest political scandals to keep providing its services to government ministries, but it seems that - in Malta - anything goes.

But, then again, this is all part of a greater strategy of nepotism and favouritism. It is, unfortunately, something to which we have now grown accustomed. One needs only look at all the government contracts that have been given to former Labour Ministers Edward Zammit Lewis and Deborah Schembri, to Robert Abela's legal firm, or to Minister Helena Dalli's son, Luke. All the jobs given to former One News reporters, all those positions of trust that are costing the country millions every year. 

One surely cannot say that nepotism began under the current administration - previous nationalists administrations also had a habit of giving highly- paid jobs to the same few individuals, but the way that this government does it is more apparent - more 'in your face'.

And, to stop people grumbling about such obscene appointments and contracts, the government showers them with gifts - gifts of many different kinds, ranging from planning permits to permits for outdoor dining areas, to jobs with the public service to tax refund cheques.

One need only look at how this government has completely reversed the trend, started by the last PN administration, to reduce the number of workers in the public sector. The last PN government had reduced the public sector by around 5,000 people. This government has brought those 5,000 back - and more. Which is precisely why it takes 20 people to clear some seaweed from a tiny stretch of sand, or why it takes 10 people to change a light bulb - because many departments are simply overstaffed.

All the construction permits are keeping the thousands of individuals involved in the construction industry happy but they are eroding our wellbeing. All these permits for encroachment on public spaces are taking away what is rightfully ours.

All these unneeded government jobs are only increasing the tax bill.

People need to stop taking things for granted and accepting nepotism and corruption. It is high time that we start demanding a higher standard of politics. If we do not, then it is quite certain that this laissez-faire attitude will someday soon come back to haunt us.

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