The Malta Independent 13 June 2024, Thursday
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Mercaptan Report demonstrates attempt to cover up wrongdoing

Malta Independent Thursday, 3 May 2012, 00:00 Last update: about 12 years ago

The Opposition said yesterday that the report of the board of inquiry that looked into the alleged irregular disposal of the chemical mercaptan by Enemalta Corporation demonstrates that there was a strong attempt to cover up wrongdoing.

Joe Mizzi, the Opposition’s main spokesman for energy and resources, and Leo Brincat, spokesman for the environment, sustainable development and climate change, addressed a press conference outside the Marsa Power Station, saying that Finance, the Economy and Investment Minister should shoulder responsibility over the matter.

The board of inquiry had to look into “the alleged irregular disposal by burning of the chemical in Bengħajsa in July 2009 and in the limits of Baħrija/Mġarr in September 2009, as well as into the related events preceding this disposal especially concerning the main leakage occasions at Corradino in July 2009 and at Qajjenza in September 2007.

The chemical is added to LPG cylinders, as its foul odour helps in detecting leakages. Enemalta still had a stock of mercaptan when it began importing cylinders that already contained the additive, and had to get rid of it.

The chemical smells like rotten eggs and is harmless in small quantities. However, large quantities can cause convulsions and even lung paralysis. 

The board of inquiry found that except for certain details, the claims about the mercaptan case made in the local media since mid-September 2011 “are basically and generally correct.”

The report stipulates, among other things: “There had evidently been serious shortcomings in decisions and actions by Enemalta at different stages of the mercaptan events. However these should not be seen in isolation of the context and circumstances in which they took place. While not considered as justification, it is appreciated that there were several factors that may provide a fairer understanding and appreciation of the situations and dilemmas faced by the Enemalta management re. this case.”

Mr Mizzi said yesterday that the minister should act sensibly and resign. He pointed out that in reply to a parliamentary question made by Mr Brincat in February 2011, the minister said Enemalta no longer uses mercaptan. “A consignment that arrived about four years ago has been used up,” Mr Fenech had said.

Mr Mizzi and Mr Brincat, who have both been following the case closely, said the minister misled parliament, and this is one of the reasons why the inquiry should have been independent of the ministry.

Referring to the fact that possible criminal action is time-barred, Mr Mizzi said there was enough time to take action. The minister failed to testify before the board of inquiry, even though he was the person who had the most to say about the matter, said Mr Mizzi.

“I was asked to say where I got the information from – something I refused to do. It is clear that the investigation was aimed at covering up for certain people.”

Mr Brincat, on his part, noted that the board of inquiry’s report is dated December 2011. In a parliamentary question he made in February this year, Mr Brincat asked why the ministry was waiting for Enemalta’s official reaction before publishing the board of inquiry’s report and requested that the report be immediately tabled in Parliament.

In his reply, the minister only confirmed that he was waiting for the Enemalta board’s official reaction, as well as a decision regarding the need or otherwise for disciplinary action to be taken against any officials.

Mr Brincat went on to observe that Enemalta’s reply to the minister was dated 23 March 2012, but it was only tabled in parliament three days ago.

“Why did the minister have to wait so long to finally present the board of inquiry’s report together with Enemalta’s reply? Who is going to shoulder administrative and political responsibility?”

About six months ago, Mr Brincat asked the minister to table the Malta Environment and Planning Authority authorisation (including the selected site) for the mercaptan to be burnt, but he was told that the investigation first had to be concluded. 

He spoke about the conclusion to the board of inquiry’s report, likening it to the happy ending of a fairytale: “The report states that ‘all is well that ends well’, but what about the inherent risks of the matter?”

Referring to the board of inquiry’s statement that Enemalta found itself in a perceived emergency situation, Mr Brincat asked whether this could possibly be considered as a justification.

The Labour MP also observed that from 2008 onwards, mercaptan was classified as waste. In this respect, he said, Waste Management Regulations were breached, and WasteServ’s role in the matter was negligible.

This case demonstrates that the corporation deals with heath and safety in a very light manner, said Mr Brincat, adding that this is a typical case of a government that failed to lead by example in such a sensitive issue such as environmental health, said Mr Brincat.

Meanwhile, the finance ministry said in a statement that the government had ordered an inquiry into the mercaptan case because it wanted to ensure a strong sense of transparency. This was why Mr Fenech had ordered an independent inquiry in line with the Inquiries Act (Chapter 273) by a purposely appointed board.

The board of inquiry’s report relates to events that took place in 2009, at a time when Mr Fenech was not responsible for Enemalta, said the ministry, adding however, that the report clearly shows that the minister responsible at the time (Austin Gatt) was not informed about the mercaptan case.

The ministry added that Mr Fenech had apologised about the wrong information given in parliament. The minister had also asked Enemalta’s management to implement a number of measures, which are mentioned in the corporation’s chairman’s letter to the minister, which is attached to the board of inquiry’s report.

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