The Malta Independent 22 October 2020, Thursday

TMIS Editorial: PN due diligence – what was the point?

Sunday, 20 September 2020, 10:30 Last update: about 1 month ago

The due diligence exercise carried out by a specially-appointed panel into the personal and financial affairs of the two PN leadership contenders – Adrian Delia and Bernard Grech – leaves much to be desired.

After a six-week period of scrutiny, the panel presented its report to the party, listing its findings and highlighting its concerns. The Nationalist Party announced that both candidates had passed the test, but the actual report does not specifically state this.

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Instead, it raises a number of questions, particularly with regard to Delia, while the panel strongly suggested that, due to a number of factors, it could not fulfil its duties properly.

The panel said it was limited by three factors: access to information, lack of resources and time.

With regard to access to information, it pointed out that it does not have the power to request certain data, so it had to rely on the info provided by the contenders. It said it was unable to access “key” data, whilst the provision of incomplete or inaccurate data (by the contenders) would also have impacted heavily on the conclusions.

On the lack of resources, it said it could not engage third party experts to verify the data and the “veracity” of certain claims, or to employ assistants to help with the research.

The panel also complained that, while it may seem like an adequate timeframe, six weeks are not enough time to carry out proper due diligence on someone who could end up being a Prime Minister of Malta.

In light of this, we find it hard to understand how the PN accepted the report and its conclusions, rather than grant the panel more time and resources to carry out its function properly.

The panel looked into several allegations that have been haunting Adrian Delia for the past three years.

On Delia’s Jersey bank account allegations, the panel concluded that, should these be proven true, Delia would certainly not be fit to hold political office. If they turn out to be false, then his reputation would have been unjustly tarnished.

Over another allegation, that he had a dispute with a former client after charging him a “success fee” after helping him secure a bank loan, the panel said the process is, at best, “ethically dubious.”

On the ‘kidnapping’ of a Birkirkara FC footballer, the panel said the situation could have been handled much better.

It also looked into the alleged WhatsApp messages exchanged between Delia and Yorgen Fenech at a time when the former had already been outed as the owner of 17 Black. The panel said that such communications should have been “terminated abruptly” after the revelation, something which Delia did not do.

Should these claims turn out to be true, it would prove a “serious lack of judicious behaviour” by Delia and would undermine his credibility and that of the party he leads in its fight against corruption, the panel said.

There is also the small matter of the €600,000 debt Delia has, and which he has to repay on an Opposition Leader’s salary.

Delia also declared that he has tax balances due, as well as interest and charges on the balance due, with the panel noting that politicians should lead by example when it comes to paying taxes in a timely manner.

With regard to Bernard Grech, the panel referred to recent reports that he had failed to submit his tax returns and pay tax on time.  It noted that Grech had been requested to settle tax dues going back several years, and only did so in August of this year.

The odd thing is that, in its conclusions, the panel did not actually say that Grech and Delia had passed the due diligence test.

When analysing the report, one can see that the panel highlighted several shortcomings, particularly with regard to Adrian Delia, and chastised both candidates for failing to pay their taxes in a timely manner but stopped there.

It did not say that this made them unfit to contest the election, or, likewise, that this did not preclude them from doing so. It just stated the facts and left it at that.

If anything, it further exposed their wrongdoings and highlighted potential future scandals without actually declaring that they are fit or unfit to stand for the election.

Furthermore, its complaints about a lack of time and resources leave one wondering whether more problems would have been found had the panel been given more time and personnel.

In view of all of the above, we cannot but ask: What was the point of this entire exercise?

 

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