The Malta Independent 22 October 2020, Thursday

Opposition presents motion for a public inquiry into controversial Electrogas deal

Karl Azzopardi Wednesday, 14 October 2020, 17:23 Last update: about 7 days ago

The Opposition group has submitted a parliamentary motion for a public inquiry to be launched into the controversial Electrogas deal, after previous calls for the Prime Minister Robert Abela to do so fell on deaf ears.

During a press conference on Wednesday, new PN and Opposition leader Bernard Grech said that there are a number of allegations that tie Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder with the Electrogas power station. Additionally, because of this deal, consumers are paying higher electricity bills - €91 million more per year, he said.

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“The PM has continuously hidden behind the excuse that he was not PM when the deal was signed but we all know that he was former PM Joseph Muscat’s consultant. Families do not care about whose fault it is. They care about justice and not being robbed because of its government’s corruption.”

He said that the PM has a choice to accept this motion or do what is expected of him, in the best interest for our nation, and ask his parliamentary group to support this motion.

“We have heard a chain of excuses during the Caruana Galizia murder public inquiry to try to justify their decision to side with former Chief of Staff Keith Schembri and former Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi. Now we are giving them the chance to come to the good side once again.”

PN MP Ryan Callus outlined the basis on why there is enough evidence to back up the need for this public inquiry.

Firstly, he mentioned Muscat’s visit to Azerbaijan, alongside Schembri and Mizzi, where a deal was signed in secret for Enemalta to buy gas from Electrogas, which buys gas from SOCAR, Azerbaijan’s main gas provider. “This is costing us more money than it would have cost us if we went directly to the suppliers.”

Callus also mentioned the Panama Papers and 17 Black, owned by alleged murder mastermind Yorgen Fenech. Additionally, the evaluation of the deal was managed by the managing Director of Nextia BT, who was simultaneously the auditor of GEM, which also had a share in Electrogas.

The never before seen €360 million bank guarantee, which would be paid from public finances, was cited as another reason behind the motion.

Callus also mentioned that the clause which ties Enemalta with Electrogas is such that the former is bound to buy from the latter even when it would be cheaper to use the interconnector, which is a slap in the face for all utility bills.

“We paid in excess of €10 million in the first 35 weeks alone, so imagine the figures now.”

He also mentioned the €40 million in tax which Mizzi exempted Electrogas from paying, as well as the €18 million in damages which Electrogas is facing due to missing its 2-year deadline.

Government has refused to publish the entire contract, there was more black than white, he said, referring to the highly controversial approach that the government took in publishing the agreement.

Callus added that the Auditor General had mentioned that certain conditions in the tender had been changed prior to make it more favourable for Electrogas. Finally, he said that there was no cost-benefit analysis on whether, once the Electrogas building was completed, the contract should remain in Electorgas’ hands or fall under the remit of Enemalta.

PN MP Karol Aquilina then explained why this motion is necessary and the conditions on which the inquiry should be opened. 

Primarily, the PM is being requested to appoint an inquiry board within 15 days after the motion is approved.

He explained that the inquiry is being told to examine any direct or indirect processes related to Electrogas, to note any abuses that might have taken place and identify who was aware or was supposed to be aware of these abuses. “We also want the inquiry board to give its own recommendations for certain changes in governmental procedures.”

Aquilina mentioned that the inquiry board cannot be hand-picked by the PM – the members have to be chosen and approved through a two-thirds majority vote by the House of Representatives.

He said that this inquiry should be public since the Caruana Galizia public inquiry has shown the importance of such inquiries for extraordinary cases.

With regards to the duration of the public inquiry, the Opposition is not imposing a timeframe as this should be decided by the inquiry board itself. However, the resulting report should be passed to the Speaker of the House and later be published, except for anything the inquiry board might not wish to publicise.

Grech explained that this motion comes after he gave the PM a week to open a public inquiry himself during their first cordial meeting which saw them butting heads on several issues.

"The Prime Minister heard me, but it does not seem that he understood what I was telling him. He again refused to launch a public inquiry. It seems that the Prime Minister forgot that there is an Auditor General's report that indicates that there are serious failures in the contract. I believe that we are duty bound to ensure that such a public inquiry take place,” Grech had said.

The power station has long been under scrutiny, with several corruption allegations centered around it. It suffered another blow in September when one of the shareholders – Gasan Enterprises – announced that it wanted out of the deal.

 

 

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