The Malta Independent 24 September 2021, Friday

Public inquiry board ‘surprised’ to learn former finance minister ‘not involved’ in Electrogas deal

Kevin Schembri Orland Sunday, 1 August 2021, 09:15 Last update: about 3 months ago

The public inquiry board that was looking into the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia said they were very surprised to learn that the Finance Minister at the time, Edward Scicluna, was not involved in the negotiation of the Electrogas deal for the new power station at Delimara.

Earlier this week, the inquiry report was published, showing that the board found that the Maltese State “has to bear responsibility” for the assassination due to the culture of impunity that emanated from the highest levels of government.

ADVERTISEMENT

 

During the course of the public inquiry hearings, many people testified, ranging from politicians to police officers and a lot of information came to the fore.

 

Among the issues brought up during the proceedings was the concentration of power.

 

The board noted how then Education Minister Evarist Bartolo had spoken of the existence of two levels of government, and also noted the ‘kitchen cabinet’ statement brought up by then Finance Minister Edward Scicluna. The board noted that Minister Scicluna felt cast aside by the situation.

Scicluna, during his testimony, had said that everyone knew of the “closeness” between Keith Schembri and Joseph Muscat, to the extent that they were almost one and the same, a team. Regarding the power plant and hospital deals, the former minister said that Konrad Mizzi was also with them.

The report read that Muscat had tried to give the board the impression that his government used to call Cabinet meetings regularly and that no minister, nor anyone else, had ever suggested that there was a ‘kitchen cabinet’, or a restricted group of people. He admitted that his team consisted of people who were not ministers, but who were part of his secretariat, the board said, foremost amongst whom was Keith Schembri, “who was the driving force.” Muscat said that his Chief of Staff’s role was the same as those in similar roles under other various administrations, it added.

Muscat’s declarations were contradicted by various witnesses and evidence which illustrated the immense power Schembri wielded, the board said.

The board stated that the concentration of power in the hands of persons who are not democratically elected and, who therefore, are not accountable to the electorate, can easily lead to an abuse of power and a sense of impunity.

The board said that it is not within its remit to judge on the validity of Muscat’s style of government, but what is relevant is whether this style was such as to permit a small clique of people to abuse their power in order to enrich themselves unjustly to the detriment of the country. “More so, if this style of leadership was one that gave them the expectation to profit unjustly from large government projects, they would have felt threatened by Daphne Caruana Galizia’s investigative journalism. Journalism that could have prejudiced their profits and exposed their malice, as in fact happened.”

The board said that Muscat, in collaboration with Schembri, took a political decision to retain control and supervision of all aspects involving economic development that involved substantial capital investment, while excluding those ministers who would normally be expected to be involved. This decision characterised the leadership methods which in itself are not contrary to good governance, provided that the administration acts in good faith, with due respect to all applicable rules, including transparency and accountability.

Remarking on Cabinet, the board noted that while Cabinet is not expected to know many details regarding the implementation of policy, which is the responsibility of the PM and ministers that the policy concerns, Cabinet has to be in a position to exercise control over government at all times, which can only be done if it is well informed about the essential points and guidelines of how government wanted to implement policy and participate in decisions regarding them.  In this regard, the board raised concerns about serious failures in the style of governance which concentrated power in the hands of the few, beyond the legitimate and with a sense of impunity, which emptied the Cabinet of its ability to exercise control over the government in respect of the projects implemented by these few.

The board also gave examples of how ministers were not involved in projects which fell under their remit. It noted that the Education Minister at the time does not appear to have been involved in the negotiations of the AUM project, which was promoted as the biggest educational investment in the country. The then Parliamentary Secretary for Health was also not involved in the privatisation process of parts of the health service, and the transfer of hospitals to VGH, the inquiry report read. However, in the case of the Electrogas project, the board noted that the minister responsible, Konrad Mizzi, was involved, but was very surprised that the Finance Minister wasn’t. This, especially due to the amount of expenditure it required and that it was going to have a crucial impact on the country’s economy and finances.

 

  • don't miss