The Malta Independent 26 September 2021, Sunday

‘Intimate relationships’ between businessmen, politicians ‘not okay’ - Chamber president

Albert Galea & Giuseppe Attard Thursday, 5 August 2021, 09:19 Last update: about 3 months ago

Close relationships which could lead to favouritism between businessmen and politicians are “not okay”, Chamber of Commerce President Marisa Xuereb told The Malta Independent when asked about the business-related findings from the Daphne Caruana Galizia public inquiry.

Xuereb said that while it is important for there to be communication between the business sector and politicians – as long as it is done in “the right forum, and in a healthy and transparent manner – what’s “not okay” is for businesspeople to have an “intimate” relationship with politicians.

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“What I mean by this is when there is a relationship which favours one particular businessman over all the others operating in the same sector.  I think this is what opens the door for a lot of abuse, and corruption”, she said.

Xuereb was asked by this newsroom about the conclusions reached by the public inquiry board which looked into whether Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder could have been prevented. 

Amongst a number of conclusions – the main one being that the state should be held responsible for the journalist’s death due to its fostering of a climate which allowed it to take place – the board noted how the relationship between the business sector and the government was far too cosy.

They called for legislative reform which would regulate the relationship between the public administration and businesspeople, and for the eradication of the culture of “favours” and hidden and secret negotiations.

Although it was not referenced when questioning Xuereb, her words also come at a time of increased scrutiny after new details of chats between Yorgen Fenech – a businessman but also the alleged mastermind behind the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder – and Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis emerged.

Asked whether she felt that it was wrong for businesspeople to have such a close relationship with politicians, Xuereb said that one must understand the function of each of these people: the businessperson’s aim is to find ways of generating wealth, creating jobs, of investing in new projects in the country, while the politician’s aim is to create the right environment for the country to thrive, including economically.

“By virtue of the two functions, there is some scope for the two to have a conversation, and I think it is important that we appreciate that when this type of conversation happens in the right forum, in a healthy and transparent manner – then it is a good conversation to be had for both and, even for the country as a whole”, Xuereb explained.

Any businessman “in his right mind” would say that intimate relationships with politicians are not okay, Xuereb said before adding that corruption in business can be found in both big and small businesses – even if most are not in actual fact corrupt.

Those who are not corrupt, she said, are the ones disadvantaged by practices which favour those who are closest to the political class, she said.

“Often you get very good businessmen who say that they won’t participate in a tender bid, because they know that it has been released and written for someone specific.  These are things which damage the country in the long-term not only because you have some businesses growing quicker than others, but also the country is losing out if it is spending public money on someone who is not the best bidder”, she said.

Asked if she thinks that there will be potentially long-lasting effects as a result of the inquiry board’s conclusions and recommendations, Xuereb said that she believes that there will be but hopes that they will be in the right direction and towards minimising unfair practices.

She said that it is important that the long-lasting effect does not see the whole business community “demonised.”

“It would be very, very damaging for the country if we ended up demonising all businessmen – or even all politicians.  There are politicians who have acted inappropriately, but we cannot paint them all with the same brush – I believe that we still have some genuine politicians”, Xuereb concluded.

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