The Malta Independent 19 May 2022, Thursday

Who are you kidding?

Kevin Cassar Sunday, 8 May 2022, 09:39 Last update: about 12 days ago

The EU finally cracked the funding whip. Hungary is threatened with cuts to EU funds for law violations and human rights infringements. Foremost amongst Orban’s sins, was his corrupt award of a multi-million euro lighting contract to his own son-in-law István Tiborcz. Hungary was forced to pay back 40 million euro it received in EU funding.

Hungary now faces the ultimate threat. Fix your rule-of-law problems or you can kiss your EU funds goodbye. The EU has lost its patience.

The Commission listed Hungary’s main transgressions - “systemic irregularities, deficiencies and weaknesses in public procurement procedures”, “unusually high percentage of contracts awarded in single-bidder competitions and funneling of contracts to specific companies that grabbed large market shares as a result”, and “limitations to effective investigation and prosecution of alleged criminal activity”.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because it is. Malta has been doing exactly the same. The EU’s warning applies to Malta too.

But Labour’s MEPs live in a different planet. Asked whether this could happen to Malta, Alex Agius Saliba rubbished the possibility. How could it when “Malta has been praised by the Commission for reforms to strengthen the rule of law?” he commented. Cyrus Engerer bragged that Malta has taken “great strides when it comes to strengthening governance structures, the rule of law and is a benchmark of human rights”.

Days earlier the Council of Europe published a report “Defending Press Freedom in times of tension and conflict”. Under the section ‘Impunity’ it noted that the Caruana Galizia inquiry and Yorgen Fenech’s indictment were “milestones” that “were the result of a painful and painstaking battle and do not guarantee justice”. It highlighted that “persistent delays and administrative obstacles to the judicial processes demonstrate fundamental weaknesses in Malta’s commitment to open and equal justice”. Far from a benchmark of human rights then.

The report raised concerns that Robert Abela selected the Committee of experts without consultation.  It lamented that he “did not publish terms of reference for selection of candidates, did not openly consult civil society and did not respond to a letter seeking clarification”.

One week before European Chief Prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi spent two days in Malta trying to figure out who was fighting financial crimes.  She bemoaned the fact that nobody could provide straight answers. “It was very difficult for me to identify the institution responsible to detect crimes because all of them said ‘it’s not me, it’s them’ - and when I visited them they said ‘it’s not us, it’s them’”. Malta she concluded was only supporting her office “with words but not with facts”. Malta has not presented one single actionable report of EU funds fraud, leading Kovesi to conclude “abuse is going unchecked”.

After abysmally failing the European prosecutor’s test, the FIAU mounted a pathetic defence insisting it had gone “into great detail” with the EU chief prosecutor.

The biggest irony was Edward Zammit Lewis’ op-ed “On the side of rule of Law”.  “The Abela administration was able to sustain these foundations even in challenging times and build the fourth pillar, that of the rule of law” he wrote. In the pretentious bombastic hyperbole worthy of ONE news he declared “This administration has achieved major victories in our efforts to uphold the rule of law”.

What rule of law? When Minister Anton Refalo is found with a historical artefact in his garden and no action taken? When Keith Schembri announces he is back as CEO of Kasco holdings? While his money laundering charges with Brian Tonna, backhanders for Adrian Hillman, letters handed to Yorgen Fenech to incriminate Chris Cardona in Caruana Galizia’s murder wait? While magisterial inquiries on the Panama papers, the hospitals’ concession agreement drag on for years? While Konrad Mizzi’s communication with Yorgen Fenech and the millions that landed in 17-Black’s accounts from the notorious Mozura wind farm remain uninvestigated? While Joseph Muscat picks up thousands of euro from Accutor AG which was paid millions by Steward on the day it took over Vitals’ concession? While Schembri and Mizzi are banned from the US due to “their involvement in significant corruption” and “corrupt acts that included using their political influence and official power for their personal benefit”? Or while the Prime minister strikes a deal over a plot of land in Zabbar with an alleged money launderer and kidnapper? Or when Robert Abela acquires a sprawling property at rock bottom price within days of sanctioning of multiple illegalities? Who are you kidding Zammit Lewis?

This is the man who brazenly denied “any relationship” with Yorgen Fenech but had been exchanging hundreds of grovelling messages with the business tycoon. This is the man who promised to provide evidence that he paid for his lavish family holiday at Yorgen Fenech’s Evian-les-Bains Hilton in the French Alps - but never did.

“I am once again determined to keep working harder with the PM to continue to safeguard Malta’s reputation abroad”, Zammit Lewis concluded. Unfortunately for Zammit Lewis and fortunately for Malta, the PM was less keen to work with him - and dumped him.

Zammit Lewis had done Malta enough reputational damage abroad. When the Council of Europe legal affairs committee declared Malta’s implementation of its recommendations on the rule-of-law “fundamentally unsatisfactory” and Malta’s response to ending high level corruption “entirely unsatisfactory”, Zammit Lewis resorted to puerile accusations. “No political agenda or person will undermine our resolve”.

While Labour’s MEPs and former ministers bluff about Malta’s “unprecedented” rule of law reforms, independent observers are unimpressed.

The latest European Commission report on the rule of law in Malta (2021) highlighted that “serious challenges remain as regards the efficiency of the justice system”, “investigations continue to be lengthy and a track record of convictions in high level cases remains to be established” - in plain English, you haven’t convicted a single corrupt official or politician for years.

It seems Labour’s bluff doesn’t work that well with the European commission.


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