The Malta Independent 7 June 2023, Wednesday
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The unsung heroes at the NAO

Kevin Cassar Sunday, 26 March 2023, 08:48 Last update: about 3 months ago

Never have so many owed so much to so few. Against all odds, the diligent quiet officials at the National Audit Office (NAO) worked tirelessly, overcoming Labour’s obstruction, stonewalling and hostility.

Despite all the spokes in their wheels, they produced detailed objective reports that exposed the obscene rottenness of Joseph Muscat. The Vitals NAO reports provided all the evidence required for the court to nail Muscat.  Huge chunks of the NAO’s reports were included verbatim in the court’s sentence. Without the NAO’s forensic investigation and damning reports, that precious judgment could never have been reached.  Those hospitals would never return to the people.

Joseph Muscat deceitfully brags that he welcomes all investigations and that he’s not afraid of anything. So why did he conceal that Memorandum of Understanding signed with the group of businessmen later to form Vitals? Muscat didn’t welcome the NAO’s officers then. He did everything in his power to hinder their work.  He actively thwarted their efforts to discover the truth. That MOU would not be revealed until well after Muscat stepped down.  Government officials claimed the MOU was lost. The NAO was compelled to issue its first Vitals report without access to it. When it was eventually found at Malta Enterprise the NAO had to issue an addendum stating “despite the numerous requests made, very limited information and no copy of the agreement were provided to the NAO”.

Muscat also hid the negative due diligence report on Vitals from the NAO.  Muscat knew of “the critical risks flagged” by that due diligence exercise but still opted to persist with his negotiations with Vitals.

On 9 March 2016 the Attorney General provided advice to Muscat relating to the Vitals deal. Despite repeated requests to the OPM, that advice was not given to the NAO. Muscat claimed it couldn’t be traced.

The second Vitals NAO report issued a categorical condemnation of Muscat’s government and its devious attempts to frustrate the NAO’s work. “The NAO was unable to audit the process of negotiations held between Government and VGH as information made available was severely limited.”

Muscat falsely claimed “I not only welcome, but I encourage whatever investigation there might be about the concession…. Because I want all the facts to be known.” The NAO proved the opposite.

Muscat stubbornly concealed the facts.  He “severely limited” information to the NAO. “As a result, it was not possible for this Office to understand how key changes to the concession came about, the precise role played by those involved in negotiations and whether critical changes were appropriately endorsed”.

Muscat never lifted a finger to compel Konrad Mizzi to meet NAO officials.  He knew Mizzi had simply refused to meet them.  “Of grave concern to the NAO were the futile attempts made by this Office to meet with the Hon. Konrad Mizzi. Despite several requests for meetings sent by this Office, these remained unaddressed.” Muscat and Mizzi strived assiduously so that no part of their dastardly plans would be revealed.

Muscat is not afraid of anything, he claims. But he was terrified of the NAO, of their unshowy, understated competence. The dishonest narcissistic egomaniac boasts of welcoming scrutiny.  He’s just bluffing. The conscientious silent officials of the NAO stole his fire.  They’ve exposed his devious secrecy, his immoral efforts at undermining the NAO investigations and his warped attempts to conceal the truth.

Muscat is distorting the findings of the NAO and the conclusions of their reports.  Don’t let him fool you. Muscat blocked the NAO at every stage - for good reason.

Muscat put Nexia BT on the adjudication committee.  He appointed BEAT Ltd CEO and Konrad Mizzi’s childhood friend, David Galea, as chairman of the Negotiation committee.  Mizzi’s personal lawyer Aaron Mifsud Bonnici sat on that committee. Mifsud Bonnici and Galea also played key roles in the rotten Electrogas megadeal, the ITS transfer to Silvio Debono’s DB group, and the Montenegro windfarm scandal.  But no letters of appointment or declarations of conflict of interest for the members of the Steering Committee were provided to the NAO despite several requests.

Documentation of the negotiation committee’s dealings with Vitals was not provided to the NAO either. This “immediately gave rise to the NAO’s gravest concern”. The complete “dearth of records” constrained the NAO to establish what happened based solely on the “recollections of those involved”.

The NAO concluded that “the role played by the negotiation committee, remained opaquely concealed”.  The NAO highlighted the “covert role of the OPM in negotiations”.  The real truth exposed by the NAO was that “VGH resorted to the intervention of the OPM to push forward its interest, bypassing the Minister for Health”. Muscat was protecting the interests of Vitals and not of Malta. Armin Ernst was communicating with Keith Schembri, behind Fearne’s back.

Mizzi’s and Muscat’s co-ordinated attempts to impede the NAO should have been enough to trigger police investigations into the highly suspect Vitals, Electrogas and DB ITS deals. The NAO didn’t have the power to seize computers, documents, mobile phones and data storage devices.  It couldn’t raid Muscat’s offices and homes. The police had those powers. But the police didn’t lift a finger.

The NAO, despite its severe restrictions and limited powers, produced masterpieces. Against all odds and co-ordinated attacks against its officials, the NAO pursued its work. NAO officials were publicly “exposed” in order to intimidate them.  Labour Ministers used their parliamentary privilege to attack NAO officials. They were accused of partisanship, political motivation and of following an agenda. The party that “respects the institutions” obstructed, impeded and attacked the NAO with one sole objective - to stop the truth emerging.

Far from welcoming scrutiny, Muscat blocked the NAO at every turn. The NAO wasn’t put off.

The nation owes a debt of gratitude to the NAO and its officials - for their courage, determination and sense of duty in the face of personal threats and intimidation.


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