Edward Scicluna: bla boċċi

Ix-xhieda ta’ Edward Scicluna f’nofs il-ġimgħa fl-inkjesta dwar l-assassinazzjoni ta’  Daphne Caruana Galizia hi offensiva u triegħex. Mix-xhieda tiegħu stess Scicluna joħroġ bħala Ministru tal-Finanzi  bla sinsla, dgħajjef u beżżiegħ: inkapaċi li jkun deċiżiv fil-konfront tal-abbuż. B’riżultat ta’ dan  spiċċa jiċċertifika lilu nnifsu bħala  li mhux kapaċi jerfa’ fuq spallejh r-responsabbiltajiet ta’ Ministru.

F’dan kollu mexa fuq il-passi tal-kollega tiegħu il-Ministru tal-Affarijiet Barranin Evarist Bartolo. Fl-istess inkjesta, Bartolo, xehed ix-xahar l-ieħor meta qal li kien jippreferi strateġija ta’ sopravivenza: li jsalva l-ħajja politika tiegħu biex ikun possibli li jkompli l-ġlieda politika “fil-futur”. Dan qalu meta kien rinfaċċat bin-nuqqas ta’ azzjoni konkreta min-naħa tal-Gvern (li minnu hu kien u għadu jifforma parti) fil-konfront tal-involviment tal-eks-Ministru Konrad Mizzi u l-eks-Chief of Staff tal-Prim Ministru Joseph Musca,t Keith Schembri, fl-iskandlu magħruf bħala Panama Papers.

Il-kaz ta’ Edward Scicluna mhux  wieħed iżolat. Il-qarrejja jiftakru s-seduta ta’ smigħ ta’  Leo Brincat fl-2016 fil-Parlament Ewropew meta ġie mgħarbul mill-Kumitat tal-Budget in vista tan-nominazzjoni tiegħu biex ikun jifforma parti mill-Qorti Ewropea tal-Awdituri.  Meta, in vista tad-dikjarazzjonijiet tiegħu kien ippressat għal tweġiba mill-Membri tal-Parlament Ewropew dwar il-għala ma rreżenjax, Leo Brincat kien wieġeb li ma kellu l-ebda xewqa li jkun “eroj għal ġurnata biex imbagħad, wara jispiċċa f’baħħ politiku”.

Edward Scicluna quddiem l-inkjesta qal : “għalfejn għandi nirreżenja jien, meta hu ħaddieħor li għamel il-ħażin?” Żied jgħid li hu “daħal fil-politika biex jagħti servizz” u dan minkejja li kien komdu Brussel bħala Membru tal-Parlament Ewropew b’salarju ta’  €100,000.

Li jagħti l-pariri lil Joseph Muscat biex jiddistakka ruħu mill-impatti tal-iskandlu tal-Panama Papers mhux biżżejjed.  Edward Scicluna kien bla dubju jaf, anke kif jirriżulta mix-xhieda tiegħu, li dawk ta’ madwar Joseph Muscat kienu qed iduru mar-regoli biex jevitaw obbligi dwar trasparenza u kontabilità, u dan biex jilħqu l-għanijiet tagħhom.  Bħala Ministru tal-Finanzi Scicluna seta’, kieku ried, jaħsad ras dan l-abbuż mill-ewwel, bla ma jħallieħ jikber. Iżda minflok ipprefera jitfa’ ir-responsabbiltà fuq ħaddieħor: ipprova  jiddistakka ruħu biex jevita l-inkwiet u jibqa’ komdu.

Ir-responsabbiltajiet ta’ Edward Scicluna bħala Ministru tal-Finanzi imorru lil hinn milli jħejji l-budget bi stimi ta’ dħul u infieq. Għandu ukoll l-obbligu li jassigura li l-infieq tal-Gvern ikun wieħed trasparenti b’kontabilità sħiħa, u dan irrispettivament minn liema awtorità, Ministeru jew ċrieki madwar il-Prim Ministru jkunu fdati minn xi proġett speċifiku.

Il-Prim Ministru għandu l-obbligu li jmexxi bl-eżempju: għandu jassigura ruħu li kemm il-Kabinett tiegħu kif ukoll dawk kollha madwaru jimxu bi trasparenza u kontabiltà sħiħa. Jekk jonqos  milli jagħmel dan hu obbligu tal-membri kollha tal-Kabinett li jew jisfurzawh jaġixxi sewwa inkella li jirriżenjaw mill-Kabinett u jkomplu l-kritika tagħhom minn barra. Kull membru tal-Kabinett li jonqos li jaġixxi b’dan il-mod ikun kompliċi u responsabbli flimkien ma dawk li jkunu qed jabbużaw.

Dawk madwar il-Prim Ministru m’għandhomx jitħallew imexxu b’mod li jevitaw li jagħtu kont ta’ għemilhom u b’hekk iġibu fix-xejn il-ħidma tal-Parlament li kontinwament isus fuq it-trasparenza u l-kontabilità bla eċċezzjoni.

Hu irresponsabbli li Edward Scicluna issa jipprova jiddistakka ruħu pubblikament minn Joseph Muscat u dawk ta’ madwaru. Issa li Muscat m’għadux Prim Ministru hu faċli li jagħmel dan! Messu kellu l-boċċi li jaġixxi immedjatament li nduna x’kien għaddej.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 16 t’Awwissu 2020

Edward Scicluna has no balls

Edward Scicluna’s testimony, mid-week, during the inquiry into Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination is outrageous. Through his own testimony he depicts himself as a spineless Minister of Finance, weak, soft and cowardly, incapable of acting decisively in the face of abuse. As a result, he ends up certifying himself as not being capable to shoulder his responsibilities as a Minister.

In so doing he is following the lead of his colleague Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo. Bartolo, testifying in the same inquiry last month stated that rather than resign he preferred to politically survive to be able to fight another day.  He stated this when faced by his Government’s lack of concrete action on the direct involvement of former Minister Konrad Mizzi and Joseph Muscat’s Chief of Staff Keith Schembri in the Panama Papers and other irregularities.

Scicluna’s is not an isolated case. Readers will remember Leo Brincat’s hearing at the European Parliament in 2016 when he was scrutinised by its Budget Committee in relation to his nomination to form part of the EU Court of Auditors. When, in view of his statements, he was pressed for an answer by MEPs as to why he did not resign he had replied that he had no desire to be a “hero for a day and end up in the (political) wilderness thereafter”.

Edward Scicluna told the inquiry: “why should I resign if someone else did wrong?” He added that to “enter local politics to perform a job” he had left his comfort zone and a €100,000 job in Brussels as an MEP.

Advising Joseph Muscat to distance himself from the Panama Papers fallout is certainly not enough. Scicluna was definitely aware, even as evidenced in his own testimony, that Joseph Muscat’s Kitchen Cabinet was bypassing the system and as a result was avoiding transparency and accountability rules to better achieve “their aims”. As Finance Minister Scicluna could have nipped abuse in the bud but he did not, as he preferred to compartmentalise responsibilities and stay safe in his new comfort zone.

Scicluna’s responsibilities as Finance Minister amount to much more than budgeting for the necessary expenditure. Ensuring that all Government expenditure is transparent and fully accountable is his ultimate responsibility too, irrespective of which quango, Ministry (or Kitchen Cabinet member) is in charge of any specific project.

The Prime Minister has the duty to lead by example: he should ensure transparency and accountability in the workings of all his Cabinet members, including those in his Kitchen Cabinet. Whenever he fails to do so it is a duty of Cabinet members themselves to bring him to order or else to resign from Cabinet and take up the case in public. Any Cabinet Minister who fails to so act is an accomplice and collectively responsible for the resulting abuse.

No Kitchen Cabinet or shadow government should be allowed to run the country, continuously avoiding the checks and balances which, responsible parliaments set up to ensure that the taxes we pay are well spent.

It is irresponsible for Edward Scicluna to denounce Joseph Muscat’s Kitchen Cabinet now that he is no more Prime Minister. He should have had the balls to act immediately that he was aware of Muscat’s Kitchen Cabinet manoeuvres. The fact that he remained in his comfort zone signifies that he is as morally bankrupt as his colleagues in the now defunct Kitchen Cabinet.

Birds of a feather flock together.  

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 16 August 2020

Pétrus: minn Yorgen għal Joseph: u ejja, b’daqshekk x’ġara?

Il-politiċi għandhom iżommu distanza soċjali min-nies tan-negozju, u dan mhux biss waqt pandemija. Dan kien rappurtat li ntqal minn George Hyzler, il-Kummissarju tal-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika, iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, waqt seduta ta’ kumitat parlamentari li kien qed jiddiskuti r-rapport tiegħu dwar investigazzjoni li għamel fuq Joseph Muscat, ex-Prim Ministru. Ir-rapport ta’ Hyzler hu dwar ir-rigal li Joseph Muscat irċieva mingħand Yorgen Fenech li kien jikkonsisti fi tlett fliexken inbid prim, Château Pétrus, mingħand min hu presentement akkużat li kien il-moħħ wara l-assassinazzjoni ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Joseph Muscat mhux l-ewwel politiku li irċieva rigali kompromettenti. L-ex Ministru tal-Finanzi Tonio Fenech kien aċċetta rikba bla ħlas (bejn Malta u Madrid u lura) fuq jet privat flimkien ma żewġ negozjanti biex jara logħba futbal taċ-Champon’s League (l-Arsenal f’Madrid).  Tonio Fenech, li anke rċieva rigali kontroversjali oħra, dakinhar kien soġġett għal kritika qawwija, avolja l-kariga ta’ Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika ma kienitx teżisti!  Anke kellu l-barka tal-Prim Ministru ta’ dakinnhar, “ir-rett” Lawrence Gonzi. U ejja, b’daqshekk x’ġara?

Fl-2015 kellna ukoll il-każ tal-ex-Ministru tas-Saħħa  Joe Cassar li, kif kien sar magħruf, kien aċċetta numru ta’ rigali mingħand negozjant ieħor kontroversjali: Joseph Gaffarena. Dakinhar ukoll ma kellniex Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika, imma  Joe Cassar ħa deċiżjoni korretta u irreżenja wara li ammetta li żbalja. Cassar ma irrealizzax mill-ewwel bil-gravità ta’ dak li ġara. Imma fl-ebda ħin ma qal: u ejja, b’daqshekk x’ġara?

Meta dawk li jkollhom kariga politika jirċievu rigali li jiswew il-flus ikunu qed joħolqu sitwazzjoni li biha faċilment jikkompromettu l-kariga pubblika li jokkupaw. Il-posizzjoni kompromettenti tkun ferm iktar gravi jekk dak li jġib ir-rigal ikun jiddependi mill-politiku  minħabba deċiżjonijiet li jkunu għadhom pendenti, u ferm agħar jekk ikun jew tkun diġa ibbenefika minn deċiżjonijiet li diġa ttieħdu.

Nifhem li għal uħud mill-politiċi din tista’ tkun sitwazzjoni diffiċli ħafna, b’mod partikolari jekk il-politiku nvolut ma jkunx imdorri jaġixxi b’mod etiku saħansitra f’affarijiet żgħar li niffaċċjaw fil-ħajja ta’ kuljum.  L-imġieba etika mhiex switch li tixgħel jew titfi skond jekk tkunx attiv fil-politika jew le.  Il-politiku qiegħed taħt il-lenti pubblika u l-pubbliku, illum jew għada, jiskopri l-imġieba mhux korretta ta’ dak li jkun.  L-attitudni ta’ uħud ġeneralment hi rifless ta’ imġieba mhux etika li saret tant komuni fis-soċjetà tagħna: fil-professjonijiet, fin-negozju (żgħir u kbir), fis-servizzi, fis-settur pubbliku u f’kull qasam tal-ħajja ta’ kuljum. Is-soċjetà tagħna żviluppat attitudni ta’ “u ejja, b’daqshekk x’ġara?”. Kollox, jew kważi kollox jgħaddi.  Allura m’hemmx għalfejn nistgħaġbu jekk din l-attitudni hi riflessa ukoll f’dawk eletti f’karigi pubbliċi!

Ir-rapport dwar l-inbid Château Pétrus li Yorgen ta’ lil Joseph hu biss każ wieħed li spikka.  Bla dubju hemm kwantità ta’ każijiet ta’ għoti ta’ rigali lil politiċi konnessi ma’ deċiżjonijiet speċifiċi  inkella li kellhom impatt fuq il-proċess ta’ teħid ta’ deċiżjonijiet.  F’xi każi il-linja li tifred rigal minn  attentat ta’ korruzzjoni hi waħda fina ħafna. Il-parti l-kbira tal-każi imma, diffiċli li jkunu ppruvati.  Huwa għalhekk essenzjali li l-ftit każi li dwarhom hemm il-provi jittieħdu passi dwarhom.

L-uffiċċju tal-Kummissarju tal-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika hu essenzjali fil-bini tal-infrastruttura etika tant meħtieġa biex ikunu regolati dawk f’ħatriet politiċi.  Hu għal din ir-raġuni li kien hemm elf skuża u dewmien sostanzjali biex din il-kariga inħolqot.

Ir-rapporti tal-Kummissarju dwar l-Standards fil-Ħajja Pubblika dejjem ser ikunu kontroversjali. Waqt li wieħed jirrispetta l-ġudizzju tal-Kummissarju, huwa għandu jifhem li l-konsiderazzjonijiet tiegħu dejjem ser ikunu taħt il-lenti. Bħalissa, f’xi waqtiet jidher li qed joqgħod lura bħalma għamel fl-investigazzjoni riċenti dwar il-vjaġġ ta’ Joseph Muscat f’Dubai.

Dawn huma materji li dwarhom bħalissa għadna qed nitgħallmu. Anke l-Kummissarju dwar l-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika nnifsu għadu qed isib saqajħ f’mixja li forsi twassalna biex xi darba neliminaw mill-vokabolarju tagħna espressjonijiet bħal “u ejja, b’daqshekk x’ġara?”.

Kultant, imma, naħseb li diġa qegħdin tard wisq!

ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 26 ta’ Lulju 2020

Château Pétrus and the “anything goes” syndrome

Politicians should keep a social distance from big business, always, not only during a pandemic. This was reportedly stated by George Hyzler, the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life earlier this week during a parliamentary committee sitting, when discussing the contents of his report concluding an investigation of Joseph Muscat, former Prime Minister. Hyzler’s report dealt with the receipt by Joseph Muscat of a gift consisting of three bottles of the premier Bordeaux red wine, Château Pétrus, from Yorgen Fenech, entrepreneur, currently defending himself from the criminal charge of masterminding the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Joseph Muscat is not the first politician to receive such compromising gifts. Former Finance Minister Tonio Fenech had accepted a free ride to join a couple of entrepreneurs to watch an Arsenal Champion’s League match in Madrid on a private jet belonging to one of the entrepreneurs. Tonio Fenech, who also received other controversial gifts, was heavily criticised, even though unfortunately there was no Standards Commissioner to investigate back then! He even had the blessing of his boss, the sanctimonious Lawrence Gonzi.

In 2015 we also had the case of former Health Minister Joe Cassar who, it was revealed, had accepted a series of gifts from another controversial business man: Joseph Gaffarena. There was no Commissioner for Standards in Public Life then, but Joe Cassar took the right decision and resigned after publicly accepting that he had committed a serious error of judgement.

When holders of political office accept expensive gifts, they are placing themselves in a position which could easily compromise the public office which they occupy. The seriousness of the compromising situation created increases exponentially if the gift bearer is dependent on the holder of political office for decisions yet to be taken or worse, if he/she has already benefitted from decisions taken.

It is acknowledged that at times the holder of political office may be in a very awkward situation, especially if he is not accustomed to behaving ethically even in minor everyday matters. Ethical behaviour is not a switch-on/switch-off matter dependent on whether one is involved in politics. Holders of political office are under the glare of the public spotlight, which, sooner or later discovers their misdemeanours. Their attitude is however generally a reflection of the unethical behaviour prevalent throughout society: in the professions, in business, in all sectors of everyday life. Our society has developed an attitude that “anything goes”. Consequently, it is no wonder that this is also reflected in those elected to public office!

The Château Pétrus report is just one case which has made it to the headlines. There are undoubtedly countless of other cases of gifts to holders of political office which were the result of specific decisions or else had a material impact on decision-taking. In some cases, the gift bearing borders on corruption. Most of them are however difficult to identify or prove. It is hence imperative that action is taken in respect of the few provable cases.

The Office of the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life is an essential building block of the ethical infrastructure required for the regulation of holders of political office. For this specific reason, it took ages to be implemented with a multitude of excuses continuously piling up in order to justify substantial delays.   The reports of the Standards Commissioner will always be controversial. Whilst respecting his judgement he will undoubtedly realise that his considerations will always be subject to scrutiny as at times he appears to be applying excessive self-restraint as he has done in the investigation relative to the recent Muscat Dubai trip.

We are currently riding a steep ethical learning curve. Even the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life himself is on this ethical learning trip at the end of which it may be possible to consign the “anything goes” syndrome to the dustbin of history, even though at times it seems that it may be already too late!

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 26 July 2020

Messhom ilhom li nqaflu Kordin

Din kienet waħda minn dawk il-ġimgħat li kellu f’moħħu  Harold Wilson mexxej Laburista fir-Renju Unit meta kien emfasizza li fil-politika, ġimgħa hu perjodu twil ħafna.

Hemm żewġ ġrajjiet partikolari li spikkaw din il-ġimgħa. L-ewwel waħda hi d-determinazzjoni tal-Kap tal-PN Adrian Delia li jkisser il-partit li għadu jmexxi. It-tieni grajja hi r-rapport tal-Uffiċċju Nazzjonali tal-Verifika  (NAO) dwar il-konċessjoni mogħtija lil  Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) mill-Gvern Malti. Ir-rapport tal-NAO ikkonkluda li bejn il-Gvern u l-Vitals Global Healthcare kien hemm ftehim jew arranġamenti bil-moħbi, minn wara dahar kulħadd.

Kemm il-Partit Laburista fil-Gvern kif ukoll il-Partit Nazzjonalista fl-Opposizzjoni bħalissa huma fi stat ta’ taħwid kbir, li, kif qalet l-Assoċjazzjoni Maltija ta’ min Iħaddem f’nofs il-ġimgħa, jista’ jkollu impatti gravi li jwasslu għal kollass politiku u istituzzjonali. Il-Gvern Laburista ilu bi sħab ma dawk li jfittxu li jqaxxru il-kaxxa nazzjonali għal dawn l-aħħar seba’ snin. In-nuqqas ta’ Opposizzjoni Parlamentari li kapaċi taġixxi għamlitha iktar faċli mhux biss biex il-Labour jevita l-kontabilità imma fuq kollox biex ikompli jfittex opportunitjaiet ġodda  biex tkompli tinselaħ il-kaxxa ta’ Malta.

Konrad Mizzi u Joseph Muscat flimkien ma’ dawk li kienu jħufu madwarhom messhom ilhom li nqaflu Kordin: Konrad ta s-sehem tiegħu fil-ħolqien tal-opportunitajiet  mimlijin b’dellijiet ta’ korruzzjoni ta’ kull xorta u Joseph  li kontinwament ipproteġieh. Inkoraġġew stat Mafjuż. Dawk li jmexxu bil-kontijiet u kumpaniji fil-Panama b’dikjarazzjonijiet li ser ikunu f’posizzjoni li jiddepożitaw €5000 kuljum f’dawn il-kontijiet.

L-elezzjoni riċenti għat-tmexxija Laburista intilfet minn dawk li riedu jitfuhom ġewwa. Rebħet il-kampanja favur il-kontinwità: għax din kienet tagħti tama lil min kien jippreferi li tibqa’ l-protezzjoni.

L-investigazzjoni tan-NAO dwar il-kuntratti tal-Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) intalbet mill-Union Ħaddiema Magħqudin (UĦM). Ir-rapport hu intitolat “An audit of matters relating to the concession awarded to Vitals Global Healthcare by Government. Part 1: A review of the tender process.” Il-fatt li dan hu biss l-ewwel parti jfisser li għad hemm ħafna iktar informazzjoni li qed tistenna li tkun magħrufa.

Ir-rapport ta’ 219 paġna huwa wieħed dettaljat. Il-punt bażiku hu li saħansitra qabel mal-Gvern ħareġ is-sejħa għall-proposti (Request for Proposals) kien diġa ftiehem mal- Vitals Global Healthcare permezz ta’ ftehim sigriet li l-Gvern m’għaddiex kopja tiegħu lill-Ufficcju Nazzjonali tal-Verifika (NAO). Imma mill-verifika ħareġ li l-Vitals Global Healthcare, mas-sottomissjonijiet bi tweġiba għas-sejħa għall-proposti, ippreżenta ittra mill-Bank of India bħala garanzija li kellu aċċess għall-finanzi meħtieġa għall-“Malta Healthcare Project”. Din l-ittra, imma, kellha data li kienet ħmistax-il ġurnata qabel ma ħarġet is-sejħa tal-Gvern Malti dwar il-proġett.  L-eżistenza ta’ dan id-dokument wasslet lill-Uffiċċju Nazzjonali tal-Verifika (NAO) biex jikkonkludi li din kienet prova “of the VGH’s prior knowledge of the planned project and proof of collusion with Government, or its representatives.”

Din hi l-agħar kundanna possibli tal-proċess tax-xiri użat mill-Gvern u tat-tidwir mal-proċess li jitħaddem normalment taħt id-direzzjoni tad-Direttur tal-Kuntratti: responsabbiltà politika tal-Ministru tal-Finanzi Edward Scicluna.

Is-swaba’ kollha jippuntaw lejn Konrad Mizzi, issa konvenjentement imkeċċi mill-Grupp Parlamentari Laburista, u tal-protettur tiegħu Joseph Muscat. Imma Edward Scicluna ukoll għandu responsabbiltà politika għal dak li messu għamel u m’għamlux.

Wara kollox kien riċentement, nhar il-Ġimgħa  26 ta’ Ġunju 2020 li  Edward Scicluna, huwa u jirċievi ir-rapport annwali għall-2019 tal-Bord li jikkunsidra appelli minn deċiżjonijiet dwar tenders fis-settur pubbliku (Public Contracts Review Board – PCRB), emfasizza dwar il-ħtieġa li l-Ministeri differenti jeħtieġ li jieħdu ħsieb u jindukraw il-professjonisti fil-qasam finanzjarju tant meħtieġa biex jissorveljaw in-nefqa pubblika. Dakinnhar kien saħaq li l-pajjiż kien kommess għall-għola livelli ta’ kwalità.

Ir-rapport tal-Uffiċċju Nazzjonali tal-Verifika dwar il-Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) malajr qallu x’kienu dawn l-ogħla livelli ta’ kwalità li għalihom għandu responsabbiltà politika Edward Scicluna!

Il-Prim Ministru Robert Abela ipprova jdaħħaq meta qal li r-rapport dwar il-Vitals Global Healthcare mill-Uffiċċju Nazzjonali tal-Verifika kien prova ta’ kemm jaħdmu l-istituzzjonijiet.  Naħseb li l-iktar konklużjoni importanti li wieħed jista’ jislet mir-rapport hu li Joseph Muscat irnexxielu jittrasforma lill-Partit Laburista u l-Gvern immexxi minnu f’bejta tal-ħallelin: verżjoni moderna ta’ Ali Baba u l-erbgħin ħalliel. Il-fatt li Robert Abela ippreżenta ruħu bħala l-kandidat tal-kontinwità jfisser ħafna, għal min irid jifhem.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 12 ta’ Lulju 2020

Lock Them Up

This has been one of those weeks which former UK Labour leader Harold Wilson had in mind when he emphasised that a week is a long time in politics.

Two specific actions stick out. The first is the determination of PN Leader Adrian Delia to splinter the party, which he still leads, into insignificance. The second being the National Audit Office (NAO) report on the concession awarded to Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) by the Maltese Government. The NAO report concluded that there was collusive behaviour between government and Vitals Global Healthcare.

Both the Labour Party in government as well as the Nationalist Party in Opposition are in a state of a disorganised mess, which, as rightly pointed out by the Malta Employers Association mid-week, could easily lead to a political and institutional meltdown. The Labour Government has been in cahoots with those seeking to make a quick buck at the expense of the public purse for the past seven years. The absence of a Parliamentary Opposition worthy of the name has made it easier not just to avoid accountability but also to come back for more.

Konrad Mizzi and Joseph Muscat together with their accomplices should have been behind bars long ago: the former for directing the plundering of the public purse, the latter (at least) for protecting him. They have given rise to a Mafia state. Those who ought to govern plunder openly thereby transmitting the clear message that “crime pays”.

The recent contest for the Labour leadership was lost by those campaigning under the unofficial slogan “lock them up”. The continuity campaign won as it was the safest bet ensuring “more of the same”, or at least, the possible protection of what has been plundered.

The NAO investigation and the resulting report on the award of the contracts to Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) was requested by the trade union Union Ħaddiema Magħqudin (UĦM). The report is entitled “An audit of matters relating to the concession awarded to Vitals Global Healthcare by Government. Part 1: A review of the tender process.” The fact that this is just Part 1 indicates that there is much more waiting to be known.

The 219 page NAO report is quite detailed. The basic point raised is that even before it issued its “Request for Proposals” government had already agreed with Vitals Global Healthcare through a secret agreement which, for obvious reasons, it did not make available to the NAO. NAO however identified that VGH, in reply to the “Request for Proposals”, submitted a letter from the Bank of India as proof of access to finance for the “Malta Healthcare Project” which letter was dated fourteen days before the Request for Proposals was issued by the Maltese Government. The existence of this document led the NAO to conclude that this was definite evidence “of the VGH’s prior knowledge of the planned project and proof of collusion with Government, or its representatives.”

This is the most damning condemnation possible of the Government procurement process and the circumventing of the normal procurement process under the direction of the Director of Contracts: the political responsibility of Finance Minister Edward Scicluna.

Most fingers are pointing towards Konrad Mizzi, now conveniently dismissed from the Labour Parliamentary Group, and his protector Joseph Muscat. Edward Scicluna too, however, must shoulder political responsibility for acts of omission.

It was only as recent as Friday 26 June 2020 that Edward Scicluna, when receiving the 2019 Annual report of the Public Contracts Review Board (PCRB), emphasised the need for all government Ministries to nurture finance professionals to take adequate care of public expenditure. He had then emphasised that “the country is committed to the highest standards”.

The NAO in its VGH report has certified the real standards of the public procurement process under Edward Scicluna’s watch!

Prime Minister Robert Abela had the cheek to state that the NAO report is proof of the functioning of our institutions. Rather, I think the basic conclusion to be reached from the NAO VGH report is that Abela’s predecessor has successfully transformed the Labour Party into a modern version of Ali Baba and the forty thieves. The fact that Robert Abela is the “successful” continuity candidate speaks volumes.

published on the Malta Independent on Sunday : 12 July 2020

Il-bluff ta’ Yorgen

Kemm hu minnu li Yorgen Fenech kien jaf bid-data tal-elezzjoni ġenerali bikrija li Joseph Muscat sejjaħ f’Ġunju 2017 sa minn Diċembru 2016? Din mhiex informazzjoni li għandha naċċettaw mingħajr ma ngħarbluha. Hu faċli, wara li l-fatti jkunu seħħew, li tagħmel dikjarazzjonijiet ta’ din ix-xorta.

Din id-dikjarazzjoni ta’ Yorgen Fenech dwar li kien jaf bid-data tal-elezzjoni bikrija saret waqt l-interrogazzjoni tiegħu u saret pubblika mill-Ispettur Kurt Zahra iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa fil-Qorti. Milli ntqal mhux ċar kemm Zahra ta importanza lil din l-informazzjoni kif ukoll jekk din kienitx korraborata.

Dan il-bluff ta’ Yorgen, fil-fehma tiegħi, għandu skop wieħed u preċiż: li jsaħħaħ l-argument u “joħloq” il-provi li mhux hu kien il-moħħ wara l-assassinju ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Li toqgħod tilgħab b’din l-informazzjoni hu ħafna agħar milli ixxerred il-gideb. Forsi Jason l-avukat jirrealizza dan u jiġbed widnejn Jason il-Membru Parlamentari.

Dan il-bluff ta’ Yorgen jinkwadra f’dak li jaħsbu uħud: li Kastilja kienet involuta fl-ippjanar tal-assassinju ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia. Imma dan hu f’kunflitt ma’ informazzjoni oħra li kisbet l-investigazzjoni permezz tar-recordings ta’ Melvin Theuma: meta Yorgen Fenech, iffaċċjat b’elezzjoni ġenerali bikrija fil-bidu ta’ Mejju 2017 ta’ struzzjonijiet biex l-assassinju jkun sospiż. Sfortunatament uħud għandhom memorja qasira ħafna: illum jinsew dak li jkunu saru jafu fil-ġranet li għaddew!

Minkejja dan, naħseb li għadu kmieni biex naslu għal konklużjonijiet dwar min hu involut, apparti dawk li diġa qed iwieġbu għal għemilhom quddiem il-Qrati. Hu ovvju li Joseph Muscat ser jiċħad bil-qawwa kollha anke l-iktar konnessjoni remota mal-assassinju. M’għandniex nimpressjonaw ruħna għax f’dan l-istadju għadu kmieni u hu prudenti li ma neskludu xejn.

Yorgen kontinwament jitfa biċċiet żgħar ta’ informazzjoni biex iċaqlaq l-attenzjoni għal fuq ħaddieħor. Din il-ġimgħa kompla permezz tax-xhieda ta’ Keith Schembri. Schembri informa lill-Qorti kif sieħbu Yorgen ġieli qallu bil-krib ta’ Adrian Delia tal-PN biex jiffinanzjhom. Ma qal xejn imma dwar kemm ħareġ flus għall-Labour, apparti l-inbid Petrus lil Joseph, għax dak donnu hu ovvju u mistenni li fejn jidħol il-Labour idaħħal idu fil-but. Għaliex le, sakemm ikun fil-limiti ta’ dak permissibli?

Huwa u jwieġeb għall-mistoqsijiet tal-ispettur Keith Arnaud, Keith Schembri rrakkonta dak li qallu sieħbu Yorgen dwar kemm dejqu l-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni Adrian Delia għall-fondi. Il-flus, qal Schembri lill-Qorti, kien jiġborhom Pierre Portelli, sieħeb Delia, €20,000 kull darba. Kif kien mistenni kemm Delia kif ukoll Portelli b’mod immedjat u kategoriku ċaħdu dan kollu. Delia żied jiċħad li qatt talab finanzjament biex jipprova jixkana l-barra lil David Casa mis-siġġu fil-Parlament Ewropew. Dawn, imma, huma allegazzjonijiet li diġa konna smajnihom minn bnadi oħra.

Din hi informazzjoni li hi minnha jew inkellha hi informazzjoni żbaljata li d-duo Keith-Yorgen qed jisqu lill-inkjesta? Dan l-aħħar l-iskwadra tal-Pulizija dwar ir-reati ekonomiċi bħal donnha qamet mir-raqda u bdiet tinvestiga dan l-allegat finanzjament ta’ Delia minn Yorgen. Hu possibli li jkollna konklużjoni dwar x’daħal fis-sasla ta’ Delia malajr u dan minħabba li l-iskwadra dwar ir-reati ekonomiċi issa jidher li ser ikollha x’tagħmel għax ser teżamina xi rapporti li ħalliet jiġbru t-trab fil-passat qrib. Jista’ jkunu okkupati ftit fit-tul b’Konrad Mizzi li tul dan l-aħħar għalqu ftit għajnejhom mhux ħażin dwar dak li qed jingħad li għamel u ħawwad.

Konrad issa tkeċċa mill-Grupp Parlamentari tal-Partit Laburista wara li hu irrifjuta t-talba ta’ Robert Abela biex jirreżenja.

Din ma kienitx l-ewwel darba li fil-Partit Laburista kellhom diskussjoni taħraq dwar Konrad Mizzi. Imma din id-darba ma kienx hemm Joseph Muscat jiddefendieh.

Erba’ snin ilu Joseph Muscat kien irrifjuta li jkeċċi lil Konrad meta kien irriżulta li Konrad kien l-uniku Ministru fl-Unjoni Ewropeja li ssemma fil-Panama Papers. Minn dakinnhar l-iskandli assoċjati miegħu żdiedu biex issa hemm ukoll il-kaz tal-kummissjonijiet li tħallsu fuq it-tanker tal-gass li hemm Delimara, kif ukoll l-istejjer dwar il-kumpanija 17-Black. L-aħħar storja hi dwar l-imtieħen tar-riħ fil-Montenegro li bħala riżultat tagħha is-17-Black selħet madwar €5 miljuni profitti minn fuq dahar l-Enemalta, li għaliha kellu responsabbiltà politika Konrad Mizzi għal żmien twil.

B’dan it-tip ta’ transazzjonijiet il-kumpanija ta’ Yorgen Fenech 17-Black faċilment tilħaq il-miri tagħha biex tkun tista’ titrasferixxi €5000 kuljum fil-kumpaniji li n-Nexia BT waqqfet fil-Panama f’Marzu 2013.

Edward Scicluna, Ministru tal-Finanzi, qalilna li l-Gvern ma għandu l-ebda ħtija għal dan il-ħmieġ. Għandu żball: dawk kollha involuti ngħataw vot ta’ fiduċja wieħed wara l-ieħor. It-tort hu kollu kemm hu tal-Gvern!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 28 ta’ Ġunju 2020

Yorgen’s bluff

Did Yorgen Fenech really know the date of the early election called in June 2017 by Joseph Muscat as far back as December 2016? I would take that information with a pinch of salt.

It is quite easy to bluff your way after the fact. Yorgen Fenech’s declaration on knowing the date for the early election was made to Inspector Kurt Zahra during his interrogation.

It is not clear whether Inspector Kurt Zahra simply noted Yorgen’s bluff or else whether he succeeded in corroborating this with additional information. Yorgen’s bluff, in my view, had a specific purpose: to drive home the point that he was not the mastermind behind the assassination.

Spinning this is at times worse than spreading lies. Maybe Jason the lawyer should caution Jason the MP about this.

Yorgen’s bluff fits like a glove into one of the theories making the rounds: that the OPM was involved in the planning and commissioning of the assassination. However it is in conflict with other bits of information fed into the investigation through the Theuma recordings: the plans in motion for the assassination were suspended by Yorgen as soon as the early election was called in early May 2017.

This signifies that actually he had no prior knowledge! Unfortunately, some have a very short memory span: they tend to forget today what was reported the day before yesterday!

Notwithstanding, it is too early to arrive at conclusions as who is or isn’t involved beyond those already arraigned. It is to be expected that Joseph Muscat categorically denies even the remotest of connections to the assassination.

We should not however be impressed into conclusions either way at such an early stage. I would definitely not exclude anything at this stage.

Yorgen’s dripping titbits of information continued through Keith Schembri’s testimony this week. Schembri recounted how his friend Yorgen described the manner in which he financed the PN. No information is forthcoming as to whether and how he financed the PL: presumably this is taken for granted. Replying to questions fielded by police inspector Keith Arnaud, Keith Schembri recounted how he had been informed by his friend Yorgen Fenech as to funding requests by Adrian Delia, Leader of the Opposition.

Delia’s sidekick, Pierre Portelli, the Court was told, used to collect the monies €20,000 at a time. As expected, Delia and Portelli immediately and categorically denied this. Delia further denied that he had requested funding to squeeze out David Casa from his MEP seat. We have however already heard of these allegations from various other sources. Are they true, or is it just incorrect information being slowly fed into the investigation by the Yorgen-Keith tandem? The Police Economic Crimes Unit has recently done a Rip van Winkle and is investigating the possibility of Yorgen funding Delia’s PN.

It may be possible to have a conclusion on Adrian Delia’s collections quite soon as the Police Economic Crimes Unit may now be in a hurry as they may soon have to recall their Konrad Mizzi archives to act upon reports which they were too busy to examine appropriately in the recent past.

Konrad has now been kicked out of the Parliamentary Group of the Labour Party after refusing to act on Robert Abela’s suggestions to resign. The discussion within Labour earlier this week was not the first with Konrad as the target. This time Joseph Muscat was however not around to defend him. Four years ago, Joseph Muscat had refused to dismiss Konrad Mizzi when it had resulted that Mizzi was the only member of Cabinet within the EU member states to have his name included in the Panama Papers. Since then we have had plenty of additions to the Panama Papers saga. These include commissions paid on the gas tanker anchored at Delimara as well as the 17-Black saga.

The latest addition is the Montenegro windfarm scandal as a result of which 17-Black made a windfall profit of around €5 million at the expense of Enemalta, for which Konrad Mizzi was politically responsible for a considerable length of time. With this type of transaction 17-Black could easily fulfil its objectives of transferring €5000 a day to the Panama companies setup by Nexia BT.

Finance Minister Edward Scicluna has stated that government is not to blame. He is wrong: those in the spotlight were repeatedly given votes of confidence. Government has no one to blame but itself.

 

Published on the Malta Independent on Sunday: 28 June 2020

Min qed jiġbed l-ispag?

Hemm mistoqsija li bla dubju tberren f’moħħna aħna u nisimgħu jew x’ħin inkunu qed naqraw rapporti dwar ix-xhieda li qed tinġabar il-Qorti in konnessjoni mal-assassinju ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia. Lil min qed tipproteġi l-pulizija?

Qed joħroġ messaġġ ċar li f’waqtiet partikulari xi uffiċjali tal-Pulizija u l-kriminali li bħalissa qed ikunu investigati kienu id f’id. Naturalment l-uffiċjali in kwistjoni dan jiċħduh. Imma, sfortunatament għal kulħadd, il-kredibilità tagħhom ilha li spiċċat.

Id-deċiżjoni tal-5 t’Ottubru 2018 tal-Qorti Kostituzzjonali dwar Silvio Valletta, dakinnhar Deputat Kummissarju tal-Pulizija, b’kunflitt ta’ interess minħabba r-responsabbiltajiet politiċi ta’ martu Justyne Caruana (politically exposed person) għamlet l-affarijiet ferm agħar. Fl-2018 il-Qorti Kostituzzjonali kienet aċċettat l-argumenti ta’ tal-familja ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia u ordnat li Silvio Valletta jitbiegħed mill-investigazzjoni dwar l-assassinju.

Fid-dawl tal-allegazzjonijiet kontra id-Deputat Mexxej tal-Partit Laburista Chris Cardona dwar il-possibiltà ta’ ordni separata għall-assassinju ta’ Caruana Galizia, jikber konsiderevolment id-dubju dwar min qiegħed ikun protett mill-Pulizija. Għax kif jista’ jkun li Deputat Kummissarju tal-Pulizija li hu politikament espost jinvestiga politiku ġej mill-istess partit politiku li fih hi attiva martu ukoll Membru tal-Kabinett? Kien fit-8 ta’ Mejju 2016 li din il-gazzetta kienet irrappurtat illi Silvio Valletta kien offrut il-ħatra ta’ Kummissarju tal-Pulizija imma ma aċċettax minħabba li martu Justyne Caruana u l-fatt li “hija Membru tal-Kabinett u persuna prominenti fil-Partit Laburista, seta’ jitfa’ wisq piż u dell fuq l-operat tiegħu kieku aċċetta li jkun fit-tmun tal-Korp.” Dakinnhar iddeċieda tajjeb imma wara insihom id-dellijjiet!

Il-problema tikber konsiderevolment kull meta jissemmgħu dawk li kienu madwar Joseph Muscat, ewlieni fosthom Keith Schembri. Imma hemm oħajn ukoll li kellhom parti importanti fl-iżviluppi ta’ din il-ġimgħa: min jikkonsla u jikkalma u min iwassal il-messaġġi.

Hu magħruf li kemm Chris Cardona kif ukoll Keith Schembri intalbu jwieġbu xi mistoqsijiet mill-Pulizija imma safejn hu magħruf pubblikament s’issa ħadd minnhom mhu qed jiġi investigat.

Jingħad li għad baqa’ informazzjoni sensittiva x’tinkixef.

Irridu nżommu quddiem għajnejna li Daphne kienet stħarrġet u kitbet dwar il-każijiet ta’ korruzzjoni ewlenin fil-pajjiż tul dawn l-aħħar snin, li minnhom ma kellniex ftit. L-atturi xi drabi huma l-istess. Din il-ġimgħa kellna iktar informazzjoni fuq każ kbir. Hu il-kaz tal-Montenegro li stħarrġet it-Times u li minnu irriżulta li 17 Black ta’ Yorgen Fenech daħħlet madwar ħames miljun euro minn fuq dahar l-Enemalta. Min hemm sħab ma Fenech fis-17 Black u s’issa ma jidhirx?

Ix-xhieda fil-Qorti fil-kaz tal-assassinju qed jindikaw il-possibilità li hemm iżjed minn moħħ wiehed wara dan il-qtil. Yorgen Fenech ilu jinsisti li mhux hu l-moħħ iżda li hemm xi ħaddieħor li hu aqwa minnu.

Ma nagħmlux mod li dawn l-idejn moħbija wara l-qtil għandhom interess ukoll fil-qliegħ mill-Montenegro fejn spiċċa jidher Yorgen Fenech għal darba oħra għalihom hux?

Min qed jiġbed l-ispag f’dan kollu? Meta l-Pulizija jagħmlu investigazzjoni iktar fil-fond forsi jkollna ħjiel. Imma ma jiddependix biss minnhom. Jiddependi ukoll minn min s’issa għadu qiegħed jerfa’ l-piz waħdu u jostor lil ħaddieħor.

Il-kobba hi mħabbla sewwa. L-iskandli wieħed wara l-ieħor ilhom jakkumulaw. Dwar uħud minnhom ma sar xejn u dwar oħrajn tapari sar xi ħaġa. F’dan kollu hemm rwol fundamentali għall-ġurnaliżmu investigattiv li b’responsabbiltà jgħarbel u jfittex il-konnessjonijiet bejn in-numru dejjem jikber ta’ skandli. Il-qtil biex isikket lil min jinvestiga mhuwiex biss delitt kontra l-persuna imma hu ukoll delitt kontra d-demokrazija. Għax l-istampa libera li ma tibżax hi pilastru ewlieni tad-demokrazija tagħna.

L-istess idejn jidhru repetutament. Min hemm mistoħbi warajhom? Min qed jiġbed l-ispag Delimara, il-Montenegro u lura sal-Bidnija?

ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 21 ta’ Ġunju 2020

Who is the puppet master?

There is a lingering question as we listen to or read reports on the evidence being compiled in Court relative to the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia. Who do the police protect?

The clear message being conveyed is that at a point in time specific police officers and the criminals currently under investigation were apparently in cahoots. Naturally, the officers referred to always deny any wrongdoing. Unfortunately for all of us, their credibility has been discarded over the years.

The decision of the Constitutional Court on the 5 October 2018 relative to Silvio Valletta, formerly Deputy Police Commissioner, having a conflict of interest on account of his being a politically exposed person due to his marriage to former Gozo Minister Justyne Caruana made matters worse. In 2018 the Constitutional Court had accepted the arguments of the family of Daphne Caruana Galizia and ordered that Silvio Valletta desists from continuing to be part of the investigation into the assassination.

In view of the allegations against former Deputy Leader of the Labour Party Chris Cardona about the financing of a separate and parallel DCG assassination contract, doubts linger on as to who received police protection. How could a politically exposed Deputy Police Commissioner investigate a politician belonging to the same political party as his wife, a Cabinet Minister? After all it was Silvio Valletta himself who in 2016 was reported in the Press as having declined being appointed as Commissioner of Police due to the perceived incompatibility of the duties of Commissioner with that of Cabinet Minister, as his wife then was. He took the right decision then!

The problem is further compounded by references to Joseph Muscat’s then Chief of Staff Keith Schembri as well as other persons close to the Office of the Prime Minister during the murder proceedings.

It is known that both Chris Cardona and Keith Schembri were questioned by the Police, but as far is publicly known none of them is under investigation yet. We do not know much more except the selected leaks planted in the media over the past weeks by those who certainly have some axe to grind.

The latest twist to the whole saga is the instructions issued by inquiring Magistrate that the police investigate the behaviour of former Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar after it was revealed in open court that he may have messed things up in his contacts with potential witnesses.

It is rumoured that there is still much more to be unravelled. While the evidence being heard in Court is pointing towards the possibility of two separate initiatives leading to the assassination of DCG it is still unclear as to who the real mastermind is. Whether Yorgen Fenech is a mastermind is still to be proven to the satisfaction of the Court. We should however remember that he contests this and points elsewhere.

Whether the ultimate puppet master is eventually identified is dependent on the investigative skills of the police. It also however depends on the extent to which those currently shouldering the blame are willing to pay the full price for the crime commissioned by others.

The resignation of Chris Cardona from Deputy Leader earlier this week is long overdue. He should have departed the moment the Acapulco brothel scandal saw the light of day. But that is another matter about which the whole truth is not yet in the public domain. Hopefully at some point in time more will be revealed as it may yet turn out to be of fundamental importance in entangling the whole mess.

At the end of the day it should be clear that crime does not pay.

 

Published on the Malta Independent on Sunday: 20 June 2020