The proximity between the former planning authority boss and businessman Yorgen Fenech, as revealed in The Sunday Times of Malta, was outrageous.

Johann Buttigieg, who today serves as the Malta Tourism Authority CEO, had expressed a willingness to “do business” with the man who had already been exposed as the owner of secret company 17 Black. He did this while overseeing the authority which has been repeatedly accused of ruining the face of the country with its cement-first policy.

The topic of doing business popped up after Yorgen Fenech offered to go halves with Buttigieg on a property development he was hoping to take over from fellow construction magnate Joseph Portelli.

In the same exchange, Buttigieg reiterated that he would be willing to partner with Fenech “wherever you like”. The rest of the phone exchanges reflect a chairman who appeared rather willing to serve the needs of prominent businessmen (and, possibly, his own) rather than overseeing and regulating a very important authority.

Instead of hauling him into his office first thing on Sunday morning and demanding a clear explanation and then his resignation, the prime minister on Monday stood by Buttigieg and, instead, echoed the CEO’s claim that he had never actually done any business with Fenech. 

Abela, who served as the PA’s lawyer for the bulk of Buttigieg’s five-year tenure between 2014 and 2019, said that, since his appointment a year ago, he had instructed all CEOs of government entities to refrain from doing business outside of their public roles. In a nutshell, the prime minister is OK with giving amnesties to any possible past crimes provided they did not happen on his watch.

His statement shows we are still far away from eradicating the national disease called impunity

Through that statement, the prime minister made it clear that accountability only applies to the few. His statement shows we are still far away from eradicating the national disease called impunity.

Abela’s answer confirmed that we still have a long way to go before we cut the long-standing umbilical cord between politics and business. 

The prime minister should instead order an investigation into every single major project approved during Buttigieg’s tenure at the PA. That includes the upcoming project on the site of the Halland Hotel, on which we now have evidence that Fenech and Buttigieg had met and spoken about a redesign of the project development.

The appeal about the project is to be heard this week. Have we been given enough guarantees that the negotiations leading to this project were all above board?

The prime minister should leave no stone unturned to see which other developers enjoyed a cosy relationship with Buttigieg and whether he ever declared a conflict of interest when presiding over planning decisions.

Moviment Graffitti rightly pointed out the sheer evidence of influence-peddling and why an independent investigation needs to be set up into Buttigieg’s conduct at the PA.

PA board members and high-ranking officials must be held personally responsible for their conduct, especially where it comes to breaching policies, their own code of ethics and matters of conflict of interest and undue influence.

Let us not forget that Buttigieg is now overseeing the tourism authority, the most important motor of our economy. He was also responsible for signing the scandalous €80,000 consultancy contract given to disgraced Konrad Mizzi in secret two weeks after the former tourism minister resigned.

Until these revelations are dealt with in the most appropriate manner, a cloud of suspicion will continue to hang over Buttigieg and all his work at the MTA. And until action is taken, each one of us should ask why we should continue to pay his hefty salary.

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