No fewer than 60 witnesses have been lined up to testify before the Public Accounts Committee which later this month will start scrutinising the Auditor General’s findings on Enemalta’s fuel procurement committee.

In his report the auditor said the purchase of fuel in 2008-2010 bypassed “the most fundamental principles of good practice” and that oil hedging strategy of the time was influenced by ministerial interventions.

The PAC yesterday agreed to hold a minimum of four sessions a week but proceedings may still take months to conclude.

The Government’s list of 55 witnesses include a significant number who are also on the Opposition’s list. These include former prime minister Lawrence Gonzi, former ministers Austin Gatt and Tonio Fenech, PN leader Simon Busuttil, George Farrugia who was granted a presidential pardon to turn State witness in the oil procure-ment scandal, and former Enemalta chairmen Alex Tranter and Tancred Tabone.

The Government’s list of witnesses also includes former PN MPs Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando and Jesmond Mugliett, as well as Inez Farrugia, the sister-in-law of Mr Farrugia.

The latter rose to prominence at the height of the oil procurement scandal when it was alleged that Mr Fenech had accepted a Maltese-style clock from Ms Farrugia as a gift. Mr Fenech had insisted the clock was given to him as a token of admiration.

The list of names was revealed yesterday during a PAC meeting which set the time frames for hearings that will start on August 26. The meeting was chaired by PN MP Jason Azzopardi given that Mr Fenech, the committee chairman, will be a witness.

The same applies to other committee members: Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi, who was substituted by government backbencher Luciano Busuttil, and Nationalist MP Claudio Grech, whose substitute will be chosen in due course by the PN parliamentary group.

After a prolonged debate, which at times verged on purely legalistic arguments, it was agreed that the first witness would be Auditor General Anthony Mifsud.

His exposition of the facts will be spread over four sittings, paving the way for the other hearings which will take place during four weekly sessions, in the mornings and afternoons of Mondays and Wednesdays.

The Auditor General objected to the idea of having National Audit Office employees among the list of witnesses

Mr Mifsud expressed deep reservations about making statements under oath, saying he had nothing further to add to his report.

He also objected to the idea of having National Audit Office employees among the list of witnesses, saying this might jeopardise the institution’s independence.

Mr Mifsud backed his argument by referring to the report tabled in Parliament in 2006 which flagged a catalogue of failings in the operations of the Voice of the Mediterranean Radio.

He said that back then the auditor’s office was unjustly placed under the spotlight, forcing its employees to leaveas “they had ended up in the political arena”.

The auditor said such a mistake should not be repeated as otherwise next year, “rather than celebrating the 200 years of this institution, it will be disbanded”. While Justice Parliamentary Secretary Owen Bonnici and Opposition whip David Agius expressed a degree of sympathy with these arguments, Mr Grech and Government MPs disagreed.

Mr Grech argued that exempting NAO employees from testifying under oath would set a dangerous precedent as Parliament would be bending the rules for a particular group. His view was shared by Dr Azzopardi.

A compromise was reached when it was agreed that NAO employees would only be asked to testify in exceptional circumstances. Deputy Auditor General Charles Deguara’s suggestion that any statements could be made behind closed doors was accepted unanimously.

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