The public inquiry into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia has opened more than one stinking can of worms. Among them is the Electrogas scandal.
The actors in this tragic saga have tried to distance themselves from a project that was heralded as the flagship of economic reform launched by former prime minister Joseph Muscat.
Minister after minister has feebly argued that they never knew what was happening when Muscat, his former chief of staff Keith Schembri and the then energy minister Konrad Mizzi hijacked the project.
The list of corrupt dealings is long. The public procurement process was usurped to favour a consortium of private investors who appeared to have long known they had been selected to win this contract. The prime minister and his chosen confidants visited Azerbaijan to sign agreements for the procurement of gas. The energy minister struck bad deals for taxpayers by entering into multi-year power purchase and gas supply commitments and by waiving Electrogas tax dues.
Ministers Evarist Bartolo, Edward Scicluna and Owen Bonnici, and former deputy prime minister Louis Grech, absolved themselves from any role.
Schembri, who was arrested a few days ago over unrelated charges of money laundering, was at the heart of the Electrogas contract and the corrupt dealings that surrounded it.
Allegations linking him to the assassination have been made by Electrogas investor Yorgen Fenech, who himself stands charged with commissioning the murder. The names of Schembri and Fenech have been blackened beyond redemption and that of Electrogas stained by extension.
Now, another private investor is attempting to perform a ministerial-type disappearing act in a bid to disentangle itself from this lethal web of corruption. The Gasan family have announced they are prepared to offload their investment. They framed their decision in terms of an exemplary commitment to governance.
But few would doubt that their decision stems more from commercial expediency. Why now, and not when Fenech’s name was first linked to 17 Black or the assassination? No business can survive if it antagonises its clients by being linked for too long with the criminal practices of others.
Still, it was the right decision to make. The Gasan Group would perhaps convince more people of their contrition if they were to hand over their shares to government for a nominal €1.
It is time for the other shareholders to make their positions clear on whether they will continue to be involved in a project that has robbed taxpayers and potentially led to the murder of a journalist. Siemens and the other investors must explain what their plans are to clear their names from this notorious power station.
The public inquiry will hopefully reveal more of the facts that underpinned it. The public is also entitled to know what was behind the setting up of 17 Black and Egrant. More needs to be done to investigate the role of these companies in the Electrogas project.
Prime Minister Robert Abela will gain credibility if he takes the side of the taxpayer in the saga that will continue to unfold. He will also win support if he ensures that the public procurement system is completely re-engineered.
From the morass that is Electrogas, and the mess that is Vitals, must emerge new standards of awarding public contracts that assure taxpayers they will not get the rotten end of the deal.
The Muscat administration made it easy for kleptocrats to plunder the wealth of the Maltese people. This scandal can only be put behind us if those responsible are brought to justice.
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