Government’s reluctance to support a motion for a public inquiry into the controversial Electrogas power station deal shows it does not want the truth to emerge, the Opposition leader said in parliament on Thursday.
“Why is the government afraid of this inquiry if it so sure there were no irregularities?” Bernard Grech asked.
The Opposition leader was speaking during a debate on a motion on this project, which is mired in corruption claims.
The project was Labour’s flagship manifesto proposal in the 2013 general election and had been justified on grounds it would spell the end of the highly-polluting heavy fuel oil in favour of gas, while making it possible to reduce utility rates by 25%.
Apart from being dogged by delays, the project has been mired in corruption allegations, including kickbacks in secret Panama companies belonging to former energy minister Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri, the top aide of former prime minister Joseph Muscat.
This money was allegedly going to be paid by Electrogas director Yorgen Fenech through his secret Dubai-based company 17 Black. Fenech is facing court proceedings in connection with the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
In his address, Grech said it was highly significant that none of the government MPs had openly defended Mizzi, who had been responsible for the project. He also questioned why the prime minister had not taken part in the debate.
“The bottom line is that the government is objecting to this motion as it is afraid of the truth,” Grech said.
PN wants deal scrutinised in detail
The Opposition’s motion is calling for the setting up of an inquiry board, which would have the remit to examine the political, commercial, and administrative processes adopted, any abuses and illegalities committed, and identify the names of whoever was responsible for such conduct.
Opposition MP Karol Aquilina, who moved the motion, said the House had the unique opportunity to shed light and reveal the truth on the Electrogas power station deal.
Aquilina said the project was the result of a “conspiracy” which started before Labour was elected to government in 2013.
Reacting to the prime minister’s remarks who had said that the country’s institutions were working and he saw no need for the inquiry, the Opposition MP said this was not true.
“Had the institutions been functioning, some sort of action would have been taken following the damning NAO investigation on this deal,” he said.
The Auditor General had found that the Electrogas bid to build a power station did not comply with minimum requirements on “multiple instances”.
“Which institution has come out to reveal information about 17 Black? The information was only divulged by Times of Malta and Reuters,” he added.
Aquilina said this was a golden opportunity for government MPs to stand up and be counted or else face the music at a later stage, possibly in court.
Energy shadow minister Ryan Callus said taxpayers were paying an extra €91 million per year for electricity generation through the Electrogas plant.
This translated to an extra charge of €342 per year per household. He lashed out at the government for absorbing €40 million in excise duty costs while delaying €18 million in penalties over delays to construct the plant over an 18-year period.
Government tables amendment to do away with public inquiry
Parliamentary Secretary Clayton Bartolo tabled an amendment to the motion, which removed all references to a public inquiry and called on the Opposition leader to file a formal request for a magisterial inquiry on the strength of the evidence in his possession.
Energy Minister Michael Farrugia noted that in 2013, state energy provider Enemalta had over €900 million in debts and more liabilities than assets. He also pointed out that contrary to what the Opposition was claiming, Malta’s utility rates were the fourth cheapest in the EU.
Farrugia added that if Malta had relied exclusively on the interconnector as the Opposition suggested, the country would have been plunged into pitch darkness when the underwater link was damaged last year.
According to the energy minister, the NAO report concluded that Electrogas was the best option for the lowest tariffs. He also said that even the European Commission concluded that the investment was justified.
He criticised the public inquiry into the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder inquiry for delving into unrelated issues and “sarcastic comments”, presumably by the members of the board presiding it. Farrugia described the Opposition’s motion as an attempt to go on another “fishing expedition”.
The motion will be put to a vote in another sitting.