The government is refusing to explain why a new multi-million project aimed at enhancing national security through the use of new technology has been put under the political direction of Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi, despite it having nothing to do with his portfolio.
The project, known as ‘Safe City’, will see police using technology developed by Chinese multinational Huawei for visual surveillance of certain areas on the island.
It has been allocated some €400,000 for 2019 and is expected to cost millions if it is expanded further beyond its experimental phase, planned for Paceville and Marsa.
Although security forces fall under the direct remit of Home Affairs Minister Michael Farrugia, the project, which could eventually involve millions in investment, has been assigned to Dr Mizzi by the Prime Minister.
Industry sources described the handling of this project by Dr Mizzi as “strange” and said that such an intelligence project should have been handled directly by the Home Affairs Ministry.
They said that the only direct link between the project and Dr Mizzi was that when the original collaboration agreements with Huawei were signed, it was stated that it was Dr Mizzi’s wife, Sai, who had facilitated the agreements.
In 2013, soon after Labour returned to power, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had appointed Mrs Mizzi his special envoy to China, based in her hometown Shanghai. Following the controversial appointment, Mrs Mizzi’s contract was not renewed.
The government has set up a new company, Safe City Malta, to set the new surveillance project in motion. The company will collaborate with Huawei and act as the government’s arm in this investment.
Registered in 2017, the State company is being headed by Joseph Cuschieri, the MFSA’s CEO and a close collaborator of the Office of the Prime Minister.
Such project should have been handled directly by the Home Affairs Ministry
The government also nominated David Borg – who served as one of Prime Minister’s assistants when he was still an MEP and is now chairman of Wasteserv – and businessman Jeremy Dalli as directors. Mr Dalli has business interests in Paceville and was recently appointed chief of staff to Economy Minister Chris Cardona.
Asked for details on the project, including whether the Data Protection Commissioner has given his green light to experimental technology already installed in an unnamed data centre, the government did not reply.
Apart from the use of controversial visual surveillance, a hot topic in the western world particularly due to data protection issues, the project is also mired in controversy due to Huawei’s involvement.
Many western countries are very cautious about collaborating with the Chinese multinational, due to fears of the close ties between the company, the Chinese communist regime and its army.
Some countries, such as the US, New Zealand and Australia have already barred the use of the 5G technology being developed by the Chinese fearing possible spying activity. Others, including the UK and Germany, are considering similar actions.
On the other hand, Malta has accepted, through two collaboration agreements with Huawei, to let the Chinese multinational use the island’s infrastructure as a testing ground for the rollout of its 5G technology.
Despite increasing uneasiness on Huawei and its technology across the globe, a spokeswoman for the government said that there are no plans to revise any collaboration agreements signed with Huawei.
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