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MALTATODAY 26 December 2021 LOOKING BACK edition

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2 maltatoday EXECUTIVE EDITOR Matthew Vella MANAGING EDITOR Saviour Balzan Letters to the Editor, MaltaToday, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann SGN 9016 E-mail: Letters must be concise, no pen names accepted, include full name and address maltatoday | SUNDAY • 26 DECEMBER 2021 The price of Joseph Muscat's legacy Editorial FORMER Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has often claimed to have 'paid the highest price possible', for the corruption that engulfed his brief administra- tion. In strictly political terms, that might be somewhat factual: for having tendered his resignation as prime minister in December 2019, there is no further 'politi- cal price' for him to pay. But in terms of the full cost that will eventually have to be borne for that corruption – not by Muscat himself, but by the entire country – it quite frankly pales to insignificance. That much can be seen by the United States' interest in Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi, now designated for a travel ban over allega- tions of corruption in the Electrogas power plant contract. The fact remains that Malta is still bound by several contracts and policies forged under Joseph Muscat's government: at least two of which – the Vitals hos- pital concession; and the Electrogas power-plant at Delimara – entail hefty price-tags of their own. Meanwhile, a third – the IIP ('Golden Passport) scheme – may have contributed greatly to the coun- try's coffers… but at an incalculable cost to our inter- national reputation. Such is the fall-out from these arrangements, in fact, that Prime Minister Robert Abela is now des- perately trying to scramble his way out of the mess created for him by his predecessor. On Vitals, for instance, Abela has warned that he is ready to take legal action if concessionaires Steward Healthcare fail to meet their contractual obligations. But the same contract also places obligations on the Maltese government: including a €100 million 'escape clause', which would have to paid to Steward should the contract be annulled for any reason whatsoever. This was, in fact, an agreement hammered out by Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi, in a side letter that he apparently kept secret even from his own Cabinet colleagues (Abela himself declared that he only got to know about it from the media). Apart from the aforementioned escape penalty, the same letter also obliged government to almost double its budgetary allocation – adding €40 million, to the original €50 million of the contract - to Steward. But all things considered, even that must be viewed as a minor (albeit expensive) footnote. The reality is that Malta has already forked out millions for services that were never delivered, thanks to a contract that was roundly condemned by the National Audit Of- fice. The NAO's report found that government had signed the original Memorandum of Understanding with several investors – who eventually formed Vitals – months before an international request for propos- als had even been issued. In any case, Vitals failed to obtain the necessary bank financing it required to kick-start its project – whilst also racking up millions in debt, with nothing to show for it - and sold the concession to US giant Steward Healthcare Group. Yet to this very day, the Maltese government is still caught up in intense negotiations with Steward: with government sources reportedly arguing that "there is no way the government will accept the terms of the deal that Steward was working on with the Muscat administration." Not only, then, did the promised 'three new hos- pitals' fail to ever actually materialise – resulting in a general weakening of the national healthcare service – but government now also risks having to pay an extra €100 million just to get out of that one, Mus- cat-era contract. In many ways, however – not least, because one of its shareholders is now accused of murdering Daphne Caruana Galizia – the legacy of the Electrogas may prove far more expensive, in the long run. It is no secret that this contract – also roundly criticised by the NAO – was from the outset mired in corruption. It is now the subject of a Public Accounts Committee hearing (in which Konrad Mizzi first refused to testify; and later, refused to answer any questions) over suspicions that the entire project was intended to siphon off millions into Yorgen Fenech's 17 Black; and thence onto Panama companies owned by Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi himself. As such, Malta's entire energy sector – from the mode of energy production and distribution, to the sources of our imported fuel – is now dependent on a a highly irregular contract: with political ramification that may even threaten the country's energy security. Malta now has to make a political case, in Europe, that any gas pipeline funds would not be benefiting Electrogas directly. And while Energy Minister Miri- am Dalli may have a point, when she argues that the specific funding applied for – i.e., to change the gas pipeline into a hydrogen-capable version – is not, in itself, 'related to Electrogas' (indeed, the Commission itself has so far indicated that it agrees); nonetheless, it remains clear that the problems now faced by the Abela administration – in at least two critical pub- lic sectors (health and energy) – are all down to the sheer reputational damage caused by the Muscat administration. So while all the main actors who carved out these controversial projects – Joseph Muscat, Keith Schem- bri and Konrad Mizzi – have all exited the political field, in one way or another... the effects of their lega- cy will be with us for years to come. And that – far more than any number of prime ministerial resignations – is the real 'highest price possible'. 25 December 2010 The dishonourable saga of ministerial salaries LAWRENCE Gonzi and his €500 weekly salary increase will haunt his administration right up until the forthcoming general elections. And in these times of financial storms, sovereign debt crises and austerity measures, and energy infla- tion, it will be the juxtaposition of the Maltese cabinet's salary increase that illustrates the ap- parent gap between the political class, and the rest of us: the political state of mind of Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi and his colleagues, and the way we look at the politicians who take decisions that affect our lives. Gonzi's premiership was never going to be an easy one after clinching electoral victory in 2008 against the odds of the embarrassing and poten- tially disastrous consequences of Mistragate, when MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando was accused of using his influence in securing planning permission for the development of a disco on his land. His one-seat majority was instantly compro- mised by Pullicino Orlando's backbench rebellion after being summarily dismissed from ministerial papability; and then the contagion seemed un- stoppable. Up until today, the prime minister's 2008 electoral strategy – the GonziPN coalition of the PM and single MPs – is backfiring with Fran- co Debono's one-man show holding the govern- ment to ransom on his demands for justice and procedural reforms. But were the seeds of this discontent sown by Lawrence Gonzi's decision in May 2008 to increase his ministers' salaries by €500 a week? Did the stealth with which the decision was taken (revealed by MaltaToday in November 2008, ig- nored right up until Labour leader Joseph Muscat decided to make it an issue in 2010) become the hallmark of all that GonziPN represented? In 2011, our Members of Parliament orated for the pleasure of the electoral audience on an Opposition motion calling for the disapproval of Cabinet's "insensitive, arbitrary and non-transpar- ent" decision to increase ministers' salaries with an increased parliamentary honorarium that was not paid to other MPs. There were no surprises; the motion faltered; government and Opposition MPs played out their parts for a motion that had no end. The disapproval of the people was already clear. ... Quote of the Week "Is Robert Abela going to take the best science-based decisions, or will he crumble under the pressure as he faces the scandals dismantling his Cabinet and parliamentary group?" Bernard Grech on news of Justyne Caruana's resignation MaltaToday 10 years ago

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