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MALTATODAY 24 July 2022

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6 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 27 MARCH 2022 OPINION 2 maltatoday EXECUTIVE EDITOR Matthew Vella 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 • 24 JULY 2022 Ursula goes to Baku... Editorial THE European Commission's decision to sign a new energy memorandum of understanding with Azer- baijan, in a bid to move Europe away from Russian fossil fuels, has inevitably stirred a hornet's nest lo- cally. Unsurprisingly, former premier Joseph Muscat relished the moment, depicting the EU agreement as vindication of his own energy policy, recalling how "we were hauled over the coals for our cooperation with Azerbaijan, years before other countries did." But while Muscat is justified in saying that this agree- ment shows that he was no pariah in seeking energy cooperation with an autocratic regime, he is also con- flating two very different issues. For in reality, the cornerstone of Muscat's energy policy was not securing gas from Azerbaijan, as the EU is doing; but that of purchasing LNG through fixed- price agreements with Electrogas, a company partly owned by Azeri company SOCAR trading. In reality SOCAR Trading does not procure LNG from Azerbaijan, but buys it from the international market in the same way as other energy companies like Shell do. In this set-up, SOCAR Trading acts as a mid- dleman selling LNG procured from the international market to Electrogas, which in turn sells electricity produced in its power station to the national grid; and LNG to Enemalta, to operate the older BWSC power station. This raises the question: why doesn't Malta procure its LNG directly from the international energy market? And what will SOCAR's role be once a hydrogen/gas pipeline is developed? While Labour is right in in saying that the fixed-price agreement has cushioned the impact of the current global hike in energy prices, the situation was different before 2017 when oil and gas prices were in free-fall. Nor can one ignore the trail linking Azeri nationals to 17 Black, a secret company owned by Electrogas boss Yorgen Fenech. The truth is that the problem, in this case, was not that of 'buying energy from Aliyev' (for Malta never did); but that of sourcing the country's energy supply to a company whose owners have left fingerprints on a trail leading to secret companies, in activities which suggest corruption and money laun- dering. This has nothing to do with procuring gas from Azerbaijan. But it has a lot to do with opening the floodgates for Azeri money through dubious channels like Pilatus Bank, and actors like Keith Schembri and Yorgen Fenech, who were too close to Muscat for com- fort. Still, there is a grain of truth in Muscat's assertion that he was singled out simply for securing agreements with the Aliyev regime. For local criticism of Muscat's energy deal had focused too much on associating him with a corrupt dictatorship, in an attempt to shame him. And while Muscat's visit to Azerbaijan in 2014 was shrouded in secrecy, in contrast to the EU's more transparent dealings, reality shows that democratical- ly-elected governments inevitably end up cosying up to autocrats in their bid to secure their country's energy supply. Biden's recent visit to 'pariah state' Saudi Ara- bia – in which he paid homage to a crown prince who, according to the CIA, had approved the brutal murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi – is a case in point. The EU's deal with Azerbaijan is another example of realpolitik, and it is not a new phenomenon, either. Former EC President José Manuel Barroso had already signed a Joint Declaration with President Aliyev, on the Southern Gas Corridor, in Baku in January 2011. So the question facing the West is: is it substituting one powerful demon (Putin) with a host of minor de- mons? This dependency on unpredictable autocrats is in itself dangerous, as it makes Europe dependent on dictators who inevitably use energy deals as leverage to whitewash their reputation, and to play the big powers against each other to their benefit. Of course it is naive to divide the world into a law-abiding west, and a corrupt east: western com- panies, especially energy companies, have been chief beneficiaries of corruption exported elsewhere, and as the Maltese example shows, the network of offshore companies linking the corrupt includes politicians and businessmen on both sides of the divide. The sad reality however is that while Europe is lit- erally burning in record temperatures, it still has not found a way out from a dependence on fossil fuels. The risk is that the construction of new pipelines and fossil fuel infrastructure will not only bolster dictators, but will further delay the transition to home-grown renew- ables, which offer the only sustainable way to mitigate the climate crisis. At the same time, one has to recognize that with no end in sight to the war in Ukraine, governments cannot afford to condemn their populations to the freezing cold once winter sets in. And while this is a reminder that when it comes to energy realpolitik, one cannot simply look at the world in black or white terms; we should not forget that what led us into this dark spot in the first place was closing an eye at the Putin regime and the oligarchy which backs him. As Maltese, while we cannot afford to be holier than the Pope, we should by now also be aware of the danger of playing with fire. 24 July 2012 MEPA annual report under wraps IN April a MEPA spokesperson replied that the report was still being compiled to was to be published "in the coming weeks." The Malta Environment and Planning Authority's annual report and financial state- ments for 2011 have still not been published. For the past three years, the reports were always published before June. Prior to the MEPA reform in 2008, the annual report was regularly published at the end of each finan- cial year in November. The report can only be published after be- ing tabled in parliament. But no such report has been tabled before parliament's summer recess. This means that the report will not see the light of the day before October. The financial statements are expected to throw light on MEPA's financial state. MEPA's latest financial estimates for 2010 showed the government spending €7.7 million to finance the gap in MEPA's accounts. This amount was even higher than the €7 million subvention granted to MEPA in 2010 which still left the authority with a €2 million deficit. The government originally planned to turn MEPA in to a self-sustaining authority but later changed tack, replacing the blanket sub- vention by starting to pay MEPA for services rendered to government. Over the past few years, the annual report was always in the news thanks to the publi- cation of comments by MEPA auditor Joseph Falzon, who provides a summary of the cases he dealt with during the previous year. Falzon confirmed with this newspaper that he had sent his report, which is always includ- ed in the annual report before the end of last year. During 2011, the MEPA auditor investigat- ed a number of interesting cases - including that on the appointment of MEPA CEO Ian Stafrace. When contacted in April a MEPA spokes- person replied that the report was still being compiled to was to be published "in the com- ing weeks." On 7 July when asked why the report had still not been published a MEPA spokesperson replied that the "report was being finalised". ... Quote of the Week "So when we say winter is coming, we just announce that the season is changing. We are not quoting Game of Thrones." EC vice-president Frans Timmermans sends out a message to European governments to cut gas consumption by 15% MaltaToday 10 years ago

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