Come into my parlour, said the spider to the fly

Can this or a future government dissolve the contract with Electrogas – as has been suggested by PN leadership candidate, Bernard Grech? This is easier said than done

I believe Joe Gasan’s declaration that “it had not received dividends for their investment in Electrogas and had only registered losses from it”… The spider’s parlour was attractive
I believe Joe Gasan’s declaration that “it had not received dividends for their investment in Electrogas and had only registered losses from it”… The spider’s parlour was attractive

I have been following the Electrogas saga since before it was born. Using gas to generate electricity was an idea that was proposed by a Maltese entrepreneur to the Gonzi administration instead of the infamous BWSC project. The Gonzi administration promptly refused it, probably thinking, or suspecting, that John Dalli was behind it. He was not.

Then they lobbied the then leader of the Opposition, Joseph Muscat, who referred it to Konrad Mizzi and used the idea to became a fully blown project promised in the 2013 election campaign. In fact, it was one of the big issues of that campaign.

I remember the Labour Party publicly launch the project as part of its electoral campaign. It was the first time that I met Konrad Mizzi.

The PN administration, mainly Minister Tonio Fenech, referred it to people in Enemalta who promptly misled him by saying that the project was technically impossible. Which – as I said from day one – it was not. Although I have no conclusive proof, I still believe that these ‘experts’ were in cahoots with Konrad Mizzi who, in the past, was an Enemalta employee.

The PN’s Anne Fenech joined the fray and claimed that the huge gas tankers needed to carry the gas to Malta did not exist. Like much of the PN’s claims about the technical aspects of the project, this was pure, unadulterated drivel.

I remember telling PN insiders that they were tackling the issue the wrong way, but they chose to believe the ‘experts’ rather than me.

Up to that time they were talking of building big gas tanks on land, but I knew that the idea of a tanker parked near Delimara Power station was already under consideration by the Maltese entrepreneurs.

I never had enough information to decide whether the project was financially sustainable or not, but the Maltese entrepreneurs pushing it were convinced that it was.

Nobody then talked of buying the gas from Azerbaijan’s Socar. I do not know how Socar ended up owning one-third of the Electrogas consortium and how the other two-thirds of Electrogas accepted to oblige the consortium to purchase its gas supplies only from Socar – for 18 years at a price that is some four times that prevailing in the current international market.

In practice, it is that price that has made the project practically unsustainable.

It is no wonder that the production of electricity from gas has not led to lower prices of electricity for the Maltese consumer.

Neither do I know how Socar learned of the Maltese project and how they were somehow led to the Maltese entrepreneurs who must have been invited to co-operate with Socar, ending up much like the fly in the well-know poem: “Will you walk into my parlour?” said a spider to a fly; / ‘Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy. / The way into my parlour is up a winding stair, / And I have many pretty things to shew when you are there.”

That is why I believe Gasan’s declaration that “it had not received dividends for their investment in Electrogas and had only registered losses from it.” I am sure that both Gasan and the original entrepreneur found themselves in this position. The spider’s parlour was attractive...

However, the many strange things in the spider’s parlour should have been noticed by PwC who were auditors and consultants to Electrogas. Giving evidence in the Daphne Caruana Galizia inquiry, Alfred Camilleri, the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Finance, said that PwC, acting in the double role of auditors and consultants, had put the Ministry of Finance’s mind at rest and that their due diligence on the Electrogas deal suggested that all was in order in the lead up to the contract.

Why was this double role of PwC acceptable to the finance ministry? These different roles have been confirmed in a letter dated 3 September 2015 sent by Catherine Halpin, commercial director of ElectroGas Malta to PwC, which letter is proudly reproduced on the PwC web-site as a testimonial of their services.

It unashamedly says that that: “PwC Malta have supported Electrogas by providing various accounting, tax and auditing services; the various PwC teams have been technically proficient, friendly and responsive; PwC have been flexible and where necessary have adapted their services to our needs.”

Where do we go from here?

Can this or a future government dissolve the contract with Electrogas – as has been suggested by PN leadership candidate, Bernard Grech. This is easier said than done. Shaking off the Socar stranglehold will be a gargantuan legal challenge. Gasan are not interested; they just want to sell their share in Electrogas.

But, in the present circumstances, who is ready to buy them?

Equality and discrimination

After reading several comments about the proposed the Equality Act still being discussed in Parliament, I tried to learn first-hand what this Bill says, rather than what others claim it says.

The law proposes that any provision or practice contrary to the principle of equal treatment shall be null and void and any similar provisions in contracts or agreements, internal rules of undertaking, or rules governing any registered organisation in terms of the Act, shall likewise be considered null and void.

I am not questioning the motivation behind the proposed law but the way to hell is paved with good intentions. In my opinion, the law, as proposed, has too many grey areas that are open to different interpretations.

It seems to me that, from the way the Bill is worded, a creationist applying for the post of a teacher in biology can claim discrimination if he is not given his job because of his belief.

Creationists are a minority just like, for example, Satanists. Will these then be able to claim the right not to be discriminated against, if they apply to be appointed religion teachers? According to Article 6 of the Bill, less favourable treatment on the grounds of belief in assessing the teaching of religion in faith schools whose ethos is based on belief, is not discrimination in terms of the law.

The minister’s consultants need to check how such examples – extreme as much as they can be – are tackled by the law in practice; from theory to practice.

For a law to be a good one, it needs to be reasonable and to avoid absurd situations, rather than lead to them.

There are many unreasonable people in the world and a law justifying unreasonableness is exactly what our society does not need.

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