A record for good governance

A public official, who is a political appointee, with an €85,000 salary and responsible for multi-million contracts in land, maritime and aviation transport, does not get to set up his own private ‘investment’ company while in public office

The reports revealing Transport Malta executive chairman James Piscopo’s new private interest certainly cannot come to an abrupt end simply because Prime Minister Joseph Muscat does not deem the obvious revolving doors problem, an issue.

Neither does it mean that is a non-issue because Opposition leader Simon Busuttil prefers to spend his energy by taking up the mantle for Ivan Grech Mintoff.

This is an issue, because good governance is not up for interpretation. A public official, who is a political appointee, with an €85,000 salary and responsible for multi-million contracts in land, maritime and aviation transport, does not get to set up his own private ‘investment’ company while in public office. Period.

Last Sunday MaltaToday showed how James Piscopo, acting as executive chairman for Transport Malta, opened a private investment company.

The auditor, whose firm is hosting the company’s address at its own, happens to be a company secretary for the Transport Malta board. His audit office is located inside the A3 Towers at Paola, where recently Transport Malta rented out three floors from the General Workers Union for its licensing department. The auditor himself was a financial controller for the GWU.

Mr Piscopo told MaltaToday this is a non-story. The company is ready for his post-Transport Malta career. Very nicely put.

The problem of course is that Piscopo is in a very delicate and indeed influential position. His job literally oversees the disbursement of tenders and direct orders which run into hundreds of thousands, at times millions. TM’s suppliers build roads and compete for cutthroat contracts worth millions, so they’re the kind of chaps who can get a bit heavy-handed sometimes.

That Piscopo does not see that he has a fundamental problem is beyond me. Before his political appointment at TM, Piscopo was the Labour party’s CEO, having been seconded to that post while working at Air Malta for an above-average salary, but nothing handsome.

Now inside the Labour Party headquarters as CEO, he was privy to some private information when it came to the PL’s party donors. Which I am sure, he did not use for himself.

But to be fair to common sense, it is reasonable to think that donors who give their money to political parties do it in return for something. They curry political favour with their cash.

Since his appointment at TM in 2013, Piscopo managed to move up the ladder, building himself a fine villa in Iklin, constructed by one of Malta’s upcoming development magnates, and also well known to be close to Labour.

There is nothing wrong in owning a place in Iklin valley. What I try to understand is the speed at which someone can be catapulted into prosperity by purchasing prime land (over €209,000 and a further €200,000 for its construction). It’s not like I’m losing the plot: at 53 I feel that for a majority of those who have to work hard, it is a slow climb up the property ladder, buying one house and then selling it off, and moving on. We don’t just burst into affluence.

So… I guess since this Piscopo story has nothing to do with the ethics of public office, then it is all a personal vendetta, right? I’m more than convinced, after the transport minister’s hand-on-heart declaration that we’re seeing red where there is none, that good governance is what this story is all about.


Simon Busuttil and the medical visa scandal

How does Opposition leader Simon Busuttil come to consider that the medical visa scandal is a number one priority for him, when this issue is being spearheaded by Ivan Grech Mintoff and a Libyan ‘whistleblower’ who claims his life is in danger? Because the way it is being bandied about, it’s like if there is going to be some hit on Khaled Ben Nasan, it’s going to be directly coordinated by Castille.

Ben Nasan has not been a reliable source in the past when he claimed to have acted as a middleman for the release of Martin Galea. His identity is shrouded in mystery, with newspaper reports saying he uses different business cards all claiming that he belongs to various Libyan ‘sub-committees’ in the name of one government or the other.

Simon Busuttil has rushed to award this shady character the title of whistleblower – strange, when you think that Busuttil found it very hard to recognise other whistleblowers such as the Gozitan labourer who revealed the hand of Giovanna Debono’s husband in disputed construction works funded by the ministerial budget; or the John’s Group’s Farrugia brothers, when they revealed everything they had on their estranged brother George Farrugia, who devised the Enemalta kickback system.

I guess that’s politics for you.


Appointment to Strickland Foundation board

While we’re debating good governance, learning of the news that judge Giovanni Bonello has been appointed chairman of the Strickland Foundation, when he was recently heading an internal board of inquiry on behalf of the Allied Group, I guess this will not fall into the category of conflicts of interest.

I’m sure this appointment wins the platinum award for the most bizarre of appointments: first the Allied Group appointed the esteemed judge to head an inquiry into kickback allegations against Adrian Hillman; now, the Strickland Foundation, which owns 78% of the shares in the Allied Group, has made him the foundation’s chairman.

Bonello is widely respected and for good reason, but he is no sacred cow either. Which is why a foundation like the Strickland Foundation, which claims to uphold democracy, should also explain the process by which it felt that Bonello’s appointment from ‘inquirer’ to chairman of Allied’s main shareholder, could have been ‘democratic’.

Surely, the foundation is in good hands. With Bonello as helmsman, and Peter Portelli as secretary (Portelli was a former permanent secretary in the tourism secretariat when under the ministerial direction of Mario de Marco, who is also a board member of the Strickland Foundation), everything is hunky dory.

Just one thing. A foundation that strongly advocates as one of its principles the improvement of the standard of Maltese journalism, and the preservation of its freedom and independence, should certainly allow the newspaper it owns to report on the court case dealing with its contested shareholding of Allied Group.

You will be excused if like myself, you start to ask yourself if there is anyone who really can stand up to be counted for doing what he says and what he stands for.