Defending the mess made by others

If Mizzi is himself criticising the previous administration’s failure to pursue their matter in court, how can he justify his own government’s failure to do precisely the same thing?

Cartoon by Mark Scicluna
Cartoon by Mark Scicluna

Earlier this week, Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi revealed in parliament how Danish energy firm BWSC had jacked up its original bid of €147 million to €164.9 million during the tendering process for the Delimara power station extension, to include strategic spares and a higher chimney.

And yet, the national energy provider failed at the time to even object to a sudden increase of almost €17 million, on the cost of a tender that had already technically been awarded.

Rather than declare the tendering process null and void, and reissue the call for tenders, it seems an agreement was reached between Enemalta and BWSC - not through any litigation - to reduce the additional charge to €8 million.

Nonetheless, Enemalta never embarked on any attempt to recoup these additional costs from BWSC. And remarkably, the corporation did not even seek reimbursement for works that it had paid for in advance, but which were never actually carried out.

Nor are these the only anomalies revealed by Mizzi in parliament this week. It seems that the Delimara contract gave BWSC a letter of credit of €16.5 million, which furnished the Danish firm with the right to withdraw this money from the bank if it was not paid what it was owed by Enemalta.

"It's an anomaly that a state corporation issues such a letter of credit, when BWSC's own guarantee in favour of Enemalta was of just €8.25 million," Mizzi said.

So far, the energy minister is entirely within his rights to reveal these and other facts about the controversial 2009 contract in parliament, though it is arguably too late in the day to expect any explanations from a Nationalist Opposition that has since changed leader after what can only be termed an electoral massacre.

But added to the previously-revealed, well-documented anomalies surrounding this contract - for instance, how Malta's emissions levels were upwardly revised to accommodate the new technology, with its controversial choice of Heavy Fuel Oil - the picture that emerges is one whereby the previous administration had pre-emptively chosen BWSC before the tender was issued... even though the untested technology on offer came at a higher cost than originally proposed and directly contradicted the government's own energy policy, which was all along to convert the power station to run on gas.

But there is nonetheless something wrong with Mizzi's approach to this issue precisely now. The problem is that the Labour Party is no longer in opposition - where part of its job was to scrutinise government's decisions - but in government, where it now must assume responsibility for the ongoing state of affairs itself.

This is why Mizzi's subsequent declaration appears so bizarre and unwarranted. The energy minister also revealed in parliament that Enemalta, which now falls directly under his own political responsibility, will still desist from attempting to claim back the money it was made to pay for a service it never received.

This makes no sense. If Mizzi is himself criticising the previous administration's failure to pursue their matter in court, how can he justify his own government's failure to do precisely the same thing?

At a glance, it seems to be the height of hypocrisy to suddenly turn and pursue the exact same policy it denounced from the political pulpit over the past five years. In fact, Mizzi appears to be under the impression that the Nationalists are still in power today, and his own party still in opposition. He seems to be acting as though Enemalta, and Malta's energy sector in general, is not his own responsibility, but that of the people who took the above flawed decisions in the first place.

Yet this is not true at all. While Mizzi is entirely justified in tracing the existing problems to their source - which in this case also means pointing fingers of blame in the direction of previous responsible ministers, including Austin Gatt and Tonio Fenech - he cannot so lightly absolve himself of responsibility to do that which the preceding government failed to do, and protect the rights of the long-suffering Maltese taxpayer.

For much the same reason, it is also the height of political hypocrisy for Tonio Fenech and George Pullicino to level this very criticism at Mizzi in parliament (as they did rather noisily this week), when they themselves were guilty of much worse.

But even if the former ministers are the very last people who should complain today, they are technically right on at least one issue. Now that Konrad Mizzi has excluded any litigation with BWSC to attempt to reclaim the money paid out for nothing by Enemalta, after criticising the PN government for doing the same, it is incumbent on him to explain his reasons.

Above all, it is in the immediate interests of transparency that he also publish the report which recommends that Malta not pursue the matter legally. From this perspective, Mizzi's quip (in reply to Fenech) that he is "not there to defend the mess made by others" does not hold water.

It is precisely by refusing to seek reimbursement from the Danish energy giants that the present government is, in fact, defending the BWSC mess... when all along its only interest should be to defend the rights of the Maltese taxpayer.

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