George Pullicino accused of lying to Public Accounts Committee during BWSC hearing

Candidate Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando said it was surprising that Simon Busuttil had not asked Pullicino to withdraw his candidacy and was insisting on defending the BWSC plant

Jeffery Pullicino Orlando (left) Chris Fearne (right)
Jeffery Pullicino Orlando (left) Chris Fearne (right)

Labour Party candidate, and former Nationalist backbencher Jeffery Pullicino Orlando has said the PN candidate George Pullicino should be forced to withdraw his candidacy since it had been revealed that he had ‘blatantly lied’ to the Public Accounts Committee, and the parliamentary group of the time, over changes made to the Environment Protection Act in January 2008.

Last Sunday, Labour Party newspaper Kullhadd published a report where it was claimed that on the 4 January 2008, a legal notice was published by then Resources and Rural Affairs minister George Pullicino that effectively relaxed emissions limits.

The report contained a scanned copy of two letters: one sent by the CEO of BWSC to Pullicino asking him to revise Maltese limits, and a second one in which Enemalta had advised Pullicino not agree to a reduction in limits.

Pullicino Orlando said that after the story was published, he had spoken with others who were part of the PN parliamentary group, and was better able to make sense of the fact that the legal notice was published on 4 January, quite an unusual time given that it fell during the Christmas holidays  

“Without the legal notice, BWSC’s application wouldn’t even have been considered,” said Pullicino Orlando.

“When we asked, during a meeting of the parliamentary group, why we had chosen to lower standards rather than increase them…George Pullicino said that it had nothing to do with [BWSC], that it was a coincidence and that the legal notice was published to bring Malta’s limits in line with the rest of Europe.”

Moreover, he said that one of the people he had spoken to, who also happened to be a cabinet member at the time, told him that cabinet had not been informed that the legal notice was going to be put forward, as was common practice.

“The legal notice was presented on the fourth of January without cabinet’s knowledge,” he said. “The reason is manifestly clear and wasn’t the one given by George Pullicino...It was clearly done so that BWSC could win the tender.”

To add insult to injury, added Pullicino Orlando, the PN’s reaction to the story was that the matter had been discussed in the Public Accounts Committee which, it said had found nothing wrong.  

“One of the most relevant testimonies was that of Martin Kok Jensen who was asked by Austin Gatt whether he had contacted anyone from Malta in relation to the tendering process,” he said, adding that Jensen had replied that BWSC had never approached anyone in Malta.

He added that Pullicino had been informed that if BWSC’s recommendations were adhered to, it would result in limits that were only acceptable in African countries.

“The smoke was there, but now there is also fire,” he said. “The auditor general did not have these documents in hand when he was carrying out his investigation.

Pullicino Orlando said the act was a clear act of corruption and challenged Pullicino to sue him for libel.

“I am prepared to ask all the MPs in the PN’s parliamentary group at the time to testify,” he added.

Finally, he said that he was surprised that PN leader Simon Busuttil was still choosing the defend the BWSC plant, and added that the Labour Party had received information showing that Busuttil himself had made direct contact with a “main protagonist in the story”.

“I will give Simon Busuttil the opportunity to explain the situation before we continue to release all the information we have,” he said.

Health minister Chris Fearne explained that there were a number of studies carried out in Malta that had shown a correlation between respiratory conditions and air pollution, and that studies had also shown that people living close to the power station had a bigger incidence of lung cancer.

He insisted that Pullicino and Kok Jensen had lied to the Public Accounts Committee in 2011 since there was clear evidence that George Pullicino had ignored technical recommendations by Enemalta, following a request by BWSC.

He said the story shows that despite the PN acting as though it was the “paladin of the environment” it had taken actions that resulted in damage being done to the health of people living in the south of Malta.