No Standards investigation into non-MPs, Azzopardi tells Cassola on ethics complaint

Standards czar will not investigate Cassola complaint over non-cooperative state employees in Vitals inquiry

Kurt Farrugia
Kurt Farrugia

The Commissioner for Standards in Public Life will not be investigating an alleged ethics breach by a civil servant and the CEO of Malta Enterprise, over their refusal to give information to a National Audit Office inquiry into hospitals’ privatisation.

Commissioner Joseph Azzopardi said permanent secretary Paul Zahra, who is chairman of the State Aid Monitoring Board, and ME chief executive Kurt Farrugia – formerly communications chief to former prime minister Joseph Muscat – were not legally considered to be politically exposed persons.

Azzopardi stated that he is unable to investigate the two officials because they are not Members of Parliament or persons of trust as defined by the Act, which applies only to persons in these categories. The Commissioner did not enter into the question of whether or not the officials in question are PEPs, because this has no bearing on the applicability of the Act.

Independent politician Arnold Cassola, who requested the ethics investigation, said Azzopardi was following the letter of the law “as concocted by the PL and PN”.

“It would seem that according to this law the occupiers of these two high and sensitive posts are not included amongst those posts defined as PEPs. In view of this, these two, who tried to sabotage the Vitals Inquiry by refusing to answer any of the queries posed by the NAO, will get away scot-free. Withholding information and covering up for political crooks, like Joseph Muscat, Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi, has become the order of the day... and you can even get away with it, without even a slap on the wrist.”

The NAO said it had sought information relating to the lease agreement entered into by the Maltese government with the Queen Mary University London for the Barts Medical School in Gozo – which was to be constructed by hospitals’ concessionaires Vitals and later Steward –  together with an account of the payments received by Malta Enterprise in this respect. Similarly, queries submitted to the State Aid Monitoring Board remained unaddressed.

Malta Enteprise said in a comment solicited by MaltaToday that throughout the audit, the Auditor General had engaged in numerous consultations with past and present representatives from ME.

“We have consistently responded to the Audit Office’s inquiries, offering comprehensive explanations based on our understanding and within the purview of the governing legal framework,” Malta Enterprise CEO Kurt Farrugia told MaltaToday.

But Farrugia said that ME had informed the NAO, that under legal counsel it was bound by the confidentiality clauses specified in the Malta Enterprise Act. “These provisions primarily safeguard its clients, which invariably are investors in Malta, and the Corporation. Releasing information that would violate these confidentiality provisions leads to criminal prosecution, as confirmed by independent legal advisors,” Farrugia said.

“We want to underline that Malta Enterprise has exhibited total transparency and cooperation with all investigative procedures. We have complied with all requests for documentation from the Courts as part of an ongoing magisterial inquiry. It should be stressed that the documents requested by the NAO were already provided to the magisterial investigation before the Audit Office asked for such information,” Farrugia added.