Sofia Inquiry: All Malta Enterprise processes to be audited, Economy Minister says

Economy Minister Silvio Schembri confirms resignations of Malta Enterprise officials in aftermath of Sofia Inquiry, says all agency’s processes will be audited

Economy Minister Silvio Schembri (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
Economy Minister Silvio Schembri (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

Silvio Schembri has ordered an audit of all the operations undertaken by Malta Enterprise to ensure processes are improved, the economy minister told parliament on Thursday.

The decision comes in the wake of scathing conclusions by the Jean Paul Sofia Inquiry.

The inquiry found serious shortcomings in the way the State agency evaluates requests for public industrial land by prospective investors.

Malta Enterprise fell under Schembri’s purview last January following a Cabinet reshuffle.

The Sofia Inquiry concluded that ME should have never given the green light to the proposal put forward by Kurt Buhagiar and Matthew Schembri to acquire public land at Corradino for the construction of a furniture factory.

The inquiry singled out Kevin Camilleri, the ME official who assessed the application, concluding that he “totally failed in his responsibilities”. The agency’s Investment Committee that is tasked with assessing small-scale industry proposals, also came in for severe criticism with the inquiry saying it tackled the request in a “superficial” manner.

Speaking during a special session of parliament that is discussing the findings of the Sofia Inquiry, Schembri said government had to be humble in front of the inquiry's conclusions and take the necessary action to ensure Sofia's death was not in vain.

Schembri said that he immediately took on board the recommendation for a full audit of Malta Enterprise’s processes.

However, he insisted that any changes should ensure that bona fide investment is not undermined by top-heavy regulations that makes it hard for people to take decisions.

“While we as a government are committing ourselves 100% to implementing changes that are necessary, we also have to be careful of performing quick-fixes that create structures or situations where people are scared of taking decisions,” Schembri said. “Solutions should be aimed at improving things.”

Schembri confirmed that in the aftermath of the inquiry’s findings, the head of ME’s microenterprise unit had his job terminated and the board of the investment committee resigned.

“I have instructed the agency’s chair to abolish outright the investment committee and all processes shall now be evaluated by Malta Enterprise’s board of directors,” the minister said, adding evaluation processes have been bolstered in terms of due diligence, environmental impact and the need for the board to have a complete picture before making its decision.

Schembri also announced that the site where Jean Paul Sofia died will be converted into a public garden in his honour once legal processes are exhausted and it is repossessed by the government.

He said a Cabinet committee tasked by the Prime Minister to implement the Sofia Inquiry recommendations will meet for the first time on Friday to map the way forward. Schembri is one of the ministers on this committee.