Energy theft | Government advised that theft does not equate to corruption

Government advised that consumers who paid to have their smart meters tampered do not necessarily face corruption charges, parliamentary secretary Owen Bonnici says.

Paying to have smart meters tampered with to reduce energy bills does not necessarily equate to corruption, parliamentary secretary for justice, Owen Bonnici said.

"We have been given advice that paying for a mechanism to avoid paying fully for the energy consumed possibly does not equate to a bribe," Bonnici told MaltaToday.

According to Article 88 of the Electricity Supply Regulations, consumers found to have tampered with the meters, theft of electricity and unregistered consumption have to pay for the unbilled supply, plus interest and a penalty equivalent to 10% of the supply obtained illegally allowing perpetrators avoid criminal proceedings. However, the procedure introduced in 2006, makes no reference to other illegalities such as bribing Enemalta employees.

However, this should incentivise people who paid to have their meters tampered to come forward and spill the beans, Bonnici said.

Pressed on whether this was giving a message that people can get away with illegalities by paying their dues and a small fine, Bonnici said that "this system incentivises the small fish to uncover the big fish. Our main aim is to get the mastermind who created this scam."

Speaking to MaltaToday after holding a public consultation meeting over the justice sector, Bonnici insisted that government was after "the spider that spun the web" rather than the "small fish."

Although it is understood that persons higher up in Enemalta's hierarchy could be involved in the scheme which cost the company up to €30 million a year in unpaid electricity, Bonnici did not explain whether anyone else, apart from the eight suspended Enemalta employees was behind the scam.

Last week, Paul Pantalleresco, a former Enemalta employee, was jailed for two years after he admitted to bribery and tampering some 250 Smart meters.

Another two Enemalta employees who were arraigned yesterday, pleaded not guilty and were remanded in custody. In the coming days more Enemlata employees are expected to be arraigned over the same charges.

Asked why the government will not take any criminal action against consumers who admit to energy theft, Bonnici said, "This is not an amnesty, government is simply putting into action a legal provision which was enacted in the previous legislature, which enables Enemalta to recover money which was stolen to its detriment, impose penalties and obtain information from persons who come forward to regularise their position."

This, he said, would allow persons to "come clean" and allow government to identify the masterminds behind the scam, who will face civil and criminal proceedings.

Earlier, the junior minister warned that consumers who stole electricity are expected to identify who tampered with their smart meters if they wanted to avoid legal proceedings.

He added that consumers who were involved in the scam would enjoy protection under the whistleblower act. "Persons who come forward with information on big and small crimes will be granted protection. This will be applied to anyone who helps uncover the spider that spun the web, starting from the theft of energy to the Enemalta oil procurement scandal."

If the persons that stole our energy and corrupted Enemalta officials will cooperate with the authorities and pass all the information they have regarding this scam over to the police, then yes, these persons can be seen to have cooperated and can be somewhat included under the whistleblower's act. They must fully cooperate and give their dues if they want to the police to drop charges.
And may we ask, Hon PS, who was the one who gave you this brilliant advise?
In this case what the government is doing is the only logical and practical way to handle it. Can anyone imagine taking legal action against 1,000 persons, how much it will cost ? How many YEARS it will take to get sentences ? What chance will there be that Enemalta gets any money back after all the trouble ?
The good thing is that action has been taken and this ring of evil unveiled......... Let us not forget that in 2007 the PN government under the leadership of Lawrence Gonzi (who in parliament voted 'bil-qalb' for increased energy bills) gave an amnesty to all those who over the years did not pay tax on their income .......... they only had to pay a 5% penalty on all the undeclared income!!! We honest taxpayers were paying at a rate of 35%!!!
The most logic thing to do to the people who paid for the tampered meters is to try get the tax payers money back and give them a 10% fine and a warning.This talk of trowing them in jail is stupid.So a 1000 people you have to build a new prison ,god knows what would it cost in court sittings and we wont get our money back.YOU trow in jail the brains behind it all.
Then sack your "advisor" and find someone with a brain. Or maybe your "advisor" was one of those who paid to get their meter tampered with?
A very dangerous path to go down I would say. A payment for something which the consumner knew was illegal should be considered a corrupt practice otherwise we can excuse almost any action of a similar nature. Why not call a spade a spade once and for all!
Hmm so if the government is being advised that what consumers did does not equate to paying bribes, why are the employees being charged with accepting bribes?? The provision they are referring to does not contemplate a situation where an Enemalta employee does the tampering.