Opposition being ‘left in the dark’ in energy debate - Busuttil

Simon Busuttil accuses government for 'having something to hide' by refusing to publish the Enemalta sale contracts it had signed with Shanghai Electric Power

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil criticised the government for refusing to publish the contracts it had signed with Chinese state-owned Shanghai Electric Power on its purchase of parts of Enemalta.

“We are here to discuss the sale of a power station and Enemalta’s name, while the contracts, essential to the debate, are not in front of us because the government has repeatedly refused to publish them,” Busuttil said during a parliamentary debate on the government's recent deal with SEP that saw the latter acquire a 33% stake in Enemalta. “According to the government, it’s not in the public interest to know the details of the contracts it has signed. Apparently, the people only have a right to the information that the Prime Minister wants them to know.

“This clearly shows that Labour’s pre-electoral transparency pledge was nothing but a laugh in the people’s faces.”

Busuttil said that the government’s refusal to publish the contracts is a sign that something stinks about the deal. 

He added that agreement document that the government had published in Parliament last week raises more questions than answers.  

“Who will sell electricity to whom?” he questioned. “Who will we buy electricity from, the Chinese government or the Electrogas power station that was supposed to be finished this coming March? Does it make sense to sell a power station and continue to buy energy from it? The government has left such a crucial sector as energy in the hands of a foreign government through a contract that isn’t being published.”

He said that Muscat’s promise to contruct a new gas power station by March 2015 was a blatant lie and that the Prime Minister had never said that he was going to sell parts of Enemalta while he was Opposition leader.

“Not only has the government not doing what it had promised, but it is doing what it hadn’t promised. It’s selling the BWSC plant to a foreign state. Moreover, Muscat had also promised once that Enemalta would not be privitised.”

Busuttil ended his speech by saying that international oil prices have plummeted by 50% since 2013 but that fuel prices in Malta are not reflective of this freefall in price.

“The government is stealing €13.92 out of every €30 that people spend on fuel and €13 out of every €30 that they spend on diesel,” he said. “The excess price that people are paying for petrol and fuel greatly outweighs the recent electricity bill reductions.”    

He also dismissed Muscat’s comparisons on how fuel prices are decreasing now while they had increased under the previous administration.

“His argument of ‘look at how you had done’ doesn’t work,” Busuttil said. “The people don’t care about how much they used to pay for fuel five years ago but about how much they’re paying now. Either way, the price of oil was high five years ago and it is low now.

“Excluding taxes, we pay the highest rate for fuel than any other European country. Including taxes, we pay the third highest rate. Now you want us to clap for you because you reduced petrol by 2c.”

‘No timeline for conversion of BWSC from oil to gas’

Opposition deputy leader Mario de Marco ripped into the 15-page agreement document that the government had tabled in Parliament last week

“The agreement says that a new company D3 will undergo the investment to convert the BWSC plant from oil to gas but does not give a timeline for when this conversion will occur,” de Marco said. “It also says that Enemalta will remain responsible for the maintenance of BWSC until the plant’s operations have been switched to gas.

“The agreement says that SEP ‘will subscribe’ to a 33.3% of Enemalta, which means that it hadn’t subscribed to it at the time of writing,” de Marco said. “The agreement refers to the BWSC plant as still being owned by the government, and it is still registered as such on the MFSA website.

“The agreement says that SEP will subscribe to 90% of the shares in D3. However both D3 and another company mentioned in this agreement, the International Energy Services Centre Limited, are not registered on the MFSA’s website.

“To truly ensure that the people got the best deal, we must know what the deal actually says. While we agree that the government shouldn’t publish the commercially sensitive clauses in this deal, surely not every clause in every contract that the government signed is commercially sensitive.”  

He also insisted that the previous Nationalist government did not intend Malta’s energy to remain dependent on oil.
“The previous government had planned the construction of the interconnector and a gas pipeline to Europe,” de Marco said.   

‘Government wants us to be accomplices in this fake debate’

In his intervention, shadow justice minister Jason Azzopardi criticised the government for not allowing the Opposition to scrutinize agreements that Malta had entered with foreign states, including Azerbaijan.

“The government wants us to be accomplices in this fake debate,” Azzopardi said. “The people voted for a lie when they voted Labour on their promises of transparency and good governance, promises that have been repeatedly broken,”

Azzopardi said that the previous administration had published 11 volumes of the original BWSC contract, excluding certain commercially sensitive parts.

“Muscat lied when he told journalists that the past government had failed to publish these contracts,” Azzopardi said. “How can we trust him when he lies about things that are so easily verifiable by the public?”

‘The government should be careful when liberalising energy'

Opposition MP Ryan Callus warned the government of the problems associated with liberalising the energy sector.

“Energy is a basic need of every economy that impacts a country’s competitiveness,” Callus said. “Malta doesn’t have an open energy market and the price of energy is therefore not adapted to the market, but to Enemalta. This will all change once the government introduces new layers, such as the Chinese acquisition of Enemalta, the Electrogas consortium that will take over the new gas power station, and the interconnector.”

He said that the government should publish the energy prices by all three operators at least every month, establish an online portal, and clearly state how much energy each of the three parties will provide.

“Sometimes I feel as though I’m in a mathematics class and that Joseph Muscat is the teacher,” Callus said. “I ask where the numbers are coming from and the teacher tells me that I only need to learn the numbers by heart. I respond by saying that I am not a parrot.”

‘An agreement riddled with questions and discrepancies’  

Shadow energy minister Marthese Portelli criticised several ‘irregularities’ that she found when analyzing the document that the government had published in Parliament last week.

“How can we have a proper discussion about an agreement without a copy of the power-purchase agreements?” she questioned. “The document the government published is full of discrepancies. It makes several references to a new company ‘D3’ but does not define what this ‘D3’ will consist of. It doesn’t give details about where anonymous consent, absolute majority and simple majority should apply with regards decisions taken by Enemalta’s shareholders and directors.

"It doesn’t specify whether the sale of company shares will go to the government or Enemalta. It doesn’t provide details of business plans, despite making continuous references to them. It doesn’t provide a copy of the shareholders’ agreement that includes issues such as who will have the power to decide what. It doesn’t specify whether the wages of Enemalta workers will be in any way affected.”

The agreement tabled by the government counts for nothing, Portelli argued.

“A clause in the agreement clearly says that the document is merely a skeleton and that the document will count for nothing if any discrepancy exists between its contents and the contents of other contracts.”

 

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