MP tables 2010 investigation by IAID into serious breaches by Maltese tuna industry

Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi accuses Prime Minister Joseph Muscat of lying about fisheries department director 

Former EU Commissioner Maria Damanaki (left) had requested an investigation by the rural affairs ministry, then under George Pullicino (right), which tasked the IAID to investigate the allegations in 2010
Former EU Commissioner Maria Damanaki (left) had requested an investigation by the rural affairs ministry, then under George Pullicino (right), which tasked the IAID to investigate the allegations in 2010

Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi has accused Prime Minister Joseph Muscat of lying to the public when he claimed that there were no adverse comments about the suspended director of fisheries Andreina Fenech Farrugia in her file. 

Muscat yesterday told journalists that Fenech Farrugia was never barred from any government role prior to her promotion to director-general in 2013 upon Labour’s election. “In her file there are no adverse comments in this regard and there is absolutely nothing indicating that she was removed because of bad behaviour. We don’t know whether she was removed or whether she had asked to move herself because there is no indication about this either.”

Muscat’s comments followed statements by Parliamentary Secretary for agriculture Clint Camilleri last who questioned the motive for Fenech Farrugia’s 2010 transfer, insisting that there was no documentation about this in her file.

But Azzopardi, speaking during parliamentary adjournment this evening, said that Muscat was well aware of the reasons for her dismissal and questioned what interest he had in seeing Fenech Farrugia returned to fisheries department.  

“Today I am revealing that on the 12 November 2010, a letter was sent from the Commissioner to the Maltese government on the implementation of the Bluefin tuna industry, in which it was suggested that the Maltese authorities perform an administrative inquiry,” Azzopardi said. 

He said that a few days later, the environment ministry’s permanent secretary had requested an internal audit. “This is in her file, and the Prime Minister knows this… the Internal Audit and Investigations Department answers to Castille, this report is in Castille,” Azzopardi said. 

He said the Prime Minister was well aware of the reasons for Fenech Farrugia’s removal from the department but said that “because the interests were big, and they are very big mind you, he ordered [then Environment Minister Leo Brincat] to reappoint her”. 

IAID investigation

The 2010 investigation into Malta’s tuna industry and fisheries directorate had been carried out by none other than the prime minister’s Internal Audit and Investigations Department in 2010.

The investigation was prompted by a letter to the EU’s fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki, which reported cases of non-compliance, and lack of controls under then director Andreina Fenech Farrugia.

The director was later replaced in 2011 by top civil servant Joseph Caruana, until she was reinstated in 2013 and promoted to director-general by the newly-elected Labour administration, and Caruana was placed as permanent secretary to the ministry of education.

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However the report details events which took place also under the headship of Anthony Gruppetta.

Excerpts of the report were tabled in the House by shadow environment minister Jason Azzopardi, during his adjournment speech.

The IAID was also tasked to reveal why the irregularities were detected by the European Commission and not by Maltese authorities.

The IAID investigation revealed serious irregularities amongst others:

  1. Caging figures for 2008 and carry over quantities were inconsistent with data provided by the tuna farms, with no reconciliation made by the Fisheries Control Directorate’s scientific officer of some 1,103 pieces of tuna;
  2. A vessel monitoring system report in 2010 confirmed technical fail
  3. Shortcomings and omissions in respect of fisheries control and enforcement of tuna operations in 2008, because of an inability to reconcile data of farm operators on a periodical basis;
  4. No invoices for some 175,000 kg of tuna sold to Turkey in 2008 by Malta Fish Farming Ltd;
  5. No Fisheries Protection Officer recruited since the promotion of trainees;
  6.  Problems with recording, reconciled and monitoring of data with the farms;
  7. Landing officers not trained to make inspections, but simply doing work of the FPOs;
  8. Bluefin tuna Catch Documentation (BCDs) not validated at the time of the caging of tuna in 2008-2009

Azzopardi also cited minutes from a 2013 meeting between Malta’s previous permanent representative to the EU Marlene Bonnici and EU Maritime Affairs and Fisheries director-general Lowri Evans, in which Evans states how pleased she was with the improvement made by the Maltese fisheries.

The memo reveals that the European Commission's director-general for fisheries and maritime affairs Lowri Evans had remarked in a meeting with Malta's permanent representative Marlene Bonnici, saying that “compared to two years ago, the situation of the Maltese fishery is ‘completely transformed’” and that DG MARE was “delighted by the progress attained by the Maltese control authorities” – Evans said that the situation two years earlier had put “the Maltese fishery… in a very bad place”.

Azzopardi stressed that Fenech Farrugia had not found her way back to department when the meeting was held yet the government had still decided in favour of her being reinstated. 

He called on both Brincat and former fisheries Parliamentary Secretary Roderick Galdes to provide an explanation for this. 

“Once again, Maltese authorities had only taken action after foreign authorities had taken the lead… while I gave Environment Minister Jose Herrera the benefit of the doubt, it was now clear that the minister was also aware of the allegations but only decided to take action once information was leaked to the Spanish media.”

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