PN MP brushes off government’s audit action as smokescreen for scandals

Clyde Puli hits out at new police chief Lawrence Cutajar for posting 'undeserving' Facebook comments in praise of the Prime Minister

Labour MP Charles Mangion and PN MP Clyde Puli with Saviour Balzan on Reporter
Labour MP Charles Mangion and PN MP Clyde Puli with Saviour Balzan on Reporter

Opposition MP Clyde Puli brushed off the implementation of 93% of recommendations in the Auditor General’s latest annual report on government departments as a smokescreen to conceal large scandals.

“The Auditor General’s report was about administrative shortcomings, rather than about political responsibility,” Puli said on Monday night’s edition of Reporter. “The government is now trying to portray these measures as a victory for good governance so as to cover up its scandal.”

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat last week announced that government has taken action on 241 of the 259 recommendations made by the Auditor General in his report for 2014.

Civil service head Mario Cutajar said on Reporter that such action contrasts sharply with how the previous PN administration had handled the NAO’s annual reports.

“The previous administration had only implemented five recommendations out of some 200 reports it had received over five years,” he said. “When I discovered this, it served as an eye-opener to implement good governance measures.”

He added that government has also commissioned an internal audit to verify statements made by ministries and departments on how they are implanting the NAO’s suggestions.

“This is not because we don’t trust them, but because we want to get rid of the ‘everything goes’ attitude from the public service.”

However, Clyde Puli retorted that the action taken on the NAO’s recommendations was “relatively small in the grand scheme of things”.

“We have to weigh up quantity versus quality,” he said, listing government scandals and controversies – including the €4.2 million ‘bailout’ of Café Premier, hedging deals with Azerbaijan state-owned company Socar, the Gaffarena expropriation, dubious army promotions, and minister Konrad Mizzi’s ownership of an offshore Panama company.

“It was obvious from the start that government shouldn’t have expropriated two quarters of a house from Mark Gaffarena and that Mizzi shouldn’t have opened a secret company in Panama,” he said. “Muscat has described these as silly mistakes. Instead of using good governance as a point of departure, he is treating it as a sector to be tackled separately.”

He said that this was synonymous of the government’s decisions to appoint Cyrus Engerer as Malta’s special EU representative and Ray Zammit as head of the local enforcement agency, after they were caught in wrongdoing.

Labour MP Charles Mangion, also a panels it on the debate, said that the implementation of the NAO suggestions is a step in the right direction for good governance - following in the PL government’s removal of prescription on political corruption and introduction of laws to protect whistleblowers and regulate party financing.

“This administration is laying down the building blocks of good governance one by one,” he said.

Balzan argued that the NAO recommendations were of an administrative, rather than an ethical, nature. However, Mangion retorted that the NAO doesn’t judge political decisions but the implantation of policies.

The former PL deputy leader added that the prime minister has decided to publish all public contracts, barring the commercially sensitive information. Puli agreed but insisted that the commercially sensitive data be made available to scrutiny by a third party.

Mangion turned his knives on the PN – recounting the oil scandal, the weak concrete at Mater Dei, and their recent ‘Cedoli’ loan scheme – and urged the media not to risk Bank of Valletta’s name for the sake of “sensationalism”.

‘New police chief’s Facebook status undeserving of his role’

During the programme, Clyde Puli took the new acting police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar to task for a Facebook status he had written in August 2013 – praising Joseph Muscat for “having balls”.

“His comments are undeserving of a police commissioner,” he said, urging the government to appoint a new police chief who enjoys the support of two thirds of MPs.

Mangion tried to tone the contents of Cutajar’s status down, arguing that Puli was turning his knives on him because he supports Inter.

“I disagree with character assassinations carried out on people close to Labour. You may disagree with him politically, but at least give him some time to get accustomed to his new role before criticising him.”

Here, Puli jokingly retorted that Cutajar had praised Muscat for “making very good scrambled eggs for breakfast”.