[WATCH] Special concession to ministries for contracts requires better oversight, Edward Scicluna says

Xtra on TVM | Former finance minister Edward Scicluna says controversial Schedule 3 concession for awarding public contracts should be tightly integrated in the finance ministry

Former finance minister Edward Scicluna (right)
Former finance minister Edward Scicluna (right)

A special concession for the award of contracts granted to some government entities should be integrated within the finance ministry for better controls, Edward Scicluna said.

The former finance minister said the controversial Schedule 3 concession allows ministries to use funds allocated to them without having to go through the contracts department.

Projects Malta, the entity created after the 2013 election under the remit of former minister Konrad Mizzi, was one such entity that piloted controversial multi-million euro contracts and concessions such as the Vitals Hospital deal. Scicluna has been accused of a closing an eye as finance minister to some of these controversial projects. 

But Scicluna said it was unfair to pin the blame on the finance ministry when the Schedule 3 arrangement, which was created by a previous Nationalist administration, only required ministries to gain Cabinet approval for any contracts signed under its terms.

“One cannot expect the finance ministry to be held solely responsible for these contracts… I would like to have it [Schedule 3] more integrated in the finance ministry,” he said when interviewed on TVM’s Xtra last Thursday.

Scicluna said that entities such as Infrastructure Malta and others within the Economy Ministry benefited from Schedule 3 status and the Contracts Department had no oversight on their spending.

Scicluna has stepped down from minister and has been nominated by the government to become the next Central Bank of Malta governor.

Opposition spokesperson Mario de Marco, who was also on the programme, suggested that although Scicluna was a very capable finance minister in certain aspects, his lack of political experience and acumen meant that he allowed some things to get out of hand. 

“Because he wasn’t a typical politician, I think that some things got out of his control… Certain decisions taken by Konrad Mizzi that had a financial impact – I think that these are black marks on Edward’s career,” de Marco said.

The Nationalist MP also insisted that Scicluna’s resignation from politics came as no surprise, arguing that the writing was on the wall ever since the finance minister appeared in front of the Daphne Caruana Galizia public inquiry.

“I think that with his testimony, Edward showed that he was no longer comfortable forming part of the executive, of the government, and of the Cabinet, even if under a different prime minster… When he gave his testimony about the kitchen cabinet of Joseph Muscat and his inference that certain decisions were being taken behind his back, even though they had an impact on the country’s finances showed that he was no longer feeling comfortable,” de Marco said.

Scicluna insisted that proper procedure as laid out in the law was always adhered to during his time as finance minister, adding that any accusations of potential wrongdoing remain mere allegations at this point in time, since the inquiry is still ongoing. 

The former minister also lambasted the attacks and accusations made against him by NGO Repubblika, stating that they are just frivolous attempts to tarnish his name.

“I can assure you that whoever did this, did so in an attempt to tarnish my reputation… but in a frivolous manner, since this group did this without having any proof. They tried to tarnish the finance ministry without any proof at all,” he said. 

Scicluna argued that Repubblika are fully aware of how the Schedule 3 concession works, and that he cannot be held responsible for what happens under its auspices.

Asked by show presenter Saviour Balzan what advice he would give his successor in Cabinet, Clyde Caruana, Scicluna stressed the importance of keeping control of the country’s finances, especially during turbulent times. 

“Today we do need to spend. But today will pass and next year will pass, so we need to be careful because otherwise we will suffer the consequences,” he said.

Scicluna emphasised the need for Malta’s economy and its current tax system to change in order to cater for the future. 

“The economy will change and it has to change… even where taxes are involved. We need to adapt for the changes and they will be large changes, so we need to be prepared,” he cautioned.