MaltaToday: Court told how VOM did fall under public procurement rules
NEWS | Sunday, 20 January 2008

Court told how VOM did fall under public procurement rules

Karl Schembri

In what is yet another unexpected twist to the Voice of the Mediterranean saga, a National Audit Office (NAO) investigator confirmed for the first time ever that the original legal advice given to the office was that the defunct radio station that went bankrupt under Richard Muscat fell under public procurement regulations.
Testifying in court in a libel case instituted by Muscat against MaltaToday, NAO’s officer John Burlo said last Tuesday that the original legal advice to the audit office was that VOM was regulated by public procurement procedures regulating government departments.
This means that despite the government’s vilification of the damning NAO report issued in 2006, Muscat would have been bound by regulations that would have forbidden him from issuing direct orders to a company employing his son, among other financial irregularities detailed by the same audit office.
However, the legal counsel to NAO had then changed his advice, agreeing with the Attorney General when questioned and put in the limelight of the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee, that Voice of the Mediterranean did not fall under public procurement rules.
The witness added that as an NAO officer he personally disagreed that VOM did not fall under public procurement rules but Magistrate Michael Mallia dismissed his statement as this was a matter of opinion and not of fact.
The NAO had accused Muscat of “problems and irregularities” in the operations of the radio station financed by the Foreign Affairs Ministry, with the major contracts and investments carried out by direct order.
The NAO said major contracts for the expansion and refurbishment were awarded by direct order, and staff were approached directly by Muscat and asked to apply for vacancies within the station.
In its audit report, NAO had detailed Muscat’s excessive spending of public funds despite the station’s glaring lack of funds from the Libyan government, which owned half of the venture. Amongst other expenses, Muscat bought swanky furniture, invested in fireworks, purchased a car, installed state of the art security features and spent thousands of liri on IT services without issuing calls for tenders.
Government however absolved Muscat of all the allegations, arguing that VOM did not fall under public procurement regulations. This meant that ministers were bound and accountable under procurement regulations but Muscat and his ilk remained not bound by these regulations, an anomaly that has not yet been remedied by the government.

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