Saviour Balzan | Sunday, 17 May 2009
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Carry on…

Last year, this newspaper revealed the scandalous award of direct orders at Mater Dei before the last election, and the lop-sided contracts awarded to companies renowned for their political leanings or contacts.
Those contracts were extravagant and irresponsible. Worse still, they cost the taxpayer millions of euros.
The contracts were masterminded by the Ministry of Finance, then under the guidance of the Office of the Prime Minister. This very week, after the public accounts committee chaired by Charles Mangion requested the Auditor General to investigate a MaltaToday report, the conclusions were finally tabled in the House.
The auditor’s report not only vindicated our stories, but furthermore added new facts, pointing to an spate of irresponsible direct orders, and mismanaged public contracts.
The Prime Minister has defended the decision to issue direct orders weeks before a national election. We are not surprised at his reaction. The PM’s ‘new way of doing politics’ has many interesting facets. He told a MaltaToday journalist yesterday that he would repeat his decision, if it meant safeguarding patients’ concerns. Evidently, he believes he has the high moral ground to defend the indefensible.
The PM’s typical Maria Goretti riposte, of course, does not allude to the fact that the ‘direct orders’ at stake had nothing to do with the survival of patients, but a lot to do with the provision of ‘easy revenues’ to those who manage publicly-funded parking lots and security at Mater Dei, when these outsourced duties could just as easily have been carried out by staff still in the employ of the government.
Really, the report’s conclusions should have led the Prime Minister to show some remorse.
What is surprising, however, is that the auditor has not even looked at all the contracts at Mater Dei. This newspaper is informed of many other interesting contractual agreements, which would normally attract the attention of any Auditor General worth his salt.
At a time when the Prime Minister is asking Joe Citizen to pay more taxes and higher tariffs because of incompetence at Enemalta and the hedging agreements, the spending spree at Mater Dei to private companies is scandalous.
But of course, party apologists will find more time on their hands debating whether we should have a parliament or an opera house. And TVM and all the friendly newspapers will find no time at all to focus on this damning report.
Spin-doctors usually describe this kind of behaviour as alienation or pure, unadulterated censorship.
The auditor’s report highlights the lack of documentation available to substantiate work carried out; the mad scramble to sign contracts; the dubious authenticity of invoices; the lack of any verification process; overpayments to private companies; questionable attendance sheets and a plethora of irregular payments – apart from the exorbitant fees paid to different companies from our pockets, ignoring every principle of procurement regulations.
Whatever the PM might say, those who choose to support his line of action should perhaps propose that we might as well do away with the Auditor General, once and for all. If Gonzi wants a free for all, then he should declare so.
Truth is, the PM will always evade the real reason behind the issue of direct orders at Mater Dei. The reason for all this is rather simple:
- Dr Gonzi was facing an election in 2008. He committed himself to open the doors of Mater Dei in July 2007. He did so. He promised many other things, including a breast-screening programme, which he failed to cost and implement. He failed to control the running costs at Mater Dei.
- After 15 years of excessive spending and incompetent ministerial direction at Mater Dei, the hospital was finally opened. Today many original ‘Gonzi ideas’ such as the closing down of Boffa hospital and transfer to Zammit Clapp have been scrapped and many work practices changed.
- In December 2007, the Prime Minister through his underling Tonio Fenech issued direct orders. The expediency for the contracts was not linked to any concern for patients but to the fact that the date for the election was March 8 2008.
Now, Dr Gonzi seemingly has had a ‘two weights and two measures’ approach to similar investigations by the Auditor General.
When one of his ministers – John Dalli – was under the investigative probe of the Auditor General in relation to the purchase of air tickets by the ministry, the PM stated that he could not have a minister under investigation.
The investigation he was purportedly referring to was the one carried out by the Auditor General. However, Mr Dalli himself has long argued that the PM was in fact referring to the Joe Zahra allegations.
Well, let us take the PM’s word for it, and let us all believe that someone of the moral grandeur of Lawrence Gonzi cannot possibly utter an untruth.
The truth is that what applied to John Dalli should really and truly apply to Tonio Fenech. If Dalli resigned under the so-called investigation by the Auditor General, then it follows that Tonio Fenech should follow suit.
There is only flaw in this line of thought. As one Gonzi apologist stated only too recently, all pigs are equal, but some pigs are more equal than others.
In the auditor’s report on Dalli there were no proven accusations; on the other hand in the case of Mater Dei, the auditor has come up with some damning conclusions and recommendations that point directly to Triq Zekka: home of Tonio Fenech’s ministry.
When I watched the Prime Minister’s reply on NET to the MaltaToday journalist – citing his consideration for the livelihood of hospital patients as an excuse for issuing direct orders worth millions – I could have thrown up.
The PM was justifying the squandering of public funds, to a company that will be making millions, that could easily have been avoided. The only people to have gained in these direct orders are the private companies who have raked in millions of euros. These are operations that could have easily raked in attractive revenues for the government.
I will end by quoting one final sentence from the Auditor-General under the title: “Evaluate new options of how the hospital car park can be managed. The new agreement entered into 2008 with the existing company, followed by the immediate reduction in parking rates, may ultimately not lead to a good value-for-money outcome over the five year life span of the contract. Other options which could lead to the achievement of the value-for-money should be identified and assessed to ensure a better deal to Government following expiry of the present tender.”

For more on this read today’s edition and and

More and more tahwid
On Net Radio, there is typical nauseating DJ whose programme is Tahwid is the Maltese word to describe confusion.
Well, sister newspaper Illum today carries on its front page the serious allegations by foreign company Huntley-Bateman. The allegations presented to Prime Minister Gonzi have been ignored and this led the legal firm representing the reputable foreign firm to take the case to the Public Accounts Committee.
Once again, the PM has proven to all of us that his new way of doing politics is really and truly best understood in his consistent ability to ignore the more serious allegations – most especially, when Huntley-Bateman are suggesting some very serious irregularities.
Namely that legal notices issued after the tender for an extension to the power station will benefit the competing company represented locally by guess whom.
And more importantly for people like Alan Deidun who give the impression that his party is God’s gift to the environment, the legal notice which will clearly advantage the competing company Mann who will could use their high-density fuel oil power station and thus fall within the higher thresholds for gaseous emissions of toxic gases. M’hawnx ghalina!
But for more on this, buy Illum, the very successful sister newspaper, which is run completely independent from MaltaToday and has its own news stories.

What an excellent campaign
“Oh Sav! I saw that Labour party billboard – how stupid can they be to show Dom Mintoff and KMB?”

“Saviour, can you check if SKONT should be spelt SKOND, it appeared on the Labour (sic) party billboard.”

“How pathetic, Labour are now promoting their candidates by portraying Dom Mintoff.”

These are extracts from three emails I received from PN sympathisers with an above-average IQ who thought that the PN billboard, ‘Skont iz-zokk, il-fergha’ was in fact a Labour billboard. More interestingly this billboard has effectively convinced some hardcore Labour voters to vote on June 6. Prosit Pawlu (Borg Olivier) – can you please tell them who the brains are behind your campaign strategy.

Election specials
There will special elections special editions of MaltaToday before June 6 and the day after the election. Surveys, analysis and commentary galore. So make sure you book your copies as from now.


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