Editorial | Sunday, 07 March 2010

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Too many coincidences

The resignation of former Enemalta chairman Alex Tranter raises serious questions about the credibility of the national energy provider, if not of the government as a whole.
Tranter’s resignation was communicated to the media last Thursday in a terse, two-line statement issued by the Finance Minister Tonio Fenech (the Energy sector having significantly been transferred to his portfolio as a result of last month’s Cabinet reshuffle).
Officially, the reason was that he had ‘stepped down to join a multinational company’; but this newspaper is in a position to confirm otherwise.
Alex Tranter has effectively been the director of an international company called Sunray Renewables (specialising in solar panels) since June 2008. By an interesting coincidence, this company was recently bought out by American giant SunPower: the ‘multinational’ referred to by Fenech’s statement.
Consequently, this important development adds a whole new perspective to the implication that Tranter left Enemalta for no other reason than to take up a new position in the private sector.
In truth, he had already occupied that position for a year and a half – during which time, the outgoing Enemalta chairman also doubled up as a consultant to government, specifically on the installation of solar panels – the same products manufactured by his ‘other’ company.
Nor is this the only questionable aspect of Tranter’s resignation. The impression given by Fenech’s statement on Thursday was that he had chosen to step down entirely of his own accord. This newspaper is however informed otherwise. Tranter’s resignation was by all accounts forced upon him from above; and the timing of his reluctant exit speaks volumes about the possible motives.
Effectively, Tranter was asked to vacate the post shortly before the long-awaited publication of the Auditor General’s report into the tendering process for the extension of the Delimara power station – by coincidence, another contract mired in allegations of corruption and conflict of interest.
Interestingly enough, the same report is intimately tied to an Opposition motion to, discuss the Delimara extension contract, as the Parliamentary debate has been postponed until after the report’s publication.
Strangely, however, while the debate was delayed, the project itself was not... with the result that the Auditor’s report (which is widely expected to be damning) will be released only at a point when the construction of the new power station is already well under way, and a Parliamentary debate still waiting to commence.
Nor do the anomalies end there. Apart from the allegations of corruption levelled at the Maltese government by unsuccessful bidders Bateman, and taken up by the Opposition, there was also the additional revelation that Tranter himself has business ties with the owner of the Vassallo Builders Group... which in turn will carry out the civil works for the Delimara power station extension for Danish firm BWSC.
And there is more. Asked directly by this newspaper whether his company Sunray Renewables was in any way involved in the ongoing request for proposals to supply government buildings with some 75,000 square metres of solar panels (which energy generated will then be fed into the national grid) Tranter replied in the negative.
In this he was, strictly speaking, correct - for it is not Sunray Renewables that is fronting the bid. Instead, among the companies tendering for this contract is none other than SunPower, along with the Vassallo Builders Group.
One need hardly add that the knowledge Tranter would no doubt have acquired as Enemalta chairman will stand both SunPower and Vassallo Builders in very good stead in their bid for these lucrative contracts. The only wonder is that very few people, if any at all, have even raised an eyebrow at this unwholesome state of affairs.
Matters may change, however, when the Auditor’s report into the power station extension is finally published. This report is likely to prove embarrassing to the government, which has pressed on with the project despite the ongoing Auditor’s investigation, and the promise of an uncomfortable Parliamentary debate in the near future.
This alone may help to explain the curious fact that responsibility for Enemalta was so recently (and inexplicably) transferred from the Investments to the Finance Ministry. It may also shed light on the decision to show Tranter the door at precisely this juncture in time.
It seems that the government, conscious of the perception of corruption that so many closely-knit coincidences are bound to inspire, is keen to distance itself from all components in this curious concoction of questionable rapports.
It remains to be seen whether these manoeuvres will be enough to eclipse the overwhelming impression that something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

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