The auditor general: enforcing accountability and ensuring good governance

The office of the Auditor General is a fundamental institution of our Republic. The office is attached to Parliament to which it reports on a regular basis.

Together with my colleagues, last week I had a meeting with the Auditor General and his team in order to discuss ADPD’s request for his office to examine the issues arising from the failure of  Enemalta’s distribution network during the July heatwave.

Has Enemalta managed its resources adequately over the years? Is proper planning in operation at the Corporation in order to ensure that the impacts of climate change are contained? The multiple failures of Enemalta’s distribution network indicate a negative response to these queries. Hence the need for an investigation to identify the method of operation of Enemalta over the years, spotlighting the mismanagement and lack of planning which has led to the current state of play. Those responsible must be held to account.

Our request for an investigation of Enemalta operations brings to four the number of pending ADPD requests for investigations on the Auditor General’s desk.

Earlier this year, in April, ADPD had requested an investigation of the Institute of Tourism Studies (ITS) relative to a contract of service entered into between the said ITS and the Honourable Rosianne Cutajar. She was then a Labour Member of Parliament, but is now an independent MP after being squeezed out of the Labour Parliamentary Group.

We had then requested that the Auditor General examine how the ITS could ever receive adequate service as detailed in its contract of service with the Hon Cutajar when the said Cutajar has no competence in such matters. Specifically, ADPD had drawn the attention of the Auditor General and queried as to how a qualified Italian secondary school teacher could advice on the management of the ITS including its financial management, an area in which it is public knowledge that Cutajar has no competence whatsoever.

Another request for an investigation submitted in January 2022 by ADPD concerns the golden handshakes received (mostly) by members of Cabinet whenever heads roll or Cabinets change. The criteria for the utilisation of public funds in such cases have to be clear and should not to be tailor-made and adjusted every so often by those directly concerned or earmarked to benefit.

Of particular concern is the lack of transparency as well as a lack of adequate oversight in this important area of expenditure. So far little feedback has been forthcoming. With rumours of another imminent Cabinet reshuffle intensifying, the importance of an early conclusion of this investigation is considerable.

A third investigation requested by ADPD concerns the Department of Revenue and its practice of offsetting taxes due with pending payments. As far as is known, this is being done without clear rules and robust oversight. Way back in May 2021 ADPD had requested the Auditor General to examine this practice in depth. Any deals on the offsetting of taxes due must stand up to public scrutiny. It must also be subject to robust oversight procedures.

If this is not done, we could have a serious problem on our hands. In a press statement issued on 19 May 2021 I had stated that “Any suspicions that tax reductions are a ‘thank you’ for any donations to the party in government must be swiftly dispelled.”

If properly done offsetting taxes due with pending payments may be a valid tool for the proper management of public funds. There is however a real danger that without proper oversight this practice could camouflage suspicious deals which at the end of the day further fund illegal political party financing.

The office of the Auditor General has a central role in ensuring that the public sector is transparently governed and accountable for all its actions and operations. It is likewise our duty at ADPD to draw its attention to investigate areas which in our opinion require careful scrutiny. We do this in the belief that the office of the Auditor General is a fundamental institution, essential for the good governance of our Republic.

The proper functioning of the republic’s institutions is the only effective guarantee for good governance and accountability.

Carmel Cacopardo
ADPD Deputy Chairperson
Published in The Malta Independent – Sunday 13 August 2023