Minister can’t probe individuals’ conduct
Officials involved in mercaptan burning are no longer with Enemalta
Finance Minister Tonio Fenech has said he could not instruct an inquiry into Enemalta’sillegal burning of the hazardous chemical mercaptan to probe the individual responsibility of those involved.
According to the 1977 Inquiries Act, only the Prime Minister can order such inquiries, but when the OPM was asked why this had not happened no reply was forthcoming.
Ministers, the Act stipulates, can appoint inquiries into the conduct of bodies or departments but are precluded from delving into the conduct of individuals.
An inquiry published last month concluded that energy corporation Enemalta had acted illegally when it burnt hundreds of gallons of hazardous chemical mercaptan in 2009.
Led by engineer Philip Schembri, the inquiry found Enemalta had breached multiple environmental regulations, failed to keep adequate records and purposely withheld information from the environmental regulator.
It, however, did not identify any of the individuals directly responsible for the burning of mercaptan as this did not fall within its competency. The Finance Ministry and Office of the Prime Minister have avoided answering a list of questions related to the inquiry. Both offices told The Times the inquiry report had been passed on to the police for further investigation.
The police were called in last week on Mr Fenech’s request, following allegations made in Parliament by Opposition whip Joe Mizzi.
Mr Mizzi alleged Mr Fenech had colluded in protecting certain Enemalta employees and called for his resignation.
But as the police look into Mr Mizzi’s allegations, there is little they can do to investigateindividuals responsible for the mercaptan burning, since any crimes committed are now time-barred.
Enemalta can, however, opt to discipline employees found to have been responsible for the burning of mercaptan, although that appears unlikely, with the corporation’s board going out of its way to insist the decision to burn the hazardous chemical was taken “in good faith”.
Mr Fenech told The Times the senior management officials at Enemalta involved in the mercaptan burning were no longer part of the corporation.
“Three senior management officials did not have their contract renewed and are no longer a part of Enemalta. Two of those were the management officials who provided me with incorrect information concerning mercaptan in early 2011,” he explained.
In February 2011 Mr Fenech had told Parliament that Enemalta’s stock of mercaptan had been used up in 2007.
That information, provided to him by the two management officials in question, subsequently turned out to be untrue – something the minister acknowledged was “unacceptable”.
Enemalta has said it will be adopting the recommendations made by the inquiry board.
These include the creation of an internal audit function, ensuring permit approval is received in writing, engaging further specialised staff and keeping an inventory of its hazardous chemicals.