Former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri is set to be summoned to testify before the Public Accounts Committee later this month, in the latest development to the committee's Electrogas probe.

This was revealed at the end of Tuesday’s PAC meeting during which former tax commissioner Marvin Gaerty testified about his role in the project’s selection committee.

Government and opposition members of the PAC have frequently been at odds over the selection of witnesses to be summoned and the procedure used when issuing the summons. 

On this occasion, no member of the committee objected to Schembri being summoned as its next witness.

In his testimony, Gaerty said that he was appointed as a team leader for the committee looking into the bidders’ commercial, technical and financial merits.

When pressed on whether he was appointed in his personal capacity or as the tax commissioner, a role which he had taken up just a few months earlier, Gaerty appeared uncertain, saying he believed it was in his personal capacity.

He clarified that at this stage he did not have a vote, with his role limited to coordinating the process and compiling the marks awarded by the technical experts on the selection committee.

Gaerty’s testimony was marked by several instances in which he struggled to recall details about the process, repeatedly pointing out that events took place a decade ago.

Amongst the details that Gaerty struggled to remember were who the other members of the selection committee were, who appointed him to the committee and whether the Electrogas bid listed any Maltese shareholders.

At one point Gaerty even appeared to have forgotten that he was also involved in the project’s final evaluation stage, conceding that “I must have been present for the meetings, but I can’t remember anything, it’s been ten years,” when told that his signature was on the final committee’s documentation.

Former tax commissioner Marvin Gaerty. Photo: Mark Zammit CordinaFormer tax commissioner Marvin Gaerty. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

Faced with questions from PAC member and PN MP Graham Bencini over the NAO’s findings that the selection process’ due diligence was “insufficient” and that “checks related to fraud, bribery and corruption…were not part of the due diligence carried out,” Gaerty insisted that he worked within the parameters presented to him.

“We worked on the criteria that were established, NAO’s comments were directed at whoever established the criteria. You need to work along the criteria that you are given, if there’s anything missing you assume that it is present at another stage,” he said.

Pressed by PAC chair Darren Carabott, Gaerty denied that he had given the green light for Electrogas’ excise tax bill to be footed by the taxpayer, saying “No, the exemption of excise duty was news to me, I only found out through the media”.

Electrogas were bound to pay €40m in excise duty according to the tender’s terms, but it was later revealed that this cost was absorbed by government.

Gaerty clarified that an exemption in excise duty can only be granted by the finance minister, insisting that he never received any request about this.

Questioned about whether he had a conflict of interest when giving Enemalta advice about the tax implications of the project’s floating gas tanker being replaced by a fixed pipeline with Italy, despite having been a member of the project’s selection committee, Gaerty rejected this suggestion.

"My advice was simply on tax implications, not on the project itself. In my 25 years within the field, I have always been approached to give taxation advice along these lines and I never acted any differently to how I did in this case,” he said.

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