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Solution to energy fraud

The main questions that should be entertaining the minds of those responsible for controlling the public purse in regard to the Enemalta smart meters scam are when it all began and how it could have happened. The government and the Opposition should be focusing on rooting out those who methodically devised the abuse as well as on minimising its impact.

Instead, the Opposition has turned the issue on to the ridiculous allegation that the government is intent on covering up for those guilty of corruption. It is doing so because the authorities are utilising the provisions of an existing legal notice intended to make it possible for those who paid to have their meters tampered with to come forward with the truth, pay the amounts “saved”, plus a fine, give all possible information about the systemic abuse, and move on.

The facts have yet to emerge. As likely as not the abuse began well before the election. In fact over the years there have been other cases of abuse, with action being taken over a number of them. This revealed that the consumption reading and billing system would always be susceptible to attack.

That remained so even with the implementation of the smart meters project, which was presented by Enemalta and its ministry as the final solution to all the previous shortcomings.

Clearly, it was not. Political responsibility should be estab­lished rather than spinning the issue into one of the present government condoning fraud and corruption, with the Commissioner of Police also put in the firing line with the usual wicked mantra that he is a puppet of the government.

The ongoing fierce debate is about positioning for political gain, rather than to ensure that the truth will be unearthed and the system restructured so that what has taken place will not happen again.

That is the government’s position, but one which is fiercely rejected by the Opposition. The Opposition wants to go for the jugular of identified householders who paid to have their consumption highly understated. Its preferred path is to initiate a court case in each case, running into hundreds if not thousands.

Court cases are notorious for the time they take to be settled. While they are going, the accused make no refunds, pay no interest or penalties. The logjam in the law courts will simply grow, quite massively so.

The basic rule is not to harm society’s ability to protect itslelf

Perhaps, in the fullness of time, Enemalta might win some cases and guilty parties will be ordered to make due payments. There is no certainty of that. All the fine trickeries allowable under the legal system will be deployed by defence lawyers, a number of whom will come from within the political class itself.

The government’s approach is more practical. It places the burden to repay on the guilty parties, who will also be charged interest and, as already stated, a penalty.

The Opposition will have none of that. It wants due legal process, and bellows that anything else will transfer the corruption charge to the government itself.

That is an odd position to take. Several years ago the Nationalist government introduced various tax schemes aimed at persuading people who had broken the Exchange Control Act to make a declaration through an authorised dealer, declare their holdings overseas and pay a fine – and that was that.

Not a single court case was initiated. In fact that was presented as the singular attraction of the repatriation schemes. Hundreds, if not thousands, of investors who illegally held funds abroad were attracted to utilise the provisions of the repatriation schemes.

Aside from a number of commentators pointing out the moral inequity of the schemes, not a whisper was heard to stop them and insist on legal action being taken against those identified of breaking the Exchange Control Act, or against fiancial advisers who had helped them to do so.

The Nationalist government, including the present shadow minister on finance, was happy to implement the schemes – there were two, and possibly three of them – and cream off the penalties charged and the tax due on the finally declared foreign assets. That tax, forfeited for years, was another breaking of the law, the Income Tax Act this time.

Why is there such a difference in behaviour by the Nationalist Party, which conveniently forgets its past exemptions as well as its own political responsibility for at least part of the fiddling with the smart meters?

The answer can only be because playing politics nowadays has no limit. In the process it harms the public sector’s ability to function efficiently, including to right wrongs for which previous governments were responsible.

Politics is a game. But all serious games have rules. The basic rule is not to harm society’s ability to protect itrelf. That rule is not being respected.

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