14 January 2004

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Brincat asks for a more detailed investigation into VOM

Labour MP and spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Technology Leo Brincat has asked the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), chaired by Labour deputy leader Charles Mangion, to investigate the operations of the Voice of the Mediterranean, headed, until its closure on 31 December, by Richard Muscat.
Brincat asked Mangion to ask for an investigation by the National Audit Office. Brincat said the investigation carried out by foreign ministry officials into Muscat’s management of the now defunct radio station was not competent to carry it out, and said that the persons investigating had every interest to kill the investigation as they were responsible for all entities falling under the ministry for foreign affairs.
Brincat made several serious allegations about Muscat’s management and is expecting a full investigation.
The Malta Financial and Business Times asked Muscat to comment about the allegations and Muscat said: "My comment is that I continue to refute the unfounded allegations, insinuations aimed at throwing mud at me to smear my reputation.
"Such nasty tactics are negative characteristics that make politics a dirty activity. I maintain that I always did my best to perform the duties assigned to me wherever I worked, inspired by principles of fairness and honesty, I repeat, always in my 32 years of political career, and also now at VOM; I suffered to hold on to these principles when they were challenged by wrongdoers, in the past as well as now at VOM. I continue to wonder why I am being made a scapegoat in this unfortunate VOM story whilst the facts show that I have nothing to do with the reasons for the closure of the station."
Brincat asked the PAC to investigate among other things why the contract for the running of the VOM website was cancelled and whether other companies were contacted before Cyberspace was engaged. Cyberspace’s work cost VOM Lm3,000 monthly and Muscat’s son was an employee and spend much time at VOM.
Muscat defended himself: "I cannot comment on the contract with Multi-Media as I came in the radio on July 2000. I feel I have made the best decision in contracting Cyberspace in the circumstances.
"The terms were wide raging, the price was really reasonable, and the results were enthusiastically great even beyond our calculations.
"The Cyberspace contract was more than half way through when it was terminated. The idea was working well because by the end of the contract, VOM would have had trained our personnel to take over in a smooth transition. The VOM employee was being trained by Cyberspace as part of the contract."
The website updated by Cyberspace was replete with mistakes and people in the industry have commented that the fee for such a website should have been much lower.
The PAC was asked to investigate why, when the VOM was in financial difficulties, it decided to enhance its IT services. Muscat’s replied: "The financial difficulties due to the Libyan side's accruing arrears was present since 1992. The difference lies in the fact that before I came in the station, the radio was kept lagging behind in the use of technology when all Malta was keeping the pace with progress in this field, whilst my arrival was marked by the right time to make a general overhaul which was in dire need. The plan for some of the changes were already in store before I was appointed. In the meantime the Libyan side were happy with the changes; in fact they changed into digital also in their other operations."
Muscat’s decision on the VOM’s new premises was also taken to task by Brincat who asked for the criteria that led to the choice of site. Muscat told The Malta Financial and Business Times: "There is proof that the process of identifying and eventually deciding on the new premises was a clean and transparent exercise all through. It was conducted by VOM and MEPA with the final approval of the Finance Department."
Brincat brought to the PAC’s attention that there was no evidence of quotations received for goods and services commissioned by Muscat. In the report prepared by the ministry of finance it was concluded that while Muscat could stated that "it would have been better if Muscat had asked for quotations for each service and product that was bought, but he was not bound by the regulations of the Civil Service."

Muscat’s reaction was: "I can assure your readers that quotations were reasonably taken in several instances before the purchase was effected. The occasions when this procedure was not taken were mainly when some of the identified equipment was ordered from abroad or when there were evidently no better offers.
"The pressure of time was enormous. This is not an excuse, but VOM is an entity that is not obliged to keep strictly to the procedures in practice at the civil service. Running a competitive radio station is creative, dynamic and needs doing to deliver. The decisions, backed by the management of VOM, were taken with the best of intentions all the times."
Brincat also questioned the employment of Muscat’s son as a summer worker with VOM and Muscat’s reaction was: "This insinuation shows again the low level of the political motivation behind it."

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Editor: Saviour Balzan
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