Carmel Cacopardo says that between 2004 and 2008 Minister George Pullicino threatened the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (MEPA)’s Audit Office’s independence and “opposed the basic rules of decent governance. It continuously objected to informing complainants of the conclusions of investigations, which conclusions were based on facts unearthed generally from the authority’s files but at times also as a result of interviewing MEPA staff.”
Cacopardo, former PN official and current Alternattiva Demokratika spokesman on Sustainable Development served in the Audit Office before he was removed because of an investigation he carried out in 2006. “The investigation revealed that the case officer had been given specific instructions on how to deal with the notifications under consideration after the prospective developer had a meeting with the MEPA chairman (Andrew Calleja described by Cacopardo as the Minister’s sidekick) accompanied by other MEPA officials (report 2006-031 dated March 13, 2006). Mr Calleja lost his cool and considered the report of the Audit Office as an “unwarranted intrusion in administrative measures adopted by MEPA”.
Cacopardo says that 25 days after the report was issued, on April 7, 2006, the Environment Minister George Pullicino had a meeting with Audit Officer Joe Falzon and informed him that Cacopardo’s contract was not to be renewed. In a letter dated April 11, 2006, Falzon told Minister Pullicino in writing how his action was a direct threat to the independence of the Audit Office:
“Your action would seriously undermine the independence of the Audit Office… Unfortunately since its inception the Audit Office has met with, at best, lukewarm support from the chairman and in certain cases outright hostility. If the post of audit officer was to depend on the goodwill of the chairman or the minister, than its role would be superfluous and its work can effectively be carried out by the personal staff of the minister.” Falzon had concluded his letter by tendering his resignation which made the minister retreat for a year. Cacopardo’s contract was renewed for one year. Government allowed Cacopardo’s contract to expire before re-appointing Falzon as Audit Office. When he was re-appointed Falzon asked for Cacopardo to be re-instated but his request was turned down.