Electrogas: A €100,000 show selling a lie to boost Joseph Muscat’s ratings before 2017 election
Hit by a storm of criticism following a stream of corruption scandals and new revelations in the pipeline, disgraced former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat needed a boost before a snap election was called in 2017. That boost came from Electrogas, which co-hosted a lavish event to meet the OPM’s demands.
Featuring costly 3D projections, a garish light show, drones buzzing overhead, Muscat high-fiving token children and PBS Head of News Norma Saliba acting as ‘compere’, the ‘End of HFO’ event in April 2017 was ranked by mainstream media as “an event that defined the decade”.
Yet leaked emails seen by The Shift paint a dramatically different picture.
The power station was ‘launched’ when major repairs were still ongoing, to organise what was in fact “a political event” managed by the Office of the Prime Minister as a pre-electoral stunt.
“The show was purely political – it wasn’t a real milestone for us but the government wanted to have something to put on TV!” Electrogas Commercial Director Halpin wrote in one of her emails.
The entire event was hurriedly organised and scripted to the comma by a team led by the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) which even imposed the date when the event would be held despite objections from Electrogas, which was nowhere near ready to launch.
Disgraced former Minister Konrad Mizzi warned Electrogas that if they did not deliver on OPM demands, he would not “stick his neck out again for the project”.
Costing an eye-popping €100,000 for 106 select guests, the stage-managed event was brought forward, twice, to coincide with election plans.
The event was needed to give Muscat a much-needed boost as corruption scandals including the Panama Papers, Pilatus Bank, and the hospitals deal erupted leading to a stream of criticism.
The OPM insisted that the event, which was planned for months later, had to be held sooner rather than later.
With one-third of its gas turbines out of action and months from being able to run efficiently, the rushed opening alone caused Electrogas to bleed over €2 million, or approximately €30 on each and every MWh sold to Enemalta.
Muscat would, just one week later, announce a snap election where footage from the event was used to announce the ‘success’ of a project on which both Muscat and Konrad Mizzi had staked their political careers.
A month after the event, drowned out by pre-electoral rallies and cries about how Labour had ‘delivered on its promises’, a €360 million (plus interest) State-sponsored lifeline for Electrogas was quietly extended once again.
The €100,000 tab for the OPM-run event, over three times the original budget, was eventually picked up by Chinese State-owned company Shanghai Electric, Maltese State-utility company Enemalta and Electrogas.
The government wanted to have something ‘to put on TV’
In April 2017, investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia had hinted at news that she said would rock the Muscat establishment.
For the OPM, the event suddenly became urgent.
“I am just off the phone with Lindsey [Gambin]. GoM [Government of Malta] has changed the date to 28 April and insisting it is now fixed,” Halpin wrote to SOCAR’s representative Turab Musayev.
Halpin noted that Electrogas and SOCAR had agreed that it was too short notice to organise the event so the OPM would be handling it.
Her main concern was that the government would be using this event to announce an early closure of Delimara 1 – the original Delimara power station then generating just under a third of Malta’s electricity. Electrogas was expected to pick up the slack.
“…the GoM is insisting on decommissioning Delimara 1 straight away. This means more open cycle running for us and costs us money until we can get into a combined cycle heat rate…. I believe that the new early date will be used as a press release of D1 shutting down although we have not been told this by GoM,” she concluded.
“Malta will never change,” she said, clearly frustrated.
An Easter surprise, quick change of plans and a script worthy of Bollywood
During the Easter weekend in 2016, Malta was rocked by Caruana Galizia’s cryptic New Zealand lamb post that outed Mizzi’s, and later Schembri’s, secret Panama and New Zealand structures.
A year later, she would top even that.
“Easter is not a good time for the Prime Minister, his chief of staff and Konrad Mizzi,” Caruana Galizia announced at noon on Saturday 15 April, 2017.
Hinting at the shocking revelations that would follow, Caruana Galizia revealed that a Maltese bank, hiding in plain sight and set up after 2013 (Pilatus), was effectively acting as an Azerbaijani laundromat and that Maltese PEPs were involved.
“The full story will be reported next week because several people who are unreachable over the Easter weekend have still to be contacted for comment,” she noted.
The following Monday, Halpin sent another email to her Board of Directors. “Dear all, I am now informed the government wishes to hold this event on the 24th,” she wrote.
Until that point, Electrogas was under the impression that the budget for this event would be in the region of €30,000 split between them, Enemalta and Shanghai Electric as owners of the BWSC plant (D3).
The OPM, including Mizzi who was then Minister without a portfolio (but handling the projects that mattered), evidently had other plans.
“Frederick, I received a phone call this evening from [Konrad Mizzi]. He wants the projection to be done as well as the rest of the general event,” Halpin wrote to Frederick Azzopardi, Enemalta’s CEO at time.
The projections alone ordered by Gambin from Labour-crony film producer Pedja Miletic’s Monolith Ltd would end up costing over €50,000.
The quotation issued by Monolith shows Gambin and her colleague Alex Cutajar ordered a “captivating and breathtaking show for the inauguration event of Delimara power station”.
The Monolith quotation reads like an elaborate Bollywood script with “visual surprises”, “culminations” and “pay-offs” involving disappearing chimneys and new chimneys popping up and being lit up in 3D.
“Given (the) very narrow, almost impossible deadline, the cost of this project is higher,” according to the quotation sent.
The over-elaborate scripts did not end there.
In response to a query by Electrogas for some form of a sequence for the event, Gambin replied with a lengthy spreadsheet mapping out the two-hour event in minute detail.
“18.30hrs – Event introduction by compere (Norma Saliba).”
“18.38hrs – Delegation walks to D1 turbine area and meets workers at the D1 turbine area, showing the turbine still spinning.”
“18.50hrs – On one of the screens, as the Hon. Prime Minister switches off the turning, footage of the last smoke going up the chimney is shown. Ideally this should be complemented by another camera from a distance (across the bay) to show the smoke rising above the power station.”
“19.00hrs – Delegation arrives at the HFO pump area, meets two Marsaxlokk/Birzebbugia families, with two children (aged 7 to 9), and walks to the HFO valves with the children to close them and switch off the pumps.
The script or running order would later balloon to an over-elaborate 22 step spreadsheet mapping out the two-hour event in almost regimental five-minute increments.
Who needed to be where, what PBS would need to film, what would be playing on which massive screen, which chimney and whose faces other photographers would need to focus on, what language Saliba would need to speak in as well as the mood for the ubiquitous Nexos-supplied lighting, every five minutes.
‘Konrad will never stick his neck out for this project again’
Emails and invoices show costs continued spiralling out of control. OPM event coordinator Pierre Cachia ordered a “totem” (freestanding commemorative plaque) costing €2,500 and rented film-set “offices” to use as a backdrop for some filming scenes at a cost of €1,500 and another €1,200 to transport them to Delimara.
In the run-up to the event, just as then OPM Head of Customer Care Sandro Craus was shouting across Facebook that Caruana Galizia should be locked up, OPM camera people were filming interviews to be aired during the event. Naturally, all interview scripts would be written and edited by the OPM.
Gambin, Cutajar and their team of OPM and Labour Party propagandists were not the only ones getting carried away.
“All, Minister has requested that all three [gas turbines] are available and running on Monday night. Is this feasible?” Halpin asked. Electrogas CEO Franz Doerfler added to her email to the Board noting that one turbine had been dismantled for urgent repairs, saying that stopping the repairs would cost €200,000 and delay the project by another seven days.
The Board agreed to push back.
A couple of hours later Haplin updated them: “I have informed [Konrad Mizzi] that we cannot delay the work as there would be technical risk (sic) and further overall delay to EGM [Electrogas]”.
“Just so you are aware, he says he will never stick his neck out for this project again and hung up on me. He wants to have a screen showing the MWs coming from gas and the MWs coming from interconnector or something like that,” she added.
“He called and sounded really worried,” Musayev also noted.
Electrogas directors briefly discussed how they could take advantage of the situation, “Please try our best to do it and request three times the relief required. We will need it,” Yorgen Fenech suggested. Musayev agreed to call Mizzi again.
The OPM must have realised that the price being asked for by Electrogas for pretty numbers on a screen far exceeded its PR potential. Electrogas was ‘launched’ with major repairs still underway.
As Ministers, dignitaries and propagandists settled in for the night after the two-hour ‘End of HFO’ event aimed at drowning out the previous weekend’s news, Caruana Galizia reported that Muscat’s chief of staff, Schembri, had received a kickback from Nexia BT’s Brian Tonna.
A week later Schembri would post a photo on Facebook of electoral billboards being erected in preparation for a general election.