On the 3rd July 2012, the Auditor General presented the Report ‘University of Malta – Concession of parts of University House to the Kunsill Studenti Universitarji’ to the Speaker of the House. The report had been commissioned by the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee. You can access the report here. Here is a summary of the report as may be found on the website of the National Audit Office:
The Auditor General presented to Hon. Speaker the Report ‘University of Malta – Concession of parts of University House to the Kunsill Studenti Universitarji’ which was commissioned by the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee. The investigation addressed the concern from two separate, but inter-related, perspectives:
a) a legal/conceptual deliberation of the concession and the eventual use made of the conceded property; and
b) an analysis dealing with the leasing and related operations as run by the Kunsill Studenti Universitarji (KSU), coupled with the University of Malta’s (UoM) involvement in this regard.
The Report concludes that as KSU was never granted any title over the conceded property, it was not in a position to lease out parts of same. Shortcomings on the part of UoM, especially the failure to regularise the position over years, are also discussed.
The Investigation also revealed deficiencies in the manner with which KSU manages the leasing function, with processes deployed not being best practice and not being conducive to accountability and transparency. UoM’s reluctance to deploy a control and monitoring function to ensure its property, as conceded to KSU, is being made good use of, is also reported upon.
National Audit Office (NAO) recommends that steps be immediately taken to ensure the status quo does not prevail, and that a regularisation process be embarked upon. Apart from the definition of a legal framework, an administrative supporting framework and a set of documented procedures should be designed and deployed.
On a wider scale, the Report voices NAO’s concern that the Disposal of Government Land Act does not preclude autonomous (public) bodies from disposing of immovable assets without the monitoring of competent authorities.
I read the report and was immediately inspired to prepare a counter-report that would consist of my observations and comments on the Auditor General’s operation and finding. The main inspiration for my writing the report lies in the fact that I see this kind of review as a misuse of the institutional structures of our nation. This misuse is symptomatic of a deeper malaise that has come about with the abuse of the higher institutions of our country that is in turn based on a misconstruction of such principles as are intrinsic to a system functioning on the basis of the rule of law.
J’accuse has already documented why the recent happenings in Parliament proved to the public that the principles and traditions of our hybrid legal system were being flaunted and sacrificed for political expediency. The request for the investigation into the matters existent between KSU and the University by Owen Bonnici was misguided because it took the matters of an autonomous public body and made them the business of government. This request came from the same corner of the progressives who were scandalised when somebody went running to the police for the latter to censor publications on campus. They are also the same corner of progressives who periodically call upon “the powers” to censor or even shut up bloggers and opinion writers.
This is the kind of Malta that believes that just because you have “freedom of expression” then that means that when exercising that expression you must be automatically right. It is the Malta of rash proposals to restructure a judicial system and attempt to sound like some modern day Hammurabi when the very same “reformers” seem unable to decipher the basic tenets of constitutional politics.
But back to Owen’s request for investigation. The Auditor General had a job to do once the Public Accounts Committee requested him to do it. He gave them a report that we found to be scantily based on (a) the reply to an earlier parliamentary question and (b) the legal advice of a party that had a direct interest in the outcome of the investigation. In the end J’accuse finds that the whole investigation is ultra vires and goes beyond any of the powers that the National Audit Office has.
Incidentally this is not a defence of the practices of the KSU executive whenever they are procuring services for Students’ house. I am fully aware that they have to operate in a minefield of legal uncertainty and that they also have to watch their back from a University Council that might be hungry to reclaim its rights on Dar l-iStudent. Which is why the executive is duty bound to be more transparent in its economic operation and this transparency must always show a student union that is working for the greater good of the student body.
The purpose of the J’accuse report is not only to point out the anomalies of the Auditor General’s findings but also an attempt to highlight the dangers of confusing the roles of our institutions of review. I hope that that purpose will be achieved.