State Transport Authority boss hotel investment: source of funds, and not conflict of interest, is the main issue

Published: August 7, 2017 at 12:55pm

The salient point here, in this report that the state Transport Authority boss has bought an old hotel with others and will turn it into an old people’s home, should not be conflict of interest and cronyism in government contracts, so much as the fundamental one of source of funds.

James Piscopo – a Labour Party favourite and the party’s CEO for some years, a role he filled while on secondment from Air Malta – has been on a salary from the state or a political party all his working life: first at Air Malta, then at the Malta Labour Party, and since 2013 at Transport Malta.

When a man is on a state or similar salary with a wife and children to support, there is not much room for manoeuvre. But meanwhile, in the last four years Mr Piscopo has built a villa on land acquired in one of Malta’s priciest areas – L-Iklin hill – and also now has the money to invest in buying an old hotel and converting it into an old people’s home, along with others who include this government’s politically-appointed ambassador to Finland, Michael Zammit Tabona, a hotelier.

Malta truly is a place where people think money grows on trees if nobody asks this basic question first, and before all others, a question I was coached practically from infancy to ask in these situations: where did he get the money?

It’s the only question that comes to my mind when I read stories like this, and I then find that it is the only question which is either not asked or left simply unaddressed, as though it is not the main issue.

A man on a state salary, with no family money, does not have the financial resources to help buy an old hotel and convert it to an old people’s home – which the other investors can more than afford to do without his input. So Mr Piscopo has either been allowed to take up the shareholding without a concomitant financial investment, in return for other forms of input he can give as a former CEO of the Labour Party when Labour is in government, or he is a front for others, or the money really is his and he must explain to the public – to whom he is accountable as a senior public officer – where and how he got it.

James Piscopo, the Transport Authority boss who somehow has the wherewithal to – with others who include the prominent hotelier Michael Zammit Tabona – buy up an old hotel and convert it into an old people’s home which will furnish residential care to pensioners under contract to the government. Mr Piscopo is a former CEO of the Labour Party and a political appointee to the top post at the Transport Authority.