Information Commissioner recognises right to access secret agreement with SOCAR

08 August 2022

We won a battle in our fight for information about Konrad Mizzi’s secret dealings with Azerbaijan’s SOCAR. Last week, the Information and Data Protection Commissioner decided that the Ministry for Environment, Energy, and Enterprise must grant the Foundation access to a potentially unlawful agreement that Joseph Muscat’s government kept hidden from the public.

Miriam Dalli, heading the Ministry, worked for Konrad Mizzi while he was Minister for Energy. The LNG Security of Supply Agreement, signed by Mizzi and SOCAR Trading, was so secret that it was never disclosed to parliament and kept hidden from the European Commission. International banks financing Electrogas were advised by their lawyers that by means of the agreement, Malta is providing aid to SOCAR, making the contract unlawful.

Malta’s Freedom of Information (FOI) Act obliges the government to act transparently and openly, and empowers citizens to hold all branches of government to account. Ministries frequently exploit the Act’s exemptions to reject freedom of information requests, wriggling out of their transparency obligations.

In Malta, all those working to strengthen public accountability know the burden of fighting for information, whether it’s about an outdoor gym or a power plant.

Miriam Dalli’s ministry originally rejected our freedom of information request by listing 12 sub-articles of the FOI Act. The Commisioner, Ian Deguara, accepted our arguments rebutting each of the Ministry’s reasons for refusing our request. Deguara’s decision clearly states that the Ministry had no grounds to use any of the exemptions it listed as reasons for refusal.

The Ministry now has 20 days to respond to the Commisioner’s decision. They can file a complaint to the Appeals Tribunal, or they can give us the documents we requested. We’ll let you know how that goes.

Broad fight for transparency

On a separate matter, the Commissioner decided in favour of freedom of information requests The Shift News submitted to 40 “public authorities” — the term used for those state agencies, government ministries or publicly-owned companies to which requests can be made. The media organisation is seeking information on public spending on consultancy services. Each of the respondent authorities filed separate appeals to the IDPC Appeals Tribunal. Up to now, 28 appeals are ongoing while The Shift News won a further 12. Perhaps unsurprisingly, those 12 public authorities are now challenging the Appeals Tribunal’s decision in court.

The Foundation is challenging the FOI Act in Malta’s Constitutional Court.