Full Disclosure. Please.

Full Disclosure. Please.

Over the last 3 days Daphne Caruana Galizia published damaging reports on Frank Portelli’s and Adrian Delia’s outstanding debts with HSBC.

Frank Portelli’s were long known. His St Philip’s Hospital has been out of business for years and he has been trying to flog it to the government since even before it closed its doors. His rather pathetic flip-flop from PN to Labour and there and back again matched the chances he was rating of getting a government to buy it off him. It was a sad spectacle for all to see. And still is as he embarrassingly appears to want to become prime minister so that he can clear his personal debts by signing on both sides of the contract.

The revelations on Adrian Delia are more newsy because until a handful of weeks ago Delia was not a politician and his affairs were pretty much his own. He turns out to own 9% of a company developing apartments in Gozo that is late on its repayments because building the apartments took longer than was planned apparently because they were stuck at MEPA/PA for some time. As a part owner of the company he is party to a debt consolidation agreement with the bank, which debt the partners are hoping to clear as soon as the property is done.

There was another layer which Daphne Caruana Galizia revealed which was that Adrian Delia’s wife, a lawyer in her own right, gave her husband a permanent power of attorney which lets him sign on her behalf contracts and commitments without needing to show he has her specific permission.

Let’s try to break this down, shall we?

The two stories – Portelli’s debts and Delia’s debts – were launched on the blog as effectively one story which presented their aggregate debts as “Adrian Delia and Frank Portelli must owe the banks around €20 million – that’s right, twenty million – between them”. That aggregation, felt a bit like it reported on the debt of a married couple or at least of people in business together.

It started an implied conflation of the two rather different stories.

Yes both men have debts to their name. Yes both of them are running for party leadership. Yes these are stories they should rather not have published about them. Yes both stories are newsworthy and anyone suggesting they should not have been published simply does not understand the meaning of transparency in public life.

Those are the similarities.

The difference between the stories is that Frank Portelli is sole owner of the company that defaulted on a far greater amount for a far longer time than the company Adrian Delia and his wife own 9% of. And clearly since debts are not in and of themselves an ethical problem (I’m careful not to say illegal of course because the benchmark of a person in the position Portelli and Delia want to fill is rather higher than the merely legal) and therefore the scale of the debt is relevant. To stretch that argument no one would blink if any one of them owed a few thousand on their credit card. It is just a matter of scale and whether election to office can bring about a conflict of interest. Through that perspective the stories are different.

Also I am not entirely convinced the fact that Delia holds a power of attorney for his wife is such a shocking complication of the story. My wife held a power of attorney for me for long stretches of time to deal with the simple convenience that I travelled a lot for work. She was not even my wife then. When it was no longer necessary, I withdrew that power. Mrs Delia (Adrian’s, not mine) is a lawyer and we have to assume she is aware of the significance of granting her husband a power of attorney and her right at any time to withdraw it as and when she wishes to.

She also might very well not have the time to sit through hours of watching a notary drone through the details of a contract when she had a very good grasp on the gist of the matter and she could get her husband to take care of his business while she took care of her own.

But there’s one unreported aspect to this story which needs to be taken into account. Adrian Delia has mismanaged an ordinary press situation through an apparent combination of naiveté and unjustified confidence that his undoubted star ability to argue would be enough to let him talk himself out of a sticky situation.

Outside Plato’s Republic where politicians are bred apart from the rest so they can be appointed to office with no property, no debts and no family to raise conflicts and suspicions, anyone who is not a career politician joining the fray at a rather late point in his life has a life history to tell, which history was written when being a politician was not in the plans.

If that history has pages of loot, pillage, rape and murder then obviously there’s nothing to explain. If it has business interests, assets and liabilities, these need to be explained, in detail, because the burden is on the candidate to prove there are no conflicts that may weaken their ability to fulfil the responsibilities of the position they are seeking to fill.

The key therefore is full disclosure. Give the press a detailed dossier of all the facts and make sure that as the better ones of them – Daphne Caruana Galizia being the nonpareil of investigative journalism and should be foremost on your mind – turn every stone there is, all they find is things you’ve already released in your dossier.

I do not understand Adrian Delia’s reluctance to publish everything there is to know and now I should imagine he’s ruing not having done so given that whatever he was seeking to keep private in case he did not get elected and needed to return to private life by September is now public anyway topped with the confusing conflation with Frank Portelli’s real mess.

We saw on Daphne Caruana Galizia’s blog her transcript of her conversation with him on the phone when she confronted him with this story. He appears to have tried to argue his way as he would have in a court of law, obviously in the way he knows best. That just does not cut it in this business. Here you disclose first, answer any question there is for as long as it takes and make sure the air is clear of any doubts before moving on to your own agenda.

Being right, as Adrian Delia no doubt is, is beside the point. For as long as doubt persists, it is going to be an incredibly difficult job for him to be speaking on his noble reasons for submitting himself to this kind of scrutiny. This is a painful reminder of the original objection to people falling onto politics like rain from an unclouded sky. It feels difficult to tell a freshman he should have known better.

  • Joseph Ellis

    The fact that Delia holds only a 9% shareholding in the company is totally irrelevant. HSBC can seek the full recovery of the full € 7.2 m from him and no one else, no questions asked. In actual fact, Frank Portelli may be in a better position as the judicial letter that has been revealed is not sent to him in his personal capacity though I doubt that he did not have to give personal guarantees for such a massive debt.

    However, I think that these are not the only issues at play. It is simply inconceivable that the leader of a major party, as well as leader of the opposition, be so financially exposed to a major bank which can call him in at any moment in time. More so when the same party is also financially exposed to the same bank. Both Delia and Portelli cannot be serious about their leadership bids and should do the only decent thing and withdraw it.

    • D. Attard

      So the Delia bashing keeps going on and on. Tit bits are turned into awesome sounding situations as the bulk of the whole remains unsaid. Example, if Delia owns 9% and has given the bank a personal guarantee on a joint and several basis, and IF the project went belly up (no sign of that happening) the bank may ask for the full amount from any of the co guarantors. Now let us assume that, of all guarantors, the bank turns on Delia demanding full repayment, Delia has the legal right to turn on the co guarantors for repayment. So who are they and is their financial strength adequate to effect payment to Delia. If it is than the we are talking here about much more than a long shot. I can go on and on but goodwill must be at the basis of any argument.

      • Joseph Ellis

        You ask lots of questions but you should try and provide the answers. How do you know that the project did not go belly up ? If after 11 years, the developer still owes the bank € 7.2 m, it could only have gone belly up notwithstanding the fact that it is in a supremely prime site and enjoys fantastic views. The question that should also be answered is whether the remaining property of the developer can make good for the balance due. Rumour in Gozo has it that most of the development has already been sold and thus, it is not clear how and when the sum that has been constituted as certain, liquid and due is going to be repaid. This is not a question of Delia bashing but a fundamental question that someone in this financial position cannot aspire to become a leader of the P.N., especially when it has serious financial problems of its own.

        • D. Attard

          You ask me how I know that the project did not go belly up and proceed to talk about rumors despite the fact that Delia states that the value of assets owed by the company exceeds that of liabilities. So Can you confirm to us that the project has in fact gone belly up and that Delia is misleading the audience?

          • D. Attard

            ‘assets owned by the company…’

        • G Darmanin

          You seem to dismiss that the people forgave the Prime Minister, Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri of much more serious matters. Not because the people feel that corruption and transparency are not important values, but definitely not at the top of their priorities.
          However it appears that the current PN administration and the so called ‘Magna tal-Partit’ learnt nothing and now is trying to bash one or more of its’ contenders by barking around the same tree.
          Yes it is about bashing. If it was not, this fact will be highlighted in the pros and cons of each candidate, then leave it to the councillors then the ‘tesserati’ to decide. But no, the current establishment does not want to risk that, hence applied the same kind of rhetoric that lead us to the biggest electoral humiliation to date.
          Upon such arguments, the elite tend to accuse simple supporters like me that we don’t want to end up like Labour. Of course we don’t, but that does not mean that we have to play the virgin and the self-righteous game. We are not perfect and we will never be. That is a very dangerous game that might harm even the dearest of our past leaders’ tactics. Is the current administration so naïve not to note this? I think they’re not, but are too obsessed on the target so they seem to think that the end justifies the means.
          The DB case comes to mind; what did we get out of that story? At first it appeared as if our kap meant business and wanted to lead by example only to have the muddy cake slapped in our faces. Just to jog our memory, the ToM reported as follows: “We challenge the PN to say what commercial services we received from Medialink in 2016 and how these amounted to €70,800,” the group CEO said, calling the PN’s claims an “outright lie.”To date, no break down of the famous. As far I’m concerned, no break down for these services was ever published.
          I voted PN anyway, but deep down knew that the administration of the party I support is not as clean as they wish me to believe.