‘We found absolutely nothing’
When Environment Minister Leo Brincat entered his designated office in Sta Venera for the first time last Wednesday, the only thing he found was a damaged IT network and disconnected CCTV system.
There were no papers, no laptops, computers or even rudimentary stationary – everything was gone.
“In the past PCs had their hard drives cleaned up,” Mr Brincat said, “but this time the PCs themselves have vanished.”
That left the minister with little option but to postpone his first meetings, he said, as Government technicians struggled to get the IT network back up and running.
Other ministers found similar situations when they first entered their private secretariats. Files and paperwork were gone – as is the norm – but ministers also found dirt, dust and damaged IT infrastructure.
Family Minister Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca said her Valletta ministry was still not fully functional.
“We found absolutely nothing. No computers, no telephones, no files, no stationery. A TV that sat in the ministerial office was gone. My office is fine now, but I still cannot call up people next door because they don’t have any phones.”
Those claims were vehemently denied by former office incumbent, PN MP Chris Said.
“Saying there were no phones or internet is a barefaced lie,” he said, “and computers are missing because they’re leased from a private company – they’re either returned to the company or bought by the individual when they leave office.”
Ministerial permanent secretary Frans Borg told The Times that while PCs had been returned to the leasing company or bought by outgoing workers, he had no knowledge of missing phones.
Around the corner at Castille, Joseph Muscat found a Prime Ministerial office as Spartan as can be.
“There wasn’t even a pencil left,” said one high-ranking Government source.
“Absolutely everything was gone – save for a copy of the previous week’s The Economist, with a front page heading saying ‘Enter the clowns’”.
While the wit may have prompted a wry smile, the disappearance of Government property and hindrance to ministers’ first days in office did not.
At the Foreign Affairs Ministry, incoming minister George Vella said he found austere rooms and a filthy toilet.
“The toilet was absolutely disgusting. And there wasn’t even a vase. How is that possible? I had meetings with ambassadors already lined up, so I ended up having to send someone to my house to fetch some flowers to spruce the place up,” Dr Vella said.
But his PN predecessor, Francis Zammit Dimech, said he was surprised by the claims.
“I can only vouch for my own office, which I left in impeccable condition,” he said, “but the claims strike me as absolute nonsense.”
One Nationalist Party source said that it was standard practice to find empty filing cabinets. “Ministers and their private staff take any private files with them when they go. Anything relevant to the ministry’s work is passed on to the permanent secretary.”
But they also expressed surprise when told about the missing computers and damaged IT infrastructure.
“People of course take their personal belongings with them when they leave. But anything else is theft or vandalism.”
Another PN source said they were dismayed by the claims of vandalism but felt incoming ministers were making a meal out of the shortcomings.
“It’s not a million miles from what we found when we returned to government in 1998,” they said.
A Government spokesman said they were waiting for representatives of state IT agency MITA to provide them with an inventory of the PCs and laptops in its possession.
“We’re giving people the benefit of the doubt and assuming they were taken there for some reason,” they said, perhaps unaware of the PC leasing arrangement mentioned by Dr Said.
Parliamentary secretary Roderick Galdes, working out of Santa Venera’s Casa Leone like Mr Brincat, took to Facebook to voice his dismay at the office problems “left by those who preceded us.”
That would be the staff of former parliamentary secretary Clyde Puli. Mr Puli was not answering calls or text messages yesterday.