Of gods and animals
Education and Employment Minister Evarist Batolo has become synonymous with an old Roman law that states that there is a law for the gods and another for animals.
Before the last election Bartolo seized every occassion that came his way to attribute this form of legal system derived from ancient Rome to the previous Nationalist government.
I can still picture him in my mind with that stern expression on his face addressing a press conference just two weeks before the elections, where he implicated former finance minister Tonio Fenech in the oil procurement commissions scandal for having, according to him, received a traditional Maltese clock (tal-lira) valued at €5,000 from oil trader George Farrugia.
It was subsequently claimed that the clock was a crafted replica donated by Farrugia’s sister-in-law who had used her craftmanship in its production and it was valued at just one-fifth of the amount given.
The last given surrounding circumstances of the case by no means exonerate the former minister from breaching the code of ethics that precluded him as a minister from accepting gifts or services such as might be deemed to create an obligation, whether real or imaginary.
However, this case was just a drop in the ocean compared to the Panama Papers scandal and a string of other scandals that have been hitting the government one after the other rendering it the most corrupt government in Maltese history.
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has demonstrated an astounding leniency with his close allies and persons who helped the Labour Party rise to power with regards to their involvement in the publicly revealed series of scandals that have rocked the country, and which may represent only the tip of the iceberg.
He has systematically attempted to play down very serious issues that have originated from his own office in Castille, despite their negative impact on Maltese society and serious and irreparable damage to the country’s reputation.
When in February it was revealed that then health minister Konrad Mizzi, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri, and the yet unidentified owner of the Egrant Ltd had undeclared trusts in New Zealand with hidden secret companies in them that they opened in Panama, Muscat immediately came to their defence and insisted that there had been nothing wrong.
A month later, in March, as pressure by European Union bodies mounted on Muscat to take action, he announced that there would be an audit on Mizzi by an independent foreign company which would be concluded in a short time.
But so far nine months have passed and we have not heard anything about the state of progress of this audit.
Muscat is now saying that each audit takes its time and that the delay shows that audits are taken seriously. Muscat’s lack of impetus to fight against corruption has resulted in an unprecedented level of favourism, nepotism and political clientelism in the country.
Many government jobs have been denied to capable, suitably qualified and deserving individuals only to be given as positions of trust to persons who have helped the Labour Party or a party candidate before the last election. Besides, many Labourite workers appear to be immune to disciplinary procedures no matter their actions.
A case in point concerns Edward Caruana, a canvasser of the Education Minister on the Rabat district, who has been given a position of trust in the Foundation of Tomorrow’s Schools which is an entity belonging to the government and falling under Bartolo’s own ministry.
Caruana also happens to be the brother of Joseph Caruana who was appointed as permanent secretary in the same ministry after the Labour Party’s government takeover.
Despite being alleged that Caruana was involved in a case of corruption in the issuing of direct orders for the renovation of schools, where he asked for a bribe running into tens of thousands of euros, he was not suspended from work as other employees who were implicated in similar or even less serious cases.
This, notwithstanding the fact that the minister has declared that Caruana is no longer a person of his trust.
The responsibility for the suspension of Caruana from work until necessary action is taken against him by the police and any criminal proceedings instituted against him are concluded, ultimately lies with his brother Joseph.
As permanent secretary, he is bound by law to carry out supervision over the entity in question and ascertain that it is being managed according to law, the public administration values, the code of ethics, and applicable policies and directives governing staff conduct, management and the use of resources.
Edward Caruana is not the only friend of Bartolo to be treated according to the Roman law of the gods.
One time after another Bartolo has stuck his neck out to protect Philip Rizzo during the time that he occupied the position of CEO at the Employment and Training Corporation (ETC) when he tarnished the image of the corporation by his irrational and abusive actions.
After Rizzo had made sexist comments about the anatomical attributes of one of his employees on the social media, not only was he retained in his job with no disciplinary or criminal action being instituted against him, but he was given a 20 per cent rise in salary on being appointed CEO of the Foundation of Tomorrow’s Schools.
On June 10, 2015, during a public consultation at the Auberge de Castille, I had personally informed Bartolo in the presence of Rizzo, who at the time was CEO of the ETC, that vitiated employment procedures had been adopted by the corporation where particular individuals were handpicked for jobs before applications had even been issued rendering the whole application and interview process completely fraudulent.
It is evident that the country is facing a serious threat to its democracy by the oligarchic manner in which it is being run by a small clique of people in Castille.
I invite Bartolo to state with his hand on heart whether he sees similarities between the practices being adopted by the current Labour government and the ancient Roman laws for the gods and for the animals.
Denis Tanti is a former assistant director (industrial and employment relations) in the Ministry for Health.