Some more equal than others

When the European Parliament’s report on the rule of law in Malta pointed out that none of the 425 cases investigated by the Permanent Commission Against Corruption had led to any criminal proceedings, they probably were not thinking of former Labour Party general secretary Jimmy Magro.

Last year, the commission had found a case of attempted corruption by Mr Magro in the procurement of waste collection equipment. In its report to Parliament, the commission said Mr Magro had demanded €25,000, including €5,000 to cover holiday costs and €5,000 to pay a tax bill. It said it was “morally convinced” he had solicited money in 2014 when the tender was being adjudicated.

A few days after the report, Mr Magro, who was acting as the government-appointed executive chairman of the Malta Projects Coordinating Agency, was suspended from work by Malta Enterprise.

Two months later, this newspaper was given to understand that the police had decided to look deeper into Mr Magro’s case, implying they were taking it seriously. Then, after nearly a year since the report was published, the police said they were still at it and the investigation was “still very active”. They said they were awaiting replies from foreign jurisdictions and pointed out that the level of proof they required was higher than that which the Permanent Commission Against Corruption was obliged to obtain. So, we wait.

Mr Magro, whose basic annual salary at Malta Enterprise was €50,000, was suspended and put on half pay pending the end of police investigation. But now it emerges that Malta Enterprise has actually refunded him €9,000 in deducted salaries after it allowed him to “retire” before the conclusion of the police probe. His exit is questionable as he still had one year to run on his employment contract.

Effectively, Mr Magro bowed out before the investigations were completed and did not incur any penalties. He left quietly in June last year, a day before he turned 62. Nothing was made public despite the controversy the report caused and his being employed on a position-of-trust basis.

A copy of his employment contract this newspaper obtained through a freedom of information request contains no retirement clause, which means he should have stayed on until June this year.

Sadly, nothing seems to shock any more. A former leading exponent of the Labour Party exits unceremoniously and taxpayers who funded his salary get told afterwards, and only upon inquiring.

Maybe, Mr Magro is just lucky. Lucky to get a position of trust, likely to turn 62 at the right time, lucky that the police have not completed their work and lucky that no one looked at his contract too closely. But who truly has such luck?

More preoccupying is that someone thought this all up. In the wider scheme of things, Mr Magro’s case looks minuscule in the country’s governance that becomes increasingly shrouded in secrets. The preoccupation is that, if someone is astute enough to work out solutions for something as ‘small’ as Mr Magro’s case, how much more thought is going into the larger stuff?

The hospitals concession to Vitals Global Healthcare comes to mind. The loose ends in that contract are endless and there are no oversights.

Meanwhile, this country continues to be milked dry while the police ‘investigate’.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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