Gozo Ministry should be investigated over €80,000 grant, says NGO Commissioner
Kenneth Wain wants Attorney General to look into ministry's administration of NGO funds
The Commissioner for Voluntary Organisations wants the Auditor General to probe the Gozo Ministry on grounds of “disregard of the law” in its administration of the Gozo NGO fund, the Times of Malta has learnt.
Kenneth Wain, the commissioner, confirmed when contacted that his office had requested the investigation after irregularities were flagged in his annual reports for 2015 and 2016.
In his 2016 report, the commissioner accused the Gozo Ministry of continued disregard for the law and the basic principles of transparency and fairness.
He said that the ministry had unilaterally decided to forgo inviting applications for the NGO fund, as was customary in previous years, and instead allocated the bulk of the money, amounting to €80,000, directly to one voluntary organisation.
Prof. Wain noted that it was “not clear” what had become of a sum of €10,000.
By awarding the bulk of the funds to one group, other voluntary organisations in Gozo were denied access to funding, he said in his report.
According to the report, the Gozo Ministry, in partnership with the Family Ministry, entered into a contract with the chosen voluntary organisation through a public partnership agreement.
Later, the commissioner discovered that the voluntary organisation in question had serious compliance issues with his office, including a backlog of annual returns and annual accounts, with submissions outstanding since 2012, as well as problems with its amended statute.
Prof. Wain said that by awarding the funds to this organisation, both ministries were in breach of the Voluntary Organisations Act.
“Apparently, neither ministry considered that a due diligence exercise on the voluntary organisation concerned was required, including a simple check with my office before entering into the contract,” he noted.
Prof. Wain said he wrote to the Gozo Ministry raising the concerns last November. There was no reply whatsoever, nor did it comply with his request to collaborate with him so that the group in question would, at least, take immediate steps to become compliant.
He said the NGO Gozo fund for this year should be suspended pending an investigation by the National Audit Office into its 2015 and 2016 administration.
Prof. Wain told this newspaper his main concern was that the fund be administered in the proper way.
“I am not interested in denying funding to NGOs,” he said.
He declined to name the NGO given the €80,000 direct grant, saying that efforts were under way to bring it in line with his office’s requirements.
Gozo Minister Justyne Caruana, who took over from her predecessor Anton Refalo last month, said the ministry had issued a call for applications for registered voluntary organisations to submit proposals and apply for a grant for a maximum of €5,000.
She said the call was fully in line with the commissioner’s recommendations for ensuring transparency, adding that the ministry was available to assist and cooperate with the commissioner and any other entity in any scrutiny relative to the fund.