FTS chief Philip Rizzo resigns, alleges corruption in direct orders

OPM orders internal audit after CEO of the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools Philip Rizzo resigns after alleging corruption in the issuing of direct orders

saviour_balzan
Saviour Balzan
14 November 2016, 7:25am
The CEO of the Foundation for Tomorrow's Schools Philip Rizzo
The CEO of the Foundation for Tomorrow's Schools Philip Rizzo
The chief executive officer of the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools, Philip Rizzo, has resigned his post after alleging corruption in the issuing of direct orders for renovation of government schools.

The police are now investigating Rizzo’s claims, which the 65-year-old made in September after making specific references to the role played by Edward Caruana, an aide to the education minister, at the FTS in his capacity as the person responsible for direct orders.

Caruana is the brother of Joseph Caruana, the permanent secretary at the education ministry.

Rizzo, an auditor by profession, has reportedly also approached Prime Minister Joseph Muscat with his allegations about Edward Caruana.

After the meeting, Caruana was said to have left his post and an investigation was initiated by the OPM’s internal audit and investigations department (IAID).

Rizzo was once again offered an alternative post by the Prime Minister but he declined to take up the offer. The police and the IAID are now working together to investigate the allegations based on the documentation presented by Rizzo.

Rizzo has also consulted with his lawyer over alleged threats made to him after his reports on corruption to the police.

Evarist Bartolo: ‘Ministry will not attempt to cover up for anyone’

In a comment to MaltaToday, Education Minister Evarist Bartolo confirmed the reports.

He said Rizzo had referred “a suspicious case of alleged manipulation of public procurement procedures and forgery of signatures”, and that when this allegation was referred to him, he immediately ordered an independent investigation.

“When the prima facie veracity of these allegations resulted, instructions were given to FTS to immediately refer the case to the police for their further investigation. In addition, the case was also referred to the police by the ministry,” Bartolo told MaltaToday.

The Principal Permanent Secretary has also appointed the director-general for educational services, George Borg, to represent the ministry on this matter, instead of the Permanent Secretary, to avoid any possible perceived conflict of interest.

The allegations have been made against the brother of ministry permanent secretary Joseph Caruana (left). Minister Bartolo (right) said it will be Director General for Education Services director George Borg who will liaise with police on the investigation, not Caruana.
The allegations have been made against the brother of ministry permanent secretary Joseph Caruana (left). Minister Bartolo (right) said it will be Director General for Education Services director George Borg who will liaise with police on the investigation, not Caruana.
Borg has also requested the Internal Audit and Investigations Department to fully audit and investigate all relevant material linked to these allegations.

“The person under investigation has been pre-emptively transferred elsewhere,” Bartolo said of Edward Caruana.

“This Ministry has not, and will not, attempt to cover up for anyone, whoever that may be. In terms of the rule of law, as to the person under investigation, it is now up for the police authorities, and the ministry will allow due process to take place.

“It is confirmed that there have been no other allegations of wrongdoing at FTS which have been pointed out by Mr Rizzo, or by any other person, that have not been thoroughly investigated and actioned.”

Bartolo said that as minister he has always emphasised to all officials at the ministry, and all entities falling under his responsibility, “the importance of scrupulously following public procurement procedures and correct administrative practice. The minister, or anyone else, is not and should not be, the prosecutor, jury, judge and executioner at the same time.”

Bartolo said his ministry was one of the first ministries to have appointed an Audit Committee and a fully-fledged continuing internal audit programme. “The FTS has an autonomous and independent management structure whose responsibilities include operating within the public procurement regulations, and are not dictated by one employee or the ministry.”

But he said that the FTS’s former chief, Philip Rizzo, had made “unreasonable demands” for the removal of the FTS chairperson, Emanuel Camilleri, whom Bartolo said had been recommended in the first place by Rizzo.

Bartolo said that Rizzo had said that “if the chairperson was not removed he would be resigning. He was told in no uncertain manner that this does not constitute correct behaviour.”

Earlier allegations

This is not the first time that Edward Caruana, the permanent secretary’s brother, has been flagged in relation to allegations of corruption.

Earlier this year The Times of Malta reported that Gozitan contractor Giovann Vella, of GV Gozo Developments, had informed the Education minister that Edward Caruana had asked for a kickback of €30,000 in relation to a settlement of bills.

The Times’s report said that the police had not been asked by the permanent secretary, Joseph Caruana to investigate. However the permanent secretary had stated it was not in his remit to ask the police to investigate such a case.

Whistleblower

Rizzo himself is not new to taking strong stands on conflicts of interest or allegations of corruption.

In the mid-nineties as director-general of the Foundation for Medical Services (FMSS) he was responsible for spilling the beans on allegations of corruption when he spoke out over irregularities at the foundation responsible for the authorization of expenditure at Mater Dei (then known as the San Raffaele project).

He clashed openly with then-minister Louis Galea, and Rizzo later occupied other posts, namely that of chairman of the St Luke’s Refurbishment Committee and Director of Planning at the University of Malta.

In August 1994, the president of the board of FMSS intimated that Rizzo was complicating matters and rendering control difficult.

Later in 2012, Rizzo returned to centre-stage, this time as a whistleblower, where his disclosures revealed how one of the highest functionaries in the civil service – the chief of the IAID herself Rita Schembri – was conducting undeclared private business from her government office and had business relationships with individuals who could have been also under investigation by the IAID.

Rita Schembri was revealed to have acted as a business advisor to a three-year business deal to buy out one of the partners in the Casinò di Venezia, in Birgu.

The story was revealed by MaltaToday and finally led to Rita Schembri’s resignation.

Always in the eye of the storm, in March of this year Rizzo asked to be relieved of his duties as Chief Executive of the Employment and Training Corporation, after he was caught up in a media storm over a lewd comment he posted on the Facebook wall of a colleague, the newly appointed department head Olivia Farrugia. He said in what he considered to be a compliment: “This is the only ETC Head of Division with the three Bs… Brains, Boobs and Balls! She’s a very capable lady.”

The Facebook post won him no applause from the minister, who said such comments were “certainly out of place for a person occupying such a position”.

In May he was appointed by the same minister, Evarist Bartolo as CEO at the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools.

saviour_balzan
Saviour Balzan is the founder and co-owner of MaltaToday. He has reported on Maltese poli...