The Neville Gafà mystery

Gafà enjoys the trust of the Prime Minister – irrespective of so many allegations of wrongdoing. This cannot be taken lightly and should be an eye-opener

The fact that the Office of the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Health all denied any official connection with Gafà’s Libyan tryst tells it all
The fact that the Office of the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Health all denied any official connection with Gafà’s Libyan tryst tells it all

The mystery surrounding the adventures of political appointee Neville Gafà is interesting because of two issues.

Neville Gafà was hand-picked and given an appointment as ‘a person of trust’ by the Joseph Muscat administration, briefly after it assumed power following the 2013 electoral victory.

For some time he was in charge of authorising applications for medical visas for Libyan citizens – people who needed medical treatment after being injured in the Libyan uprising against Gaddaffi and in the subsequent troubles. Many sought medical treatment in Malta. Nothing wrong with that, as long as those given visas were checked and monitored to ensure they were genuine cases.

This started well before Muscat won the 2013 election. But after that fateful event, the system ended up being the sole responsibility of Neville Gafà.

Under Gafà’s watchful eye, the number of Libyans given medical visas shot up. Some say that about 80,000 such visas were issued in the four years or so when he ran the system. Allegations of corruption quickly followed with Gafà being accused of receiving bribes for issuing visas. Gafà was then given other responsibilities.

The issue of Gafà’s alleged corruption was never really settled. One of the most insistent accusers of Neville Gafà is Ivan Grech Mintoff, who seems to have good connections in Libya. Grech Mintoff has insisted for a long time that Gafà was paid huge sums of money for issuing visas.

Hell broke loose when Gafà – who now sports a beard – went to Libya on what one can call a mysterious visit. Grech Mintoff claims that the point of the trip was an attempt to bribe Libyans not to give evidence about Gafà’s corruption. At the same time, another claim surfaced: that those who were ready to give evidence against Gafà were refused visas and could not come to Malta to give evidence. To me there seems to be a contradiction between the two claims.

An official Libyan government website reported the visit and described Gafà as the Maltese Prime Minister’s ‘special envoy’. The Minister of Foreign Affairs quickly said that it does not know anything about this Libyan visit. The Prime Minister’s office and the Health Ministry’s office also denied that Gafà was working for them. Gafà said that he went to Libya on a private visit and later ‘admitted’ that he had ‘bumped’ into a notorious militia leader who was his friend.

During a TV programme, when Ivan Grech Mintoff gave what he claimed as details of Neville Gafà’s visit to Libya, he also alleged that Gafà was accompanied by a Kenneth Camilleri who is one of the Prime Minister’s security officers. This claim indicates that Gafà’s vist to Libya was far from being a private one.

Last Tuesday, The Times of Malta reported that the Deputy Prime Minister, Chris Fearne, had fired Gafà from the Foundation for Medical Services (FMS) that had been apparently giving Gafà a salary for work unconnected with it.

Within hours the Office of the Prime Minister announced that Gafà had been ‘transferred’ to another ‘post’. The nature of this ‘post’ is anybody’s guess.

The first issue that this raises is far beyond the allegations of charging bribes for visas to Libyans. Is Gafà being scrumptiously used by the Maltese government as a conduit with a powerful Libyan warlord? If this is so, Gafà’s trip to Libya has ended up being a botched James Bond-style mission, with the Libyans and Grech Mintoff spilling the beans. The fact that the Office of the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Foreign

Affairs and the Ministry of Health all denied any official connection with Gafà’s Libyan tryst tells it all.

It is obvious that, notwithstanding so many denials, Gafà enjoys the trust of the Prime Minister – irrespective of so many allegations of wrongdoing. This cannot be taken lightly and should be an eye-opener.

Gafà’s role in the administration should be the subject of an inquiry that the Opposition should insist upon. Yet it hardly mentions anything about it, officially.

Has this issue been discussed by the Security Committee set up by the Security Service Act? I ask this because the Leader of the Opposition sits on this Committee and he might be bound by secrecy if he knows something as a result of his membership of this committee.

The other issue is of a more political relevance as it involves the relationship between the Prime Minister and his deputy, Minister Chris Fearne. When Chris Fearne ordered the firing of Neville Gafà, he knew that this move would be interpreted as a clash between him and the Prime Minister. Yet he went on and did it.

Was Chris Fearne sending the message that he does not tolerate nonsense or his ministry paying people for doing dirty work for themselves or others? This move put the Prime Minister in the awkward position of having to ‘re-employ’ Gafà under another guise. Was Fearne’s move, therefore, intended to embarrass the Prime Minister?

Will the clash between Fearne and Muscat exacerbate as the time of Muscat’s promised withdrawal from politics draws nearer?
We wait with bated breath!

A helicopter ride

Helicopter rides for patients to cross from Malta to Gozo in an emergency have long been an acceptable part of the medical services offered to Gozitans – to the extent that the plans for Mater Dei hospital included a helicopter pad.

The recent report that a Gozitan patient died because there was no helicopter available to take him to Mater Dei has opened a can of worms, even though the official inquiry into the incident whitewashed the story.

According to a report carried by this paper last Wednesday, the helicopter operated by Steward Healthcare, which runs the Gozo hospital, is unavailable for three weeks a year. During this period, Steward should be using the services of an Armed Forces helicopter for which they would have to pay.

Apparently they don’t like paying for this. That’s American capitalism for you.

The contract with Steward should have imposed a fine every time that the helicopter service goes missing. And this fine should be more than what AFM charge for the helicopter trip. There is no other way to do it.

But then the contract is secret, and we can hardly know if such fines exist.

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