Right of reply: Whistleblowers pressured to select favoured MCAST teachers

From Dr Andrew Borg Cardona, on behalf of Josephine Abdilla

It is pointed out that prior to the publication of the article on 8th August 2021 under the headline “Whistleblowers pressured to favour select MCAST teachers”, Ms Josephine Abdilla was not contacted or asked to give her version of events. She is submitting this Reply in terms of the Media & Defamation Act Cap. 579 of the Laws of Malta.

Ms Abdilla has been on special paid leave since July 23rd 2018: she was not “sacked” and did not have her employment terminated. She has not been subjected to any disciplinary process. Ms Abdilla has consistently sought to have her position clarified or regularise and in fact has filed 2 Judicial Protests against MCAST and communicated by other means in order to protect her position.

The Ministerial Inquiry to which reference was made was commissioned after the new Chairman and the new CEO had asked for Ms Abdilla for a report on the state of human resources within MCAST which report had highlighted a number of possible abuses.

The Ministry had been aware for quite some time that there were a number of serious payroll related issues that needed addressing. It was acknowledged by the Ministry that as an instigator of change, this would not make Ms Abdilla popular and it was communicated to her, at the same time as she was thanked for her commitment and hard work, that her predicament was understood but that in order to make changes, her support was needed. Evidence of these communications is available and will be used at the appropriate time.

Ms Abdilla was interviewed by an Inquiry Board under the chairmanship of Mr Paul Bonello. She co-operated fully and frankly and later forwarded further information on request after she had been interviewed. At no point was she advised that the Board had found that she had perjured herself or in any way acted except in a fully co-operative manner. Ms Abdilla was not confronted with any reports or other allegations made against her.

There has been no action taken against Ms Abdilla for perjury or any other issue and to the extent possible, she has enquired at to the position and consistently been told that there were no issues pending in her regard.

Insofar as concerns the allegation that Ms Abdilla exerted pressure or influence in order to ensure the selection of certain individuals, except in 2 instances, where an individual was hired without undergoing an interview and where there was an allegation of discrimination that needed to be investigated, Ms Abdilla did not involve herself in the interviewing process or exert any pressures. As a rule interviewing boards were selected by the Principal and the CEO.

Ms Abdilla carried out her duties to the best of her ability and denies bullying or inappropriate actions. Regarding the allegation that Ms Abdilla had made allegations about inappropriate payments to Dr Silvio De Bono or about other issues involving him, Ms Abdilla had in fact made it clear to the appropriate quarters that she considered it impossible for Dr De Bono to have been in receipt of any such payments, as he could not have been aware who was being recruited or being considered for recruitment. In fact, Ms Abdilla consistently refused to confirm any rumours regarding Dr De Bono or any other individual. It is denied that any blackmail or other form of intimidation was resorted with the Ministry of Education and it is pointed out that no action has been taken in this regard and nor is any action anticipated, given the passage of time between the alleged (and inexistent) “blackmail” and the present.

Ms Abdilla has never participated in or resorted to partisan political conversations and denies having made any personal capital out of such activity. Her engagement was on the basis of her track-record as an HR professional. Her engagement to participate in a Ministry of Internal Affairs inquiry was not prompted by any political or personal considerations, was the only occasion when she had interacted with the Minister concerned and was not remunerated.

Finally, with reference to the reference to a pregnant candidate for employment, Ms Abdilla was not directly involved in the matter and could not have graded a pregnant candidate poorly so she will not make the mark because of her pregnancy. The candidate had already been appointed when the matter of her pregnancy was brought to her attention from the Hiring Head of College. In the light of the above, Ms Abdilla considers that the article under reference made a very significant number of allegations in her regard that were materially untrue and therefore damaging to her.