‘If you fail him, you answer to the minister’ – driving examiner testifies in Court

“If you fail this candidate, you can answer the minister,” driving examiner describes pressure to pass ‘the minister’s people’ at Transport Malta

A driving examiner has described how a Transport Malta director would tell him to help certain candidates to pass their driving tests, because they were “the minister’s.”

The compilation of evidence against Transport Malta director for the Land Transport Directorate Clint Mansueto, former Żebbuġ Labour councillor Philip Edrick Zammit, and Raul Antonio Pace continued before magistrate Rachel Montebello on Tuesday.

All three men are pleading not guilty to charges of corruption and trading in influence.

Driving test examiner Roderick Cavallo took the stand, but not before his lawyer obtained a minuted declaration from the prosecution to the effect that no criminal proceedings would be taken against Cavallo in connection with this case. 

Cavallo told the court that he had been an examiner at Transport Malta for over five years, starting in 2017. He indicated Mansueto as having been his direct supervisor, but said he also recognised “Raul and Philip”.

Prosecutor Abigail Caruana asked Cavallo whether he had ever been approached by the accused men. “To take care of someone, you mean?” asked the witness. “[Yes,] To help certain candidates….to pass the test.”

“Who approached you?” asked the prosecutor.

“Clint. Because the candidate would be one of the minister’s (tal-Ministru). To take care of him.”

The instructions would either be verbal or written on the documents, said the witness, explaining that if the time of the test was indicated on the test documents, he was to ensure the candidate passed.

The witness was unable to recall what the accused had told him exactly, he told the court.

“I was uncomfortable doing this, I’d avoid busy roads because if the candidate failed, I’d get it in the neck. He wouldn’t be pleased.”

“You’d go to work, and he’d send for you, to tell you which candidates to take care of because they were the minister’s. Sometimes there would be a note. In the morning, a package of documents are handed to the examiner. If a time is listed it meant that they were ‘tal-ministru’,” said the witness.

The documents consisted of forms on which Cavallo would write whether the candidate had passed or failed. He referred to them as “certificates”, adding that on every certificate there the candidate’s details and test category would be written.

“If the test package had my initials on it and the time, for example 10:30am written on them, then he [the candidate] is a VIP.”

These requests had started to decline when new examiners joined Transport Malta around three years ago, he said, “we started being sidelined by Clint”.

Mansueto would sometimes ask after the special candidates, to see how their test went, he said.  "There were times when I told him that they didn’t do well,” said the witness. Cavallo told the court that notwithstanding these instructions, he had still failed some of these candidates.

“I was under pressure, obviously. It’s not comfortable… if I fail him, I’d get it… I’d try to avoid certain busy roads to help avoid the candidate making certain mistakes. When I failed them, he wouldn’t be happy. Sometimes he would be angry with me.” 

Cavallo said he had initially also been involved in the theory exams.

“Some of the candidates didn’t know how to read and would be assisted. If you were assisting a VIP candidate you would give a helping hand. Ask them if they were sure of a particular [wrong] answer, and so on. He would tell us the day before, or it would be written on the paper, indicating the time,” Cavallo said, adding that only Mansueto would send these instructions and that a clerk or someone else would hand him the documents.

Cavallo had started examining tests for passenger car licences, but was later also assigned motorcycles. He recalled one incident in particular, which had highlighted the link to the minister. “He told me ‘If you don’t pass this guy, you answer the minister (wiegbu int l-ministru).”

He had been instructed to lower test standards to the absolute minimum in cases involving third party nationals brought to Malta to work as drivers, he said. “For example the Indians for Coptaco… Manuel Psaila had told me: ‘unless the trucks come back stained with blood make sure they pass.’ It was me and another guy. These candidates had a licence from their home country and would only have to undergo an assessment.”

Cross-examined by lawyer Joe Giglio, Cavallo confirmed that Pace would only pass on the packet of certificates, which were already marked, but went on to add that “I remember occasions with him telling me ‘he told you about this one’ (‘qallek b’dan’) - referring to his superior [Mansueto].”

Lawyer Herman Mula also cross-examined the witness, asking whether he had ever passed candidates who would otherwise have failed. “If they were bad, I would fail them,” Cavallo replied. He did not recall ever being given any such instructions by Zammit, he said in reply to further questions from Mula.

Cavallo told the court that he had been threatened with dismissal if he didn’t comply. “One time he told me to remember what happened to Chalie and Joanne, who had worked with us but didn’t get along with him… ‘I’m in charge here.’  He got his way and got them kicked out.”

“Everyone was with Mansueto,” explained the witness. “Even the unions, the management, they were all with him.” Cavallo said he and his colleagues were made unpromotable after they raised objections to the corrupt instructions, refusing to conduct theory tests, getting their union involved and “rebelling against him.”

“When [Mansueto] stopped talking to us, he started exacting revenge. He changed the requirements on calls for vacancies, in such a way that the old examiners didn’t qualify for them.”

At the end of the sitting magistrate Rachel Montebello decreed that there was sufficient evidence for all the accused to stand trial, adjourning the case to November.

Lawyers Arthur Azzopardi and Jacob Magri are appearing for Mansueto, with lawyers Joe Giglio and Roberta Bonello representing Pace. Lawyer Herman Mula is appearing for Zammit.

Attorney General lawyers Abigail Caruana Vella and Gary Cauchi assisted Inspector Wayne Borg as prosecution.