PM’s aide breached ethics with ‘we know who you are’ Facebook post

Former Labour candidate Josef Caruana breached public service code of ethics by publishing ID card numbers of academics petitioning for resignation of Joseph Muscat

Josef Caruana (right) is a PQ officer in the Office of the Prime Minister
Josef Caruana (right) is a PQ officer in the Office of the Prime Minister

A former Labour candidate for MEP, Josef Caruana, breached the public sector’s code of ethics when he published on Facebook the names and ID cards of 304 academics who signed a petition at the height of the December 2019 political crisis.

Standard commissioner George Hyzler said Caruana imparted an ominous ‘we know who you are’ warning to the academics who freely expressed their call for Joseph Muscat to resign.

In an investigation on a complaint brought by the independent candidate and University academic Arnold Cassola, the Commissioner for standards in public life said Caruana, who is an employee at the Office of the Prime Minister, breached the code of ethics by publishing the personal details of academics petitioning for the resignation of Muscat.

The petition had come in the wake of the arrest of Melvin Theuma, the middleman in the Caruana Galizia assassination, and the arrest of Yorgen Fenech, the alleged mastermind.

Caruana, a former editor of GWU daily l-Orizzont, occupies the role of PQ officer in the OPM.

In his post, Caruana lambasted the “alleged intellectuals” for their petition, and after posting their ID card numbers said “can we know who these signatories are ???”

Caruana later removed his Facebook post.

“Apart from being a breach of the code of ethics, this amounts to a violation of data protection rules, of which a complaint was submitted to the data protection commissioner (IDPC)” Commissioner George Hyzler said in his decision.

The IDPC investigation led to the removal of Caruana’s Facebook post. Caruana defended himself by saying the information is in the public domain. But the IDPC said ID card numbers can only be processed where there is justification and security, and for a valid reason at law. Additionally, the numbers were not “in the public domain” as Caruana claimed, given the timing of their publication with the petition calling for Muscat’s resignation.

“Caruana must understand his position as a person of trust in the PM’s secretariat carried more responsibility than that of private persons… the publication of the ID card numbers were harassing and a message of intimidation from somebody close to the PM. It imparted the warning that ‘we know who you are’…” Hyzler said.

Additionally, the Public Service Code states that public officials are expected to embrace political neutrality, but Hyzler said that it persons of trust are not expected to consider their role as part of the public service. “I have already concluded in another investigation that the same rules apply to persons of trust. Indeed the public makes no distinction between the various sectors of the public administration, so unethical behaviour by persons of trust also reflects  badly on the entire public administration, including the public service itself.”

Two other accusations carried in the same complaint: that Muscat’s former chief of staff Keith Schembri was part of a conspiracy to kill, which Hyzler said predated his appointment; as well as OPM employee Sandro Craus’s role in facilitating a public sector job for Melvin Theuma, the middleman in the Caruana Galizia assassination. Hyzler said both events predated his appointment as Commissioner for standards in public life.

 

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