New education minister to hold crucial meetings in coming days over schools reopening

Clifton Grima will wait for internal procedures on education permanent secretary Frank Fabri but admits ‘it’s not the best way to start’ • Crucial meetings with stakeholders over schools reopening

Clifton Grima (left) was appointed by the Prime Minister to head the education ministry after Justyne Caruana's resignation
Clifton Grima (left) was appointed by the Prime Minister to head the education ministry after Justyne Caruana's resignation

Clifton Grima’s main focus as he takes the driving seat at the education ministry is the reopening of schools after the holidays, the new minister told MaltaToday.

In his first comments after being appointed minister, Grima said two meetings are scheduled over the coming days between all stakeholders to assess the COVID-19 pandemic.

Grima was chosen by the Prime Minister to replace outgoing Justyne Caruana, who resigned five days earlier after she was implicated in an ethics breach by the Standards Commissioner.

Grima takes over at a time when COVID-19 cases in the community are shooting up, raising question marks over whether schools should reopen after the Christmas holidays.

“The first meeting will see the health authorities give a breakdown of the current picture, including the vaccine rollout programme, while the second meeting will take place early next week for a decision to be taken on schools reopening,” Grima said.

The meetings will be attended by union chiefs and representatives of all schools, including independent and church schools. Government's intention is to reopen schools for in-person learning.

“My main focus now is reopening schools,” Grima said.

Educators were among the first cohorts to start receiving the COVID vaccine booster dose last month and government plans to offer the first dose of the vaccine to all children aged between 5 and 11 by the end of the holidays.

Grima is expected to take his oath as minister on Wednesday.

On Frank Fabri: ‘Not the best way to start’

Asked whether he will retain permanent secretary Frank Fabri in office, Grima said the ministry’s topmost civil servant was currently the subject of internal procedures undertaken by the head of the civil service.

“It’s not the best way to start but Frank Fabri remains the permanent secretary. There are internal civil service procedures underway initiated by Principal Permanent Secretary Mario Cutajar and it is best to wait for them,” Grima said.

Last Friday, Cutajar confirmed with The Times that he had initiated an internal review to establish the facts and determine whether Fabri broke any rules.

Fabri was reprimanded by the Standards Commissioner for having signed on the Daniel Bogdanovic contract gifted to him by former minister Justyne Caruana.

Bogdanovic was entrusted to carry out a review of the national sports school, a job he was unqualified to do. The Standards Commissioner also established that a draft report authored by Bogdanovic was not even penned by him but by the minister’s consultant Paul Debattista.

Testimony given by Fabri and Debattista to the commissioner was also deemed to be unreliable.