Ombudsman accuses civil service head Mario Cutajar of undermining him

Ombudsman Anthony Mifsud has hit out at Principal Permanent Secretary Mario Cutajar, accusing him of trying to undermine his office • Cutajar insists constitutional authorities must have clear, transparent standards of operation

Civil service head Mario Cutajar
Civil service head Mario Cutajar

Updated at 12:54pm with Principal Permanent Secretary reaction

Ombudsman Anthony Mifsud has accused Principal Permanent Secretary Mario Cutajar of trying to undermine his office over remarks in a civil service report, stating they were an attack on his institution.

In a letter to the Speaker and MPs, the Ombudsman said that Cutajar failed to understand the Office of the Ombudsman's role.

Mifsud said that Cutajar had implied that the office of the Ombudsman did not follow transparent practices of good governance and that it failed to cooperate with the public administration and caused unjustified delays.

Cutajar also claimed that the office employed persons of trust when it was not entitled to and did not base investigations and recommendations on facts.

Mifsud said that his office denied these allegations, which he viewed as an attempt to discredit the institution. 

Moreover, the Ombudsman said that it was regrettable that the claims came from the head of the public service, whose duty is to safeguard the constitutional institutions and good governance.

Mifsud said that Cutajar needed to understand that the Ombudsman’s office was not an extension of the public administration and did not fall under his scrutiny. The office, along with the Auditor-General and the Standards Commissioner, were at the service of the parliament.

Cutajar reacts to Ombudsman

Reacting to the criticism levelled towards him, civil service chief Mario Cutajar said the public administration has put forward proposals so that all constitutional overseeing institutions have "clear, transparent, well-defined, and publicly known procedures about their own standard operating policies along with the recruitment of staff, including consultants and persons of trust".

"The Ombudsman’s office took a full 31 days to try to justify how the scrutiny of the public administration equates to an exercise in good governance and accountability, while a call for more transparency and accountability on the Ombudsman’s office part amounts to a ‘direct frontal attack’ against this institution," Cutajar said in a tit for tat reply.

He insisted the Ombudsman skirted the proposals for more transparency and whether these ought to be included in the legal amendments the office would like to see implemented in the Ombudsman Act.

"Akin to the public administration, shouldn’t the constitutional overseers also have deadlines on how long they should take to reply to citizens’ cases? Currently, the public administration has been waiting for two to five years on more than twenty cases for the Office of the Ombudsman to provide a definitive reply to act upon. Shouldn’t the Office of the Ombudsman have a clear policy to those seeking its services on what complaints can be investigated by the Ombudsman? Indeed, in 2020, a quarter of the cases submitted their case to the Ombudsman without first trying to find a remedial solution from the public administration," Cutajar said.

Cutajar said that at a time when the Ombudsman’s recommendations were left unheeded for years there were no utterances against the public administration. "Nowadays, when the implementation rate of the Ombudsman’s recommendations is entirely documented, made public and stands at 98%, the public administration is being recriminated against as being offensive. All ‘Governance Action’ publications are based on facts and are well-documented, and the public administration will be more than ready to present Mr Speaker with the documented facts."