MCAST manager whose kickback claims were disproven, reinstated in former role

Human Resources manager whose corruption allegations kickstarted inquiry that disproved those claims, and spent three years on full pay while suspended, reinstated to MCAST after Ombudsman complaint

The former human resources manager whose allegations of corruption had kick-started a government inquiry at the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology, was reinstated to her job on the strength of an Ombudsman’s decision.

Josephine Abdilla had sued MaltaToday for libel – unsuccessfully – over a series of reports detailing the outcome of a 2018 government inquiry into her case, that disproved her allegations of kickbacks at the college, while upholding the complaints against her by staff and teachers, painting the picture of a reviled personality.

But on the strength of a decision from the Ombudsman in 2022, which investigation was unarchived after the first MaltaToday reports, Abdilla was reinstated at MCAST in a capacity and post different from the one she had held.

Abdilla was sacked in 2018 on the strength of 29 separate charges drawn up by MCAST; she responded in kind with a detailed 159-page document. Yet no disciplinary proceedings had ever been taken against her by the college, ostensibly because her allegations of kickbacks provoked the ministry into ordering a government inquiry.

A year later, Abdilla’s allegations of corruption were disproved in the inquiry, chaired by financial consultant Paul Bonello. Yet the report was never published.

In 2021 MaltaToday reported the outcome of that inquiry, revealing testimonies of whistleblowers who accused Abdilla of exerting pressure on them during the selection of MCAST teaching candidates. The report had also found that MCAST top brass had tolerated “an endemic and toxic practice of recommendations” for favoured teaching candidates, mainly with pressure from the Office of the Prime Minister for the selection of certain applicants for teaching jobs.

Abdilla sued MaltaToday for libel on the August 2021 reports, and petitioned the Education Commissioner Judge emeritus Vincent de Gaetano to reactivate her initial complaint – which had been stopped by his predecessor. The ombudsman subsequently decreed that MCAST had acted “wrongly” and “abusively” in suspending her for over three years and four months.

A magistrate’s court subsequently threw out the libel case, ruling that MaltaToday’s reports were indeed accurate.

The court upheld MaltaToday reports that Abdilla had lied under oath in her testimony before the board of inquiry, finding that she had created an atmosphere of unpleasantness and tension amongst staff and teachers through oppressive behaviour and bullying tactics, and that her claims of corruption and blackmail had been discredited by the inquiry.

Despite the conclusions of the inquiry, no disciplinary procedures were ever taken against Abdilla. The government also resisted publishing the inquiry, retainubg Abdilla on full salary while under suspension, and even refused to give Vincent de Gaetano a copy of the report.

Magistrate Rachel Montebello, in her libel decison, said it was “worrying” that no action appeared to have been taken against Abdilla by the authorities, in spite of a conclusion by its own board which found that she had acted irregularly and possibly illegally.

The magistrate noted that the Bonello report had observed that witness evidence had conclusively proven that Abdilla had tried to exert pressure on the members of a board interviewing candidates for the post of English teacher, in a way that favoured an unworthy candidate.

Abdilla was also reported as having intervened in an irregular manner in the recruitment process, while trying to influence the board to illegally discriminate against candidates and award “false and fabricated marks to the candidates she indicated”.