Independent Board to assess alleged abuse, shortcomings in disability benefits scheme

The Board, presided over by retired Judge Antonio Mizzi has been given five months to present its conclusions and recommendations to the government

Former Labour MP Silvio Grixti implicated in long-running disability benefit fraud scheme. (Photos of documents: Times of Malta)
Former Labour MP Silvio Grixti implicated in long-running disability benefit fraud scheme. (Photos of documents: Times of Malta)

Updated at 1.30pm with reaction from Repubblika

The Government has set up a three-person independent Board to assess the alleged abuse in the severe disability benefits scheme and provide recommendations to the government on how to strengthen the evaluation process.

In a statement on Saturday, the government said that although “robust” systems against the abuse in the Department of Social Security and the Income Support and Compliance Division, it felt the need to solidify the evaluation process.

It said that independently of any police investigation, an independent board formed by three members will be enacted in order to evaluate the process of how the severe disability benefits are approved.

The Board enacted by Social Justice Minister Michael Falzon and Permanent Secretary Mark Musu’ will be presided over by retired Judge Antonio Mizzi, and the two other members will be Anthony Scicluna and Raymond Muscat.

Former Labour MP Silvio Grixti has recently been implicated in an extensive scheme spanning several years, involving the fraudulent acquisition of monthly disability benefits by hundreds of individuals who were not legitimately entitled to them.

Allegedly, Grixti provided false medical documentation to assist people, often residing in strongholds of the Labour Party like Żabbar, Żejtun, and Paola, in fraudulently obtaining monthly social benefits meant for severe disabilities they did not actually suffer from.

The operation enabled claimants to receive monthly payments, averaging around €450, from the Social Security Department.

The Ministry for Social Policy denied it took the scandal lightly and said that 141 cases were suspended and that €2.1 million in undeserved payments were in the process of being refunded. 

The terms of reference for the Board will be to:

  • Determine how ineligible applications for severe disability benefits were granted
  • Establishing whether, during this whole process, there were any shortcomings or administrative irregularities
  • Examine if the systems and the processes of submission and the evaluation and verification of the applications for these benefits are robust enough to prevent abuse
  • Recommending what measures should be taken so that the application and scrutiny processes are strengthened

“The Board will be required to present the conclusions and recommendations to the Social Justice Ministry and the Permanent Secretary within the ministry, within five months from enactment, although it could ask for an extension if required,” the Government said.

The government promised that the conclusions and recommendations of the Board will be published.

Repubblika says that the government is only worried about the public's reaction

NGO Repubblika said called the news an attempt by the government to appear to be taking action, when in fact it was hiding and covering up.

It asked why it had to be an investigation by journalists to set up the board, when the Ministry admitted that the department concerned knew about the “theft” for more than a year.

“Why was the board set up now when Robert Abela said that he took all political decisions necessary when learning of the theft in December 2021?” Repubblika asked.

“Why did they cover up everything for almost two years until journalists exposed them?”

Repubblika argued that it was not true that the government wants the truth to come out, as it would have made an attempt to do so instantly.

It said that the government is worried about the reaction from the public, that is realising that its money is being used by the government to buy votes.

“The government has now tasked three friends to tell him that he did nothing wrong and to pretend to assure everyone that Silvio Grixti acted alone, without anyone’s aid, to defraud the Maltese of millions of Euros for years, without anyone noticing. When he was caught, they punished him by promoting him and giving him a pay rise when making him a consultant to the Prime Minister,” Repubblika said.

“They say that those that do not battle corruption are also corrupt. Let alone those that reward it and those that hide it.”