ITS chief ‘acted on orders’ says tourism minister on Rosianne Cutajar NAO probe

Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo feels ITS CEO Pierre Fenech’s job still tenable despite damning NAO report on Rosianne Cutajar’s consultancy job

ITS CEO Pierre Fenech delivering a speech in September 2019 (Photo: Facebook)
ITS CEO Pierre Fenech delivering a speech in September 2019 (Photo: Facebook)

Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo has expressed full confidence in Institute for Tourism Studies CEO Pierre Fenech, despite the damning report by the National Audit Office into Rosianne Cutajar’s consultancy job.

Replying to questions by this newspaper on whether he feels Pierre Fenech’s position is still tenable, a spokesperson for the minister insisted Fenech “had acted upon orders he had received when approving the contract of service”.

“Mr Fenech and the rest of his team are currently implementing important reforms in the hospitality sector, namely as regards tourism education within the Institute of Tourism Studies, including the process leading to the skills card and training to be compulsorily given to employees within the hospitality sector,” the reply read.

The report issued on Tuesday shows Cutajar’s employment was “illegitimate, in breach of regulations” and the contract’s backdating “irregular”.

Pierre Fenech justified Cutajar’s employment by stating that the board had approved the need to carry out a review of the institute’s policies and procedures in March 2019 but the minutes made no reference to the appointment of a consultant.

The implication of the NAO’s conclusion is that the job at ITS was specifically created for the then Labour MP, a fact strengthened by Cutajar’s own admission to Yorgen Fenech that ‘everybody is pigging out [on public funds]’ and she had no qualms of doing the same by becoming Pierre Fenech’s consultant.

The NAO said the financial beneficiary of the breaches flagged in its report was Cutajar but this was facilitated and rendered possible by the actions of Pierre Fenech when consenting to the disbursement of public funds “he was duty bound to safeguard”.

Cutajar’s consultancy lasted from May 2019 up until January 2020 when Robert Abela appointed her parliamentary secretary for reforms.

She was subsequently removed from her Cabinet post after MaltaToday revealed that she acted as a broker in a property sale involving Yorgen Fenech. She went on to successfully contest last year’s general election with the Labour Party but was not given a Cabinet post.

None of the ITS’s annual reports and other internal quality assurance audit reports made any reference to the need to engage a consultant, or any position to aid the CEO, the NAO said. Additionally, the new role was not even referred to the board of governors of the ITS despite this being responsible for discussing issues related to human resources.

The now independent MP reacted by saying that, irrespective of what the Auditor General said, the truth is she worked for every cent she earned.

“I want to make this clear, for every cent I earned, I paid back tax,” she said. “Anyone who knows me knows that I am a person full of energy and enthusiasm. To cast doubt on whether I gave my contribution or not is totally unjust.”

Addressing why she presented no evidence of work, Cutajar explained that if she knew this would have surfaced four years after starting work at ITS, she would have kept every document.