Updated | NAO report revealed deep corruption roots at Lands Department – PN

MP Ryan Callus and electoral candidate Mark Anthony Sammut said the government had dragged its feet on investigating the case, buying time for a cover-up

MP Ryan Callus , at left, with Mark Anthony Sammut
MP Ryan Callus , at left, with Mark Anthony Sammut

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The manipulation of Lands Department files in the Old Mint Street expropriation scandal “proves the scale of corruption within the department” the Nationalist party said today.

MP Ryan Callus said that alterations in the minutes filed by civil servants during the controversial expropriation, was proof that the government was dragging its feet on investigating the case, and buying time for a cover-up of said corruption.

The Auditor General’s audit refers to minutes that were tampered with, or renumbered and had dates changed, while others showed discrepancies in reference numbers.

Parliamentary secretary for lands Michael Falzon was forced to resign his position last week, after a damning report by the National Audit Office accused him of not safeguarding the government’s interest in expropriating a 50% stake of a Valletta property owned by Mark Gaffarena, the son of one-time Nationalist activist Joe Gaffarena.

Describing the report as a ‘condemnation’ of the way the department was operating, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat announced a reform of the department and charged MP Deborah Schembri as the new parliamentary secretary.

“If the government was serious about investigating the case, it would have done so months ago, when the media first broke the news of the allegations,” said Callus.

“Instead, the government waited until after the Internal Investigations department had finished its report. The police finally raided the Lands Department, long after the case surfaced,” he added, pointing out that nobody had been made aware of the internal investigations report.

“The police should have demanded documents the moment the allegations came out,” Callus said, saying the PM’s ‘delayed’ response to the allegations shows he did not follow the principles of good governance.

Mark Anthony Sammut, Gudja councillor and PN candidate, said the scandal had brought the Lands Department to its knees, crippled the nation’s trust in the government and tarring the department’s employees with the same brush.

“The Gaffarena scandal is the result of the corruption within the government, and people are now experiencing the side effects of that corruption,” Sammut said, pointing out that citizens were experiencing delays in Lands Department services.

He also claimed that employees in the department were being treated “as if they were criminals themselves”.

Callus hoped that any reform at the Lands Department would not persons of trust being installed in place, as had happened in similar reforms such as the Identity Malta agency.

In a reaction, the Labour Party said Opposition leader Simon Busuttil had no moral authority to talk about good governance.

Referring to the alleged work-for-votes case in Gozo, the PL said that when the Gozitan whistleblower approached the PN leader to reveal what went on, Busuttil replied by asking “why did you continue with the works if you knew we were going to lose the elections?”

The PL said that, on the other hand, the government introduced laws to fight corruption and politicians were made to shoulder responsibility.

The PL went on to add that PN MPs should “stop attacking journalists” and instead answer questions.