Updated | ‘Hypocritical’ Bartolo must shoulder political responsibility over FTS scandal - Busuttil

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil slams Evarist Bartolo for building a career 'pontificating against corruption' only for him to fail to report allegations of corruption in procurement procedures at the Foundation for Tomorrow's Schools • Bartolo refutes claims

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil in Zabbar
Opposition leader Simon Busuttil in Zabbar

Education minister Evarist Bartolo is a “hypocrite” and by his own yardstick, he should shoulder political responsibility immediately following allegations of corruption in the issuing of direct orders by a ministry official, Opposition leader Simon Busuttil said today.

Speaking to party faithful in Zabbar, the PN leader hit out at the minister for “building a career pontificating against corruption and in favour of greater transparency,” only for him to fail to report cases of corruption and dissuade a whistleblower from formally reporting the wrongdoing.

“Evarist Bartolo is no Konrad Mizzi; he is a seasoned politician who knows how things ought to be done and how corruption should be tackled. Bartolo is the same person who had insisted that the law be applied equally to everyone and that everyone should be made to answer for their actions,” Busuttil said.

Busuttil’s remarks were made following the resignation of Philip Rizzo as CEO of the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools (FTS) after allegations of impropriety in procurement procedures at the FTS involving the minister’s former canvasser and driver, Edward Caruana, FTS procurement officer who was appointed as a person of trust by Bartolo.

In his resignation letter, Rizzo accused Bartolo of failing to report cases involving allegations of corruption and that the minister had known of the allegations “since the last week of April 2015, and repeatedly attempted to dissuade me from formalising my discovery of serious multiple wrongdoings.”

The FTS ‘scandal’ hit the news on November 2016 when MaltaToday announced Rizzo’s resignation and corruption allegations. Bartolo subsequently refuted Rizzo’s claims, and insisted that he learnt of the claims in August and he immediately took the matter the police.

Meanwhile, on Sunday MaltaToday revealed how a tenderer had warned Bartolo of the allegations back in February 2015 and had complained that Edward Caruana had told the tenderer to contact Gozo bomb victim Sandro Ciliberti over supply of goods. Bartolo had followed up the complaint, asking the then-FTS chief executive officer Philip Rizzo to meet the complainant.

“We are seeing yet another huge scandal of corruption, this time within the education ministry. It is not just the issuance of direct orders but there are also the allegations that a canvasser of Evarist Bartolo [Edward Caruana] used to ask for commissions on direct orders and contracts,” he said.

“Rizzo had flagged the alleged wrongdoing in April 2015, yet, despite his clear legal duty to immediately investigate the allegations and report them to the police, Evarist Bartolo only took action in August. To add insult to injury, the minister also tried to dissuade Rizzo from following on his allegations and report the wrongdoing,” he said.

Despite insisting that Bartolo should shoulder political responsibility, the PN leader quipped that the education minister could take comfort in the fact that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat could not sack him.

“When it comes to handling corruption, Joseph Muscat is worse because he repeatedly stood by and refused to sack [OPM chief of staff] Keith Schembri and [minister] Konrad Mizzi for their role in the Panama Papers scandal. If Evarist Bartolo is asked to resign, Muscat himself would be asked to resign,” he said.

The Opposition leader also slammed the “obscene” government scheme managed by the General Workers Union for jobless persons, and accused the government and education minister Evarist Bartolo to giving their blessing to the “exploitation” of these workers.=

“These workers are being treated as slaves, they earn the minimum wage, and in some cases they are working alongside government employees who are earning €300 a month more than them doing the same work. The GWU is raking in a profit of €150 on each worker every month, that is €100,000 a month on all workers and more than €1 million every year,” he said.

“They have lost all sense of shame and have institutionalised precarious employment. They are hypocrites and do not deserve to be trusted … It is incredulous that in the year 2016 the law of the jungle is still prevalent. The only solution is for the country to voice their discontent and disdain by removing the government from office,” Busuttil said.

Earlier, Busuttil hit out at the role played by Xewkija coach Jesmond Zammit, the chief of staff of junior minister Ian Borg, in the release of former Malta international Daniel Bogdanovic in time for a Sunday match. An inquiry into the release of Bogdanovic confirmed initial reports by MaltaToday – which had revealed the release – that it was Zammit who had called the police top brass to learn about his player’s arrest, and could have set in motion a chain of events that led to his release.

The PN leader also said that the Opposition would appeal the “obscene” ruling which had found PN shadow minister Jason Azzopardi prima facie guilty of breach of privilege following his claim that justice minister Owen Bonnici had lied under oath when testifying before the Public Accounts Committee on the commissions being paid by Henley & Partners, the concessionaires for the Individual Investor Programme.

“It is an obscene ruling which clearly highlights Speaker Anglu Farrugia’s conflict of interest as he was asked to deliver a ruling raised by the minister [Owen Bonnici] who made his daughter a magistrate,” he continued.

Evarist Bartolo refutes Busuttil's claims

In a statement sent at 5:34pm, the Department of Information said Education Minister Evarist Bartolo refuted Busuttil’s claims that he had dissuaded Philip Rizzo from formally reporting any wrongdoing, and insisted that he had investigated the allegations and reported them to the police.

“On 12 September 2016, the minister filed a police report on this case. This occurred before Philip Rizzo was requested by the ministry to file a report himself. The person involved [Edward Caruana] was immediately removed from his post, while an internal investigation had discovered information which merited a police investigation. The Internal Audit and Investigations Department (IAID) was also asked to investigate the allegations.”

“Rizzo’s resignation letter, as well as the replies of minister Bartolo and his permanent secretary [Joseph Caruana, the brother of Edward Caruana] was sent to the police, the Permanent Commission against Corruption and the IAID for investigation,” the statement said. 

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