FTS tenderer flagged Evarist Bartolo aide back in February 2015

Education minister’s former canvasser told FTS tenderer to contact Gozo bomb victim Sandro Ciliberti over supply of goods • Police set to investigate link between Edward Caruana and Ciliberti

Evarist Bartolo with his permanent secretary Joseph Caruana
Evarist Bartolo with his permanent secretary Joseph Caruana

Education Minister Evarist Bartolo was warned in February 2015 of allegations of impropriety in procurement procedures at the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools (FTS) involving his former canvasser and driver, Edward Caruana. 

A supplier who had tendered for school furniture had complained that FTS procurement officer Edward Caruana – appointed as a person of trust by Evarist Bartolo – suggested contacting Sandro Ciliberti, a businessman who supplied school furniture and was based in Gozo.

According to the allegation, Ciliberti had boasted that all winners of tenders would have to turn to him because only he had a unique “certification of design” for furniture as specified in the FTS tenders.

MaltaToday is informed that Bartolo had followed up this complaint, asking the FTS chief executive officer Philip Rizzo to meet the complainant.

Instead, Rizzo asked Joseph Caruana, the permanent secretary at the education ministry, to meet the complainant. When the latter met Caruana, he was surprised to see Edward Caruana also present at the meeting: only then did it become clear to the complainant that the two were brothers.

The complainant explained to Caruana that the certification of design quoted in the tenders prohibited any other company from providing the furniture being requested, because this particular certified furniture was provided only by the Italian supplier working exclusively with Sandro Ciliberti.

The complainant explained that it was impossible for other foreign suppliers to compete.

The police have only been investigating the allegations made by Philip Rizzo about direct orders at the FTS when Edward Caruana was procurement officer. MaltaToday is informed that investigators have only recently been made aware of the Ciliberti link and will be investigating further. 

Many of Rizzo’s allegations point to the fact that many of the direct orders issued by Edward Caruana needed his own brother’s sanctioning before being directed to the finance ministry. Rizzo did not provide any clear proof of corruption, but simply noted the plethora of direct orders, many of which were given the green light by the finance ministry, and the conflict of interest of the permanent secretary and his brother. 

In April 2016, Edward Caruana was accused of demanding a €30,000 bribe in order to release payments owed to a Gozitan contractor, Giovann Vella, on works related to the extension of the Gozo sixth form.

But Joseph Caruana had claimed that he did not feel the need to report the corruption claims to the police. Instead, the police instituted charges against Vella for tarnishing Caruana’s reputation.

In March 2016, Ciliberti – known to friends as ‘ic-Chilly’ – hit the news when a small explosive device was placed outside the garage of the house in Ġnien Xibla Street in Xagħra, Gozo where he and his partner were residing. His black Mercedes, with personalised number plates, was parked outside when the device exploded. Investigators analysed Ciliberti’s business links, particularly a beach concession awarded by the Malta Tourism Authority to Ciliberti in 2015 for the hiring of umbrellas and deckchairs at Santa Marija Bay in Comino. The contract was won by Ciliberti following a bidding process amid harsh competition. A few weeks after starting operations, he claimed that part of his property in Comino was damaged in an arson attack. Ciliberti is also involved in the construction business.

Sandro Ciliberti
Sandro Ciliberti

Ciliberti has in the past formed part of the Valletta FC committee. In 2010, he was in fact one of seven individuals suspended by the Malta Football Association board for Control and Discipline over his involvement in scuffles that marred the BOV Super Cup match on 21 August, 2010.

Rizzo and Bartolo accuse each other of lying

On Friday, the Education Ministry said that in his resignation letter, Rizzo had accused Bartolo of failing to report cases involving allegations of corruption.

In his damning resignation letter, Rizzo accused Bartolo of not telling the truth, knowing for a long time about wrongdoing by his person of trust and trying to dissuade him from formally reporting that wrongdoing.

Philip Rizzo
Philip Rizzo

“He [Bartolo] repeatedly attempted to dissuade me from formalising my discovery of serious multiple wrongdoings (committed primarily by a member of your own family)... [Bartolo] has known the true reasons since the last week of April 2016, and he repeatedly attempted to dissuade me from formalising my discovery of serious multiple wrongdoings (committed primarily by a member of your own family) until the last day of August 2016,” Rizzo told permanent secretary Joseph Caruana.

But Bartolo has repeatedly said that he acted immediately as soon as he got to know about the allegations and following an internal investigation, which he had ordered at the end of August, there was prima facie evidence that Rizzo’s claims against Edward Caruana were true and that these were passed on to the police.

Stating that he has lost all trust in the ministry headed by Bartolo, Rizzo wrote in his resignation letter: “I have since come to the sad conclusion that the differences of ethics and appreciation and application of the law between myself and yourselves are unable to change through time, making it impossible for me to remain in the position of CEO of the FTS.”

Bartolo categorically denied the accusations and pointed out that Rizzo had been given “full independence as to how to carry out the necessary reforms at FTS, including the transfer of personnel”.

In an email to Rizzo, Bartolo told him on 1 September that it was his duty as FTS chief executive officer to report the allegations to the police.

The minister said there was no basis for Rizzo’s remarks that there was pressure to stop him from making formal reports. Bartolo’s letter was also copied to the Commission against Corruption, the Internal Audit and Investigations Department and the Police Commissioner.

Emanuel Camilleri, chairperson of the FTS strongly denied that he blocked any report being filed to the police.

Talking yesterday on Radju Malta, Bartolo said Rizzo was lying and that he had been betrayed, threatening him with legal action. “It’s up to officials like him to report such cases right away... That’s one of the reasons why they are paid well.”

This is not the first time that Philip Rizzo has been at the heart of a controversy. In the 1990s, as chairman of the St Luke’s Refurbishment committee, he resigned citing irregularities in expenditure after clashing with former minister Louis Galea. In 2012, he blew the whistle on the conflict of interest that IAID chief Rita Schembri had with private business interests. The story, broken by MaltaToday, led to her resignation.

Under the Labour administration in 2013, Rizzo was made CEO of Employment and Training Corporation, resigning in 2014 over a public social media embarrassment, and then appointed CEO of the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools.

Attempts to contact Rizzo on Saturday proved futile.