[READ] Emails from 2009-2013 reveal ministers and MPs directly recruiting 'recommended' constituents inside Wasteserv

Emails from resources ministry from 2009 to 2013 reveal direct influence of former prime minister and minister and their civil servants to place voters into posts at national waste agency

Former resources minister George Pullicino (left) was responsible for the national waste agency
Former resources minister George Pullicino (left) was responsible for the national waste agency

It is the curse of Maltese governments. Even Labour is drunk on overstaffing departments and agencies with its favoured constituents. But patronage remains a mainstay of politics on the island, and as a leaked cache of government emails to MaltaToday proves, it will involve everyone from the Prime Minister, down to the street-leader.

Emails published by MaltaToday dating from 2009 right up to election eve on 21 February 2013, shed details on the daily efforts of ministers, government MPs, civil servants, party candidates and directors of national waste agency Wasteserv to favour voters for job postings with direct placements.

They also reveal the blurring between government and party, with MPs and government employees using their personal emails instead of the government server email.

The emails start in 2009 with the Office of the Prime Minister’s private secretariat calling on the CEO of Wasteserv to provide interviews and jobs for four ‘applicants’.

The thread of emails soon grows into a chorus of voices sending reminders for job placements, that include Ray Bezzina, a political aide to then resources minister George Pullicino, as well as the same ministry’s permanent secretary Chris Ciantar.

In one specific case where the employment of four ‘applicants’ dragged through the summer of 2009, the PN candidate Josef Gauci – writing from the email server of the Ministry for Education – intervenes with Marthese Portelli, then a director at Wasteserv, and copies in prime minister Lawrence Gonzi and his secretary Monica Mizzi.

“Before the MEP elections, as a PN candidate in Bormla, I was requested to speak to the [Muscat] family ‘tan-Nemusa’ (PN hard-core), because they were irked on various cases and it was understood that they would withhold their vote… Although they mentioned many things, the one thing they desired the most was that their son no longer work in conditions that truly are beneath any worker.

“He was an employee with the Tal-Watt contractor, collecting rubbish. This contractor was awarded a tender by the Bormla local council, meaning he is one of the untouchable canvassers of Pele,” Gauci wrote – referring to former Bormla mayor Joseph Scerri, known as ‘il-Pele’.

Gauci said he had taken interest in the Muscat family’s case by helping their son apply for a Wasteserv job and accompanied him to his interview. But weeks later, he was informed he could not be given the job because he was under the care of a social worker.

“Because of these episodes I have ended up avoiding certain roads in my own town. If it’s no problem it would be useful to give him this opportunity,” Gauci pleaded in his email.

While Marthese Portelli – today an MP – dealt with Gauci’s requests, another request was made for a placement in December 2009, this time from the office of then parliamentary secretary Jason Azzopardi.

Emails from June 2010 show the resources ministry’s secretariat actually forwarding a list of 18 candidates to be interviewed for the post of waste sorters at the Sant Antnin plant.

Not only does the ministerial secretariat take an interest in job interviews: in December 2010, Beppe Fenech Adami, then a newly-elected MP, also petitions Ray Bezzina, the minister’s aide, to include other candidates for job placements. He uses his personal email, not his parliament server email.

“Days ago you told me that Wasteserv needed people for secretarial posts,” he tells CEO Vincent Magri, requesting him to call in a recommended applicant for the post.

In emails from February 2011, it is the resources ministry’s permanent secretary, Chris Ciantar, a top civil servant, who requests Magri to consider recruiting a particular applicant.

“He’s in our list,” a Wasteserv employee tells Ciantar. “But I have instructions from the CEO not to recruit further personnel for the time being.”

Ciantar is persistent and tells Magri, “The PM spoke to me about this one. Please help.”

Magri replies: “We’ve taken a note of this individual and we have his CV. We speak at the ministry.”

In an email from April 2011, resources minister George Pullicino petitions Magri and Bezzina on behalf of Gozo minister Giovanna Debono for a job for one of her constituents, who had actually already been fired from the job:

“Minister Debono spoke to me about one, John Camilleri, who worked as a waste sorter with Wasteserv. Unfortunately he was accused of having stolen plastic cans and some wood, and he was fired because of that. She is asking me if Wasteserv would reconsider his case because ‘he is the father of twins who were born right before he was fired and he is literally facing a hard life’.”

Fighting over the ‘recommended’

Emails from the same month also show Magri actually asking ministry aide Ray Bezzina to search for three employees who could work as weighbridge operators and clerks.

This particular episode reveals a tiff between the two men, when two applicants who do not have the sufficient requisites for the skilled posts are employed directly by Wasteserv. Bezzina, in particular, complains to Magri: “I realised that these people don’t have the necessary requisites for these jobs! Had I not found this out I would be employing people who don’t have the necessary qualifications you yourself demand and who are no more skilled than those waiting for months on the waiting list. You know how long these people have been waiting for a job… from now on I don’t want to have anything to do with this recruitment process.”

In a later reply, the Wasteserv CEO tells Bezzina: “There have been many occasions where we have been forced to see [interview] them so that whoever recommended them appears to have assisted them. Now we will inform them that they do not qualify [for the job].”

Bezzina fires back an irked response: “… and tell them Ray Bezzina did not accept them. While you’re at it, tell them it was Minister Pullicino.”

All throughout, George Pullicino is copied in the email.

Magri writes back in a grovelling tone: “I always respected the ministry and that’s what I will do to the end. I have never mentioned the ministry on employment, indeed we always try to help as much as we can… please be patient for a few days because I do not want to leave Wasteserv with the wound of not having served my minister well.”

Overstaffing problems

Ray Bezzina’s email also illustrate his role as the minister’s enforcer, when he complains in an email to the agency’s chairman Ben Farrugia that Wasteserv is not being responsive enough to demands for job placements. Farrugia writes back saying that he will “make it a point with the CEO so that he replies expediently and that these requests be his priorities too.”

In a later communication between chairman and CEO, Magri writes back to Farrugia, this time with more awareness:

“Chairman, I prefer speaking to Ray at the ministry. I have instructions that certain internal documents do not leave here, and we avoid using email on this subject,” Magri says, aware that Wasteserv was facing a limit on additional recruitment. “We are waiting for some resignations before increasing the workforce.”

Problems ensue with overstaffing issues. In July 2011, Vince Magri informs Bezzina that “it is not recommended that we keep adding staff that we cannot support.”

He writes this with reference to staffing in Gozo, and namedrops Chris Said, then a parliamentary secretary in Gonzi’s ministry, on problems relating to terminations. Said himself appears in emails requesting placements for Gozitan constituents.

“It will be very difficult for Hon. Said to go through their protests when we have their employment terminated within a few weeks,” Magri says, recommending a tender for staff recruitment in Gozo who would be then transported to their posts in a Maltese waste treatment plant.

And yet, despite even the best efforts of the ministry, Magri says the Gozitan workers were complaining about their Malta postings. In one email to Ray Bezzina where he informs him he cannot take on more workers he writes: “The van is already full and the workers today were protesting so that they start working in Gozo!”

Other requests

Even Lawrence Gonzi’s personal secretary, Edgar Galea-Curmi, requests Ray Bezzina to find a job for a bus driver who is about to lose his job under the new public transport reform which, unbeknown to them is about to turn into a historic fiasco. Magri replies to Bezzina that he is keeping OPM abreast by communicating with them via SMS.

The Gozo MP Frederick Azzopardi also sends requests for seven constituents, some of them already working on reduced hours.

“You can understand the problem of the lack of work in Gozo. This reflects the unhappy situation we are going through. People are begging me to work in the waste separation plant, even if it means having to work on the other side of Malta.”

Claudio Grech, who was not even an MP but was a former staff member in Austin Gatt’s ministry and now heading the Malta IT Agency, also used his personal email to request the resources ministry for a job placement.

And on 18 February 2013, in an email Bezzina sends (that is also copied to Lawrence Gonzi, his wife Catherine, and George Pullicino), he writes: “The Prime Minister is asking me to recommend Buttigieg Tony and Buttigieg David… they applied to work at Wasteserv and they don’t have a job.”

As the months roll on into the March 2013 elections, Pullicino’s aide is busy making sure that new arrangements do not scare off potential votes. He asks Wasteserv whether it is true that helpers and drivers who collect recyclable trash from government offices will be working day-in, day-out.

“Let’s not scare off workers please… election is 9 March. Please I need to know all changes being planned before that date. Otherwise don’t change anything for now. If anything, there is little left and nothing will change much.”