The Employment Commission has found political discrimination in the transfer of broadcaster Norman Vella from PBS to the airport's immigration section, soon after the 2013 election.

It declared that the transfer of the TVHEMM host stemmed from political discrimination and was “not justifiable in a truly democratic society.”

The long-awaited decision brought to an end an 11-year long judicial saga that kicked off when Vella, who was initially deployed “on grounds of public policy” to Public Broadcasting Services, had his deployment revoked in June 2013.

That was months after the General Elections and Vella was ordered to report for duty as the border control officer at the Malta International Airport.

He was informed that that decision was taken upon a request by the Principal Permanent Secretary according to the Public Service Management Code.

But Vella had claimed that the move was tainted by political discrimination.

He filed proceedings before the Employment Commission against then-Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and then-public service head Mario Cutajar.

Those proceedings came to term on Wednesday afternoon, after a previous scheduling of the case for delivery of judgment was put off after a last-minute objection by the Prime Minister’s lawyer, Pawlu Lia, over the absence of one of the Commission members. He argued that the Commission was not composed in terms of law. 

The Commission, chaired by lawyer Frank Testa, declared that Vella’s redeployment on June 26, 2013 stemmed from political discrimination and was thus unjustifiable in a truly democratic society.

The Commission awarded Vella €15,000 in compensation, plus interest running from the date of today’s decision until effective payment.

Vella: Political power should never be used to punish journalists

In a statement carried on Facebook, Vella said he forgave all those who over the years insulted and tried to make fun of him because that was what they were told to do.

He said it was his wish that this would not be his victory only, but a call by the people against all forms of political discrimination. Political power should never be used for vindictiveness and to punish journalists and workers who did not bow to intimidation and threats. Politics should only be a tool to do good for the country.   

PN: Labour said one thing and did another

In a reaction, the Nationalist Party said the decision showed how Labour said one thing and did another.

Labour had said that what mattered was what one knew, not who one knew, and it also paraded the slogan 'A Malta for everyone,' but then did the opposite. 

The commission's decision, it said, was a decision in favour of free speech and equality, independently of one's political beliefs. 

The government and the Labour Party should apologise to Vella and the Maltese people for their actions, the PN said.   

For every strike against the Labour Party I will hit you twice, with all my strength, under the belt, where it hurts- Remarks attributed to Joseph Muscat

Commission's considerations

In its considerations, the Employment Commission observed that then-PBS CEO Anton Attard had confirmed that Vella’s programme,  TVHemm, scored well in surveys run by the Broadcasting Authority. 

That proved that there was no essential need for Vella to return to the police corps (at the immigration office), since he was doing well in his job at the public broadcaster. 

The Labour Party, however, believed that Vella was biased against it. 

There was no doubt about the words spoken by former PM Joseph Muscat to Vella and Peppi Azzopardi, “Ghal kull daqqa li nħossu li qed tagħtu lill-Partit Laburista, jien se ntikhom tnejn, b’saħħti kollha, taħt ic-cintorin, fejn iwegga’.” (For every strike against the Labour Party I will hit you twice, with all my strength, under the belt, where it hurts.)

Those words, spoken during a meeting when Vella was still production manager at Xarabank, indicated that the PL considered Vella to be biased against it in the manner he exercised his journalistic profession. 

The Commission said it was also “factually and morally convinced” that the redeployment decision was not based on the exigencies of the Police corps.

The allegation that it was “demand driven” was not proved. Rather it was meant to ensure that the bias aired by Vella against the PL would stop. 

As for the defendants, namely the Prime Minister and the Principal Permanent Secretary, irrespective of their personal involvement or otherwise in the taking of the redeployment decision, they were legitimately sued to answer to Vella’s claims.

The commission said that while Vella did not produce any evidence to show that he suffered effective damages, he deserved compensation because such actions could not remain without consequences.

The commission was made of lawyers Noel Camilleri, Roberta Lepre, Rodianne Sciberras and Alessia Zammit McKeon besides the chairman.

Lawyers Karol Aquilina and Andrew Borg Cardona assisted Vella.

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