A Gozitan contractor building a sixth form extension has alleged that an aide of the Education Minister asked him for a bribe of €30,000 to facilitate payments held back by the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools.

The allegations were repeated during a meeting in which the minister, Evarist Bartolo, was present, but his ministry never asked the police to investigate the matter, this newspaper has learnt.

Instead, the contractor was accused by the police of defaming the ministry official and taken to court. When questioned by The Sunday Times of Malta, the minister’s spokesman confirmed the allegations. He also confirmed the police were not called in to investigate.

While insisting that “the reply given by the ministry [upon hearing the allegations] was to go to the police”, the spokesman did not explain why an official report was not filed. Instead, the spokesman said: “There is a slander case in front of the court, and the ministry is closely monitoring the proceedings.”

The police did not reply to questions on the matter.

The bribery allegations go back to last summer. According to testimony presented in court, Xewkija contractor Giovann Vella of GV Gozo Developments called a high official of the foundation, claiming that Edward Caruana – a technical adviser to Minister Bartolo – asked him for €30,000 to facilitate government payments he was due.

The claims were repeated on August 31, 2015, when Mr Bartolo called a meeting on the progress of construction at the sixth form in Victoria. It was Mr Caruana himself who brought up the subject by asking whether it was true that the contractor had made bribery claims on the project.

At that point, the foundation’s chief operating officer, Anthony Muscat, informed the minister that the contractor (Mr Vella) had informed the FTS that Mr Caruana had asked for €30,000 so that he could request the quality assurance officer to certify the works and release the pending payments.

Mr Caruana, who happens to be the brother of Mr Bartolo’s permanent secretary, Joseph Caruana, denied the allegation and filed a slander report against the contractor.

On this basis, last January the police instituted slander proceedings against Mr Vella.

In his court testimony for this case, Mr Bartolo confirmed that bribery allegations had been made by the contractor against Mr Caruana.

Asked whether his ministry had filed a police report upon hearing these claims, he said he thad old those present at the meeting that when he heard such things “all the necessary measures should be taken”. He confirmed that payments to the contractor had been frozen, as the works were not up to standard and needed to be remedied.

The permanent secretary told the court that despite the claim made against his brother, he did not know anything about the progress of works, as this issue did not fall within his remit. He confirmed that the payments were frozen due to shoddy work.

Asked whether he felt that the ministry should have asked the police to investigate the corruption claim, Mr Caruana said that he did not feel this was necessary, as his brother had been asked to file a slander report against the contractor.

Asked whether the police were investigating the corruption claim, Mr Caruana said: “I don’t know.”

In a statement this morning, the Education Ministry reiterated that individuals with any allegations of wrongdoing were always directed to the competent authorities, including the Whistleblower’s Office, where any individual coming forward could find refuge and protection as per law.

"Last year, two officials engaged with an entity within the ministry’s remit were accusing a contractor of slander and threats, while the contractor was making serious allegations against one of the individuals.

"In both these cases, the reply given by the ministry was to go to the police. In fact, there is a slander case in front of the court, and the ministry is closely monitoring proceedings."

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