Updated 5.40pm with ADPD statement

Justyne Caruana has resigned as education minister following a job-for-a-friend scandal, in the second time she has had to step down from cabinet.

In a short statement on Wednesday, the government said she had handed in her resignation to Prime Minister Robert Abela, who had accepted it.

The Labour MP later suggested she would not contest the next election but would take legal action to defend her name.  

It follows a damning ethics report into an abusive contract awarded to her close friend and former Malta footballer Daniel Bogdanovic. 

Earlier this month, Standards Commissioner George Hyzler found that the three month, €15,000 deal Caruana gave to Bogdanovic violated ethics rules and constituted an abuse of power. 

He also called for the committee to consider whether to pass on the matter to the police for a criminal investigation into offences that carry an effective six-month prison sentence. 

Parliament’s standards committee was handed the report  and last week agreed to publish it. 

Legal action

Caruana had been unavailable for comment since Times of Malta revealed the conclusions of the report earlier this month but broke her silence to announce her resignation.

"I entered politics to serve but was never bound to power so I felt this is the best decision at the time for the government and the Labour Party," she wrote on Facebook.

She said she was contesting the ethics report and had "embarked on procedures in the First Hall of the Civil Court in its Constitutional Jursidiction". 

"Even if I am not contesting the next general election, this is an important step to defend my reputation and that of my family," she said.

Second resignation

It is the second time Caruana has stepped down from cabinet.  

In January 2020, she resigned from her post as Gozo minister after Times of Malta revealed that her then-husband, former deputy police commissioner Silvio Valletta,  was close to alleged Caruana Galizia murder accomplice Yorgen Fenech and had gone abroad on holiday with him.

Caruana was brought back to cabinet in November of that same year and handed the education portfolio. 

At the time, Prime Minister Robert Abela had justified the move saying “she’s capable and she deserves it”. 

Media and political pressure

Reacting to her latest resignation, the Nationalist Party said Caruana had only left due to pressure by the opposition and the media.

It criticised Abela's lack of action in failing to dismiss her as a minister or from Labour's parliamentary group and called on him to act on other public officials, including the permanent secretary Frank Fabri, who approved the contract.

"Because of the prime minister's indecision, the scandal lasted several weeks and the education sector ended up without a minister at the worst possible time in the midst of a pandemic," it said.

"Instead of leading the country, the PM is facing one resignation after another and is collapsing with scandals and abuses."

ADPD, the Green party, said Caruana’s resignation was “inevitable” and joined calls for Fabri to resign or be dismissed. 

The Malta Union of Teachers said it was clear from the beginning that the minister's decision to award the contract had been wrong. 

She had lost the "moral authority and integrity to remain education minister" after the Hyzler report confirmed she had breached the code of ethics. 

It pointed out that there have been three education ministers in two years; Evarist Bartolo held the post until January 2020, followed by Owen Bonnici and then Caruana.

Damning Hyzler report finds lies and incompetence 

On Sunday, Times of Malta reported how Hyzler's report found that while Bogdanovic was paid handsomely to review the National Sports School, he had not even written the report himself and then repeatedly lied about it when questioned.

The report says there was a “concerted effort to hide Bogdanovic’s incompetence” and that the work he was handsomely paid to carry out was in fact done by one of Caruana’s consultants, Paul Debattista.

Second resignation forced by standards reports

This is the second cabinet resignation brought on by a Hyzler probe.  

In February 2021, Rosianne Cutajar resigned from her position as parliamentary secretary for equality and reforms pending the outcome of an investigation into her business ties with Fenech.   

That July, Prime Minister Abela announced that Cutajar would remain on the backbench after Hyzler concluded that she ought to be investigated by the tax authorities.  

Arnold Cassola, who requested both investigations, said the resignations are "nothing to be happy about" and "simply proof of the dirt that exists in Maltese politics".   

"In this case, full justice can only be obtained when Permanent Secretary Frank Fabri and consultant Paul Debattista also pay for their misdeeds," he said. 

What can happen to Justyne Caruana now? 

According to the committee’s rulebook, ethics investigations can be adopted by the committee’s members, in which case Caruana could be asked to make an apology or face sanctions to be decided by the committee. 

The committee can alternatively reject the findings altogether or it can call for further investigation to be carried out to establish facts. 

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