Nurses’ union boss Paul Pace is to face a Public Service Commission disciplinary board after a fact-finding exercise concluded that he misappropriated public funds by requesting payment for work allegedly not carried out, even while he was abroad. 

The inquiring board had been set up in April after Labour Party political pundit Manuel Cuschieri alleged that the Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses (MUMN) president requested several hours of overtime at his workplace in Mount Carmel Hospital when he was actually on holiday in Egypt.

Sources told Times of Malta that the inquiring board had found other inconsistencies in Pace’s overtime statements over the past years, with requests for payment amounting to an undisclosed amount of money. The exact amount is still being calculated, sources said. 

Sources close to Mount Carmel Hospital, where Pace is a charge nurse with specialisation in infection control, said his overtime declarations go straight to the human resources department and are then relayed to the accounts department, without anyone checking, verifying or actually questioning them. 

Pace has been formally presented with the accusations he will face before the Public Service Commission. The charges were signed by Health Ministry Permanent Secretary Joseph Chetcuti. Sanctions include outright dismissal or suspension from work.

It is not clear whether the police will be probing the fraud and misappropriation claims. While police may opt to only proceed if the public service head files a report, sources noted that the police Financial Crimes Investigations Department may also start their investigation on their own accord.   

Pace: 'Very serious breach of personal data'

Contacted yesterday, Pace referred Times of Malta to his lawyer, who confirmed that the charges had been filed with the Public Service Commission. 

“Such procedures are still on-going and have not, as yet, been determined. Consequently, it would be not only unethical but also in breach of the PSC regulations and in manifest contempt of the board established in terms of the PSC regulations to make any comments at this stage,” lawyer Chris Cilia said.

“What my client is certainly in a position to comment about is that there has been a very serious breach of his personal data as protected by both Maltese as well as European legislation when a few months ago someone (as yet unknown, but whose identity will certainly be established when the appropriate judicial procedures will be instituted in defence of my client’s rights) chose to leak information from my client’s personal records as a public employee to radio broadcaster Manuel Cuschieri,” he added.  

What Pace is alleged to have done

The charges filed against Pace list various dates on which he is alleged to have claimed overtime payments when he should not have, including payments for Sundays and public holidays when the basic payment is higher than the normal daily rate. 

Pace is also being charged with carrying out private work without informing his superiors. This charge is related to training he allegedly provided employees in the public and private sectors on days and at times when he should have been at work. On some occasions, Pace allegedly claimed overtime for work carried out at Mount Carmel Hospital while he was providing training outside the hospital. 

The internal investigation also found several instances when Pace was on leave from work without having actually applied for leave beforehand, as is usually done. 

Another charge he will face before the Public Service Commission is related to him asking someone to sign time-in-time-out sheets at Mount Carmel Hospital on his behalf. There were three days when Pace was in Egypt, but the time sheets were still signed. 

Pace will furthermore be charged with disobeying instructions given to him by Mount Carmel Hospital chief executive, Stephanie Xuereb, and with breaching the code of ethics. 

Cuschieri's claims spark a probe

Cuschieri had first made the claims about the MUMN boss on his show ‘Linja Diretta’ on Smash TV and threatened to speak more about the issue if it was not investigated. 

The allegations had surfaced at the same time the MUMN was at loggerheads with the Health Ministry over nurses’ working conditions.

Just two days before Cuschieri’s radio programme, Pace had suspended a series of directives to nurses at health centres and at the Gozo General Hospital. The directives were part of a widespread industrial action that the union launched in March, claiming there was no money for nurses as talks on a new collective agreement stalled.

The directives had raised concerns by other healthcare professions, particularly in view of the risks to patients from delayed surgeries. The dispute was resolved earlier this week, when 87 per cent of MUMN members voted to accept a new collective agreement.  

In reply to questions from Times of Malta, Pace’s lawyer said he would be filing legal action in court tomorrow, as the information about the Public Service Commission board was confidential. 

He insisted that the information could only have been illegally transmitted to an unauthorised third party by a public employee having access to his client’s personal data and documentation held by the Health Department, in breach of the code of ethics of the Public Administration Act and other laws regulating data protection and GDPR regulations. 

“The same applies, with even more seriousness, with regard to the divulgence of information relative to sub judice PSC disciplinary regulations,” he added.

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