Philip Rizzo, the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools CEO did not resign, as reported over the weekend, but was on long sick leave, the Times of Malta has been told.

MaltaToday reported on Sunday Mr Rizzo resigned after “alleging corruption in the issuing of direct orders for renovation of government schools”. Education Minister Evarist Bartolo told this newspaper on Monday Mr Rizzo left due to “a clash with the chairman over a female cleaner”.

Mr Rizzo’s lawyer denied the claims and insisted his client was on long sick leave because of the toll on his health from the “facts [he flagged] not allegations” about corruption and abuse at the government agency he headed.

“Let me put the record straight”, Arthur Azzopardi said on behalf of Mr Rizzo. “He did not resign but is on long sick leave and has submitted medical certificates, which the foundation has accepted.

I received an e-mail from Mr Rizzo stating that if the chairman is not removed, he would not return to work

“Effectively, he is still the foundation’s CEO,” he added.

“Health-wise he could no longer take the situation that developed, which put him in a state that did not allow him to work,” Dr Azzopardi said. This contradicts what Mr Bartolo said on Monday.

The minister said that Mr Rizzo’s ‘resignation’ was not in any way connected to the claims of corruption he made against Edward Caruana, one of Mr Bartolo’s persons of trust, who was responsible for contracts related to the building and maintenance of government schools at the foundation. “I would like to make it clear that Mr Rizzo’s departure did not have anything to do with his claims of corruption”, Mr Bartolo said. “There was a clash between him and the foundation chairman over a woman,” he added.

Asked for more details, Mr Bartolo said Mr Rizzo wanted him to remove the chairman because they were clashing on whether a female cleaner should work certain hours in the morning or come in to work later.

“I received an e-mail from Mr Rizzo stating that if the chairman is not removed, he would not return to work. I couldn’t accept this,” Mr Bartolo said.

But when contacted about this, Dr Azzopardi immediately denied that was the case.

“The e-mails the minister is mentioning go back to September, when the police were investigating Mr Rizzo’s reports on corruption. There were reasons why Mr Rizzo did not want a cleaner to be at work alone at six in the morning and have access to all the files in all the rooms at the foundation,” Dr Azzopardi said without elaborating.

“However, the non-executive chairman overruled the full-time CEO,” he noted.

Mr Bartolo told this newspaper that internal investigations by his ministry found that the claims made by Mr Rizzo against Mr Caruana required police investigations of a criminal nature.

Mr Rizzo reported the alleged abuses by Mr Caruana to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

Similar allegations were made against Mr Caruana, the brother of Mr Bartolo’s permanent secretary, in the summer of 2015, when Giovann Vella, a Gozitan contractor, claimed that Mr Caruana had demanded a €30,000 bribe in connection with works at the Gozo sixth form. In that case, the police instituted libel procedures against Mr Vella.

Following the recent claims of corruption, Mr Bartolo ordered the transfer of Mr Caruana to another government department not related to his ministry.

Principal Permanent Secretary Mario Cutajar was asked where Mr Caruana had been posted, but no reply was forthcoming.

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