The Education Minister’s chief canvasser, Edward Caruana, asked a building contractor working on a new government school for a three per cent cut on payments and a full container of tiles, the court was told yesterday.
Mr Caruana, employed at the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools, the government school-building agency, was on Tuesday indicted on charges of corruption, bribery, falsification of documents and abuse of public funds following claims made by the agency’s ex-CEO Philip Rizzo more than a year-and-a-half ago.
Taking the witness stand yesterday, Mr Rizzo recounted how he was asked by Education Minister Evarist Bartolo to go and sort out the problems at the FTS and said the minister had warned him about Mr Caruana.
The former FTS CEO, who stepped down from his position last December after having accused Mr Bartolo of trying to dissuade him from reporting the abuse to the police, said that his attention was drawn soon after taking his position.
The invoices looked funny and false
Mr Rizzo said that he started investigating abuses at the FTS when he was presented with invoices of some €25,000 related to a new toilet at a school in Gozo.
“No one knew anything about this toilet or how it was commissioned,” he said.
“However, the invoices immediately looked funny and false and were only presented nine months after the work was done through the certification of architect Cornelia Tabone,” he recounted.
According to Mr Rizzo, contractors later admitted that they had not sent the invoices and that the signatures were not theirs.
Mr Rizzo said that after refusing to approve the payments, Joseph Caruana, the ministry’s permanent secretary and the accused’s brother, had told him that he should approve the payments. Mr Rizzo still refused.
The former CEO said that Edward Caruana had already been mentioned in an attempted €30,000 bribe requested from a Gozitan contractor some months before. However, he said that despite these “red alarm bells”, Mr Caruana carried on with his duties and awarded more work to the quantity surveyor involved in the same bribery claims.
Referring to another project – the building of a new government school in Swatar valued at some €8 million – Mr Rizzo said that a contractor, Joe Carabott of JC Imports, had told him that “he was tired of paying Mr Caruana a three per cent cut on the value of the work he was doing” and also spoke of a container full of tiles Mr Caruana had chosen”.
According to Mr Rizzo, it was later discovered by an FTS official that Mr Bartolo’s canvasser was privately developing a large block of flats in Rabat and Mr Caruana wanted the tiles for his real estate development.
Mr Rizzo said that, through his investigations, it emerged that certain works on schools were being billed some 60 to 80 per cent more than what was originally agreed.
He said that in these instances, contractors were paid through hand-delivered cheques by Edward Caruana.
Mr Rizzo said all his findings had been immediately reported to Mr Bartolo.
The case continues.