A civil servant, Charles Camilleri, who played a central role in the Valletta property scandal involving Mark Gaffarena that led to the resignation of junior minister Michael Falzon three years ago, has been given an executive position as acting chief officer at the Lands Authority.

In a letter to this newspaper, Mr Camilleri pointed out that immediately after the publication of the National Audit Office report in 2016 identifying him as one of the main trio of participants that led to “irregularities in clear breach of the fundamental principle of good governance, transparency and fairness”, he had questioned the findings through an affidavit expressing his strong reservations.

He reports that he was subsequently summoned to appear before the Public Accounts Committee where he gave his testimony and full cooperation. He was also subjected to police questioning lasting several hours. Neither the Public Accounts Committee nor the police recommended any further action against him. Moreover, he points out in his letter that he resigned from the post he held at the government property division for almost 40 years on his own volition to be in a position “to defend himself with integrity”.

On the other hand, the Auditor General had concluded that Mr Camilleri was “at the centre of negotiations” with Mr Gaffarena, leading “the NAO to arrive at the understanding that it was the director of estate management, Charles Camilleri, who assumed the primary role of negotiating with Mr Gaffarena”, adding “however it must be stated that the conclusions of these negotiations would not have been possible without the endorsement of the Director General (Mr Ray Camilleri) [his superior] and the final authorisation by Parliamentary Secretary Michael Falzon”.

What was clearly a case of maladministration three years ago according to the objective Auditor General, has been compounded today by the method under which Mr Camilleri has been re-appointed to the job he held then without the Lands Authority CEO, James Piscopo, issuing a call for applications.

The accusation, therefore, that this was another instance of senior appointments in a sensitive area of government business (there were two other acting chief officers appointed at the same time without a call for applications) being made arbitrarily, without a proper selection process being followed in the spirit of meritocracy and transparency to establish his fitness for the role, will inevitably continue to haunt Mr Camilleri. The media reaction is a direct reflection of this.

It is the hallmark of this Labour administration to circumvent proper selection processes. The recent damning report by the Ombudsman on the Armed Forces of Malta senior officer selections in 2013 exposed a glaring example of an arbitrary and unfair selection process. In the case of a sensitive body like the Lands Authority, with its far-reaching responsibilities for administering all land in the public domain, it is vital that the members of the board and the senior public officials running it are accountable and appointed in a fully transparent manner.

Their vulnerability to accusations of conflicts of interest in negotiations involving massive land development sales or contracts makes their integrity a crucial factor in their selection. Only a competitive and open selection system will achieve this. Appointments without calls for application, as happened in the case of the acting chief officer for estate management, undermine the system.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial


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