John Bundy was unfairly dismissed as Public Broadcasting Services CEO, an appeals court has confirmed while slashing compensation owed to him by half.
The court ordered that Bundy be given €113,244 in compensation – half the €226,488 he was awarded in the original ruling in February.
Judge Lawrence Mintoff found that PBS officials had acted irresponsibly and were not up to their jobs, but that Bundy could also not claim to be unfamiliar with public procurement rules.
Bundy was sacked in November 2017 following a unanimous decision by the PBS board of directors. The move followed an audit report that found Bundy breached procurement regulations in a €500,000 car lease deal and “consistently bullied” senior management.
But Bundy contested that decision, filing a case before the Industrial Relations Tribunal for unfair dismissal.
That tribunal had found in his favour, noting that PBS had only started an internal investigation into Bundy two months after its board took a vote of no confidence in him.
The audit report had also noted a number of inconsistencies in testimonies of those questioned, with a representative of auditors RSM telling the tribunal that they could not “make out who was telling the truth.”
PBS had filed an appeal after the tribunal upheld Bundy’s claim and awarded him almost a quarter of a million euro in compensation.
In its decision on Wednesday, the appeals court noted that Bundy had flagged concerns about the way PBS was handling its financial affairs from his very first weeks as CEO.
Company management was spending thousands of euro on lunches in a particular restaurant, Malta’s Eurovision Song Contest participation and other such events, he had noted, with that money earning the company nothing in return.
Not up to the job
Management had acted irresponsibly and showed they were “absolutely not up to the important role they occupied,” the court noted, saying Bundy had also clashed with them over TV programme scheduling.
The court said the whole issue could have been avoided if the top management of the company “had not abdicated its responsibilities” and insisted on an amateurish exercise to purchase its new fleet of cars. “The Court finds it very difficult to believe that no one on the board of directors was aware of the process that was launched for the acquisition of new vehicles,” Mr Justice Mintoff said in his decision.
On the other hand, Bundy could not plead ignorance of public procurement regulations. As CEO, knowledge of such rules had to be an essential prerequisite for candidates, the court said.
It said Bundy was not even given the opportunity to defend himself from the accusations brought against him and was fired summarily without any form of disciplinary proceedings.
When considering the station’s request for a variation in the compensation due, the court heard how Bundy had requested the tribunal to order compensation according to law – half of what he would have been owed had he remained in employment.
However, during the final submissions, Bundy's lawyers had invoked a clause in his work contract which stipulated that he was due the remaining value of his contract, including bonuses and allowances.
Mr Justice Mintoff ruled that the tribunal was bound to decide based on the initial request in the first application filed before it. By departing from this, the tribunal breached the company’s right to a fair hearing as the goalposts were changed. He, therefore, halved the compensation to €113,244.
Lawyers Franco Galea, Marisa Vella and Christine Calleja appeared for PBS while Bundy was represented by lawyers Matthew Brincat and Lara Pace.
Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.Support Us