The former Fisheries department director general, who is suspended after reports of alleged misconduct, insisted on Thursday that an audit report had not found any shortcomings in her regard but had pointed to problems in her department because of an acute manpower shortage.

Reacting to comments in parliament by Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi, who tabled the 100-page Internal Audit and Investigations Department (IAID) report, Andreina Fenech Farrugia said it was manifestly unfair to try to attribute to her shortcomings made by operators or others, over whom she had no control.

Andreina Fenech FarrugiaAndreina Fenech Farrugia

She said she had always sought to address the problems in her department to the best of her abilities and according to the resources available.

As a result of the 2010 audit, an action plan was drawn up providing for an increase in staff. It was because resources were improved that the situation in the department improved in the following two years.

"That report is itself the best evidence that the problems of the time were due to a lack of resources and not shortcomings by me," Dr Fenech Farrugia said.

She insisted she had always flagged any shortcomings to the competent authorities. When she was appointed director general after a public call, she had herself asked the IAIA for an update of their audit.

Other audits were carried out annually by DG Mare. For years while she was in her post, the DG reported it was satisfied with operations, she said. 

However as the sector grew, the department found itself lacking 65 members of staff. She had repeatedly drawn attention to this situation, which she could not address herself.

An internal inquiry conducted in 2017 by Dr Paul Cachia did not appear to have found any irregularities by her, Dr Fenech Farrugia continued. That inquiry was not about her, but about how the Aquaculture Department operated. That department was not led directly by her.

In her statement, Dr Fenech Farrugia again insisted she had never acted irregularly and was always professional, fair and impartial in the conduct of her duties.

Those making allegations about payments could easily verify that the payments were made to her as Director General of Fisheries in terms of the law. She strongly denied ever having solicited or received personal payments, and any allegations of bribery were therefore unfounded.

2010 audit report reflected badly on PN government

Meanwhile, Labour MEP candidate Josef Cutajar said in a press conference on Thursday that the internal investigation report of 2010 revealed the shortcomings in the Fisheries Department when the PN was in government.

Furthermore, the PN government “hid” the important investigation. Mr Cutajar said it appeared that only Dr Azzopardi and the PN government knew about this investigation.

Asked by the Times of Malta if the Labour government was aware of this investigation, which found shortcomings in the sector, Mr Cutajar said it was not in Dr Fenech Farrugia’s file.

When it was pointed out that records of such an investigation must have been retained elsewhere, the parliamentary secretary for fisheries Clint Camilleri suggested that the question be addressed to Dr Azzopardi.

Mr Camilleri said that the government always took immediate action when irregularities were found. He said stricter controls had been imposed on fish farms by this government.

Questioned why Dr Fenech Farrugia was reappointed to her role by the Labour government in 2013 after being transferred in 2010, Mr Camilleri said the Public Service Commission had found her to be the most competent person for the job.

He clarified that her previous role was that of director, whereas the role she took up in 2013 was of director-general.

Mr Camilleri said efforts were under way to attract more manpower to the fisheries department, although this was not easy.

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