The head of the civil service is looking into whether action should be taken against the education ministry’s top official following an ethics probe into a controversial contract that was awarded to the former minister’s close friend.
Principal Permanent Secretary Mario Cutajar told Times of Malta that an internal process had begun to look into whether Frank Fabri, the permanent secretary at the ministry, broke any rules and if he should face disciplinary measures.
“I can confirm that I have read the report and have already called in the permanent secretary at the education ministry to get his version of events. An internal procedure is now underway to establish the facts, dig deeper and see what happened on a public service basis,” Cutajar said.
Fabri has been under the spotlight since Standards Commissioner George Hyzler this month found that ethics rules were broken when a three-month, €15,000 contract was awarded to Daniel Bogdanovic, a close friend of Justyne Caruana who, on Wednesday, resigned as education minister.
Caruana’s resignation automatically triggered the end of contracts for all other employees hired by her on a person of trust basis. The man believed to have compiled the Bogdanovic report, Paul Debattista, was among those to lose their jobs, Malta Today reported.
Hyzler has also called on parliament’s standards committee to consider passing the matter on to the police for a criminal investigation into possible offences that carry an effective six-month prison sentence.
In his damning report, Hyzler found inconsistencies in testimony given and felt he could not rely on it alone.
Fabri declined to tell the commissioner whether it was the minister who had put forward Bogdanovic’s name for this study into the sports school, even when asked multiple times.
The fact was later confirmed by another ministry employee.
Meanwhile, Cutajar insisted that the standards commissioner was a parliamentary body and, so, it had no remit over civil servants.
The ethics probe provided a good basis to begin with, he said, however, more facts needed to be established and checked against standing procedures and rules, to see how the contentious contract had been issued.
Cutajar also hinted that the process would not be a speedy one.
“This is a delicate time. At this stage, there will have to be a handover given to the new minister following the resignation [of Caruana] and we also need to consider the reopening of schools in this pandemic context. So, yes, it is a delicate time,” Cutajar said.
Meanwhile, the Union of Professional Educators (UPE) has written to Police Commissioner Angelo Gafà asking for an investigation into both Caruana and Fabri.
“The contract was signed by Dr Francis Fabri, permanent secretary on behalf of the ministry,” the union said.
“Payments to the named individual were issued... moreover, the report and annexes indicate that the ministry was aware of the lack of competence of the named individual... and still proceeded to effect almost full payment.”
The Hyzler report highlights the possibility of an investigation into a potential violation of articles 124 and 125 of the criminal code.
Those articles concern public officials taking a private interest in issuing orders or handing out contracts and carry jail terms of up to six months for anyone convicted of breaching them.
Caruana has denied doing anything wrong and has said she will challenge the report in the constitutional court.
Fabri has not replied to questions sent by Times of Malta.
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