Updated 9pm with David Casa statement
Political responsibility must be shouldered for the social benefits scandal, which implicated ex-Labour MP Silvio Grixti, rule-of-law NGO Repubblika said on Tuesday.
The Prime Minister cannot hide behind the judicial process to avoid being accountable to the people, Repubblika president Robert Aquilina told a news conference outside Auberge de Castille.
The press conference was held following revelations by Times of Malta that a benefits racket had seen hundreds of people taking social benefits, intended for those with severe disabilities, to which they were not entitled.
Grixti, forced to resign from parliament in 2021, has been implicated as having provided forged and falsified medical documents to back up the claims.
Speaking on Tuesday, Aquilina said the scandal was “disgusting” and had stolen money that is supposed to go to people who are suffering from seriously challenging conditions.
While the police have investigated and charged people who fraudulently took money from the government, he said this is not enough and that the police must go after the “big fish” - officials and people higher in office who facilitated the operation of the scheme.
He also said Robert Abela cannot hide behind criminal proceedings to prevent political responsibility from being shouldered over the matter.
Singling out social policy minister Michael Falzon, who is politically responsible for social benefits, Aquilina said that either Falzon knew about the scheme and benefited from it or that it was happening under his nose and he had no clue about it.
“Either way, it means that he is not capable of occupying the role that he has,” Aquilina said.
Both the authorities and the police have been “dead silent” on the scandal since it broke, he continued, which he said is unacceptable.
“Neither the police, nor Robert Abela and the Labour Party have spoken about why Silvio Grixti had to resign,” Aquilina said.
“Why did the police not hold a press conference about this and inform the people what they are doing about it. Why has a magisterial inquiry not been requested into the matter?” he asked.
“Inquiries are opened for far less serious cases, because among other things they have the power to preserve evidence that could be found in mobile phones and laptops of ministers, public officials and their employees.
The prime minister, Aquilina continued, has an obligation to answer important questions about the scandal, namely whether he, people close to him or members of his own secretariat, were personally involved in the matter, when he found out about it and if he reported it to the police.
Additionally, Abela must tell the people who is going to be held politically responsible for it.
“If not you, then whom?” Aquilina said.
“We want answers and we want to see the big fish who facilitated the operation of this scheme to answer for their actions. People must be given an account of what was stolen from them and every cent taken must be paid back.”
Who is Robert Abela protecting? - PN
In a statement, the PN said it was a matter of concern that the Prime Minister had not yet said a word or taken any action about the racket.
The PN reiterated it was insisting on an investigation for the truth to come out.
It said that the fact that the scandal allegedly involved the direct involvement of a sitting minister as well as the Office of the Prime Minister continued to shed a bad light on how the people’s money was being used for institutionalised fraud.
“Who is Robert Abela protecting,” the PN asked.
'Government replied to claims before they were published'
In a reply to the PN's statement, the government said that contrary to what the PN was claiming, the OPM had commented on the matter from before the article was published, replying to the journalist's questions.
Minister Owen Bonnici had also given his categorical replies to questions he was asked.
The OPM said that in its replies, it had been very clear that a similar irregularity was reported to the police by the permanent secretary in charge of the People & Standards Division within the OPM.
Further police investigations had followed and it did not result that any employee at the customer care division ever suggested any "claimant" or medical practitioner to commit any irregularity, nor that any such employee was aware of these alleged irregularities, the OPM said.
It added that if the Opposition wanted to start being credible, it should at least stop basing its statements on untruths.
'MPs from 2nd, 3rd, 4th districts should declare they had nothing to do with racket': Cassola
Independent candidate Arnold Cassola urged MPs elected from the second, third and fourth districts to declare they had nothing to do with the 'racket'.
Cassola addressed his appeal to Robert Abela, Alison Zerafa Civelli, Chris Agius, Glenn Bedingfield, Stephen Spiteri, Chris Fearne, Carmelo Abela, Andy Ellul, Ray Abela, Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici, Jonathan Attard, Byron Camilleri, Chris Bonnet, Katya De Giovanni and Mark Anthony Sammut.
"This racket, 'di stampo mafioso' cost, and is costing the country millions of euros, that were fraudulently stolen from patients and people who really need medical care and social support.
"Żejtun, Żabbar and Paola were mentioned as hometowns of several people who benefited from this organised fraud," Cassola said.
"Therefore, as MPs elected from these districts, I', asking you to publicly declare that neither you nor your canvassers, people of trust or customer care officials ever sent voters to Dr Silvio Grixti to take advantage of this illegal and disgusting scheme."
David Casa to inform Brussels about fraud
PN MP David Casa said late on Tuesday he was flagging the matter with the European Parliament.