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MALTATODAY 15 August 2021

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4 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 15 AUGUST 2021 NEWS Aqra fis-Sajf 2021 Campaign 12th July - 3rd September 2021 Tuesdays and Thursdays from 08:30 to 12:30 O P E N I N G H O U R S C H U R C H S C H O O L L I B R A R I E S Students, especially those whose schools are not offering the service, are also encouraged to make use of public libraries available across Malta and Gozo. For details, please check Further information on the Aqra fis-Sajf campaign may be found on or by calling 2598 3302. The following Church Schools will be opening their libraries for their students as indicated below. Sacred Heart Senior School, St Julian's Sacred Heart Minor Seminary, Gozo St Aloysius College Secondary, Birkirkara St Paul's Missionary College, Rabat MATTHEW VELLA EDUCATION minister Justyne Caruana is refusing to state whether a former human re- sources manager at MCAST, whose allegations of corruption were disproven by a ministerial inquiry, is still receiving a full salary since being suspended in 2018. Last week, MaltaToday re- vealed details of an inquiry which heard whistleblowers say that Josephine Abdilla – whose allegations had kick-started the inquiry – had attempted to pressure and influence their se- lection of teaching recruits. Ab- dilla has denied the claims. Reviled by staff and teachers for her abrasive and suborning behaviour, Abdilla had alleged corruption and bribery at the heart of MCAST's operations in an angry email to the education ministry, when she was placed on forced leave following com- plaints against her by co-work- ers. Yet the former HR officer was unable to provide evidence for her claims. In new revelations on the inquiry's findings, it results that Abdilla had alleged that MCAST's then chairperson of the board of governors, Silvio De Bono, had solicited a one- month salary as commission from MCAST recruits. She claimed that despite being "so upset with the practice", she had apparently placated Debono by having her own daughter take up a course at Debono's own private educational institute, IDEA, for which she paid €500. De Bono was surprised at the accusation, when he testified before the board of inquiry, stating that he was under the impression of having had a good working relationship with Ab- dilla. He denied having demand- ed any such 'commission' from MCAST staff. Yet Abdilla offered neither ev- idence for this allegation, nor a proper reason for her apparent inclination to 'force' her daugh- ter to attend an IDEA course. When asked to provide evi- dence for her allegation, Abdilla later retracted the serious accu- sation. "It's a joke," she told the inquiry, denying that De Bono had taken such a bribe. The inquiry concluded, in its findings, that Abdilla had at- tempted, for reasons known to her, to create traces for a crime that had never happened. Asked to comment about these findings this week, Abdilla told MaltaToday she had not read the conclusions of the inquiry report and refrained from com- menting on the way her testi- mony had been reported. "I stand on my response in the right of reply last Sunday" (Let- ters, MT2, page 3). "I negate any joking on my part on the mat- ter," she said when asked about her allegation about De Bono. "The right of reply is sufficient to answer most of the points in respect of which you have asked for my comments." In another finding by the in- quiry, it turned out that Abdilla was found of having made mali- cious allegations about one An- thony Saliba, an MCAST griev- ance officer to whom she had been reported by co-workers. Abdilla claimed that Sali- ba had been a participant to a spate of irregularities that took place during a Pathway live-in in 2017, a programme designed for students with learning dif- ficulties. The programme had been investigated by an internal college inquiry in 2017 after a whistleblower complained that Pathway teaching assistants had brought over their boyfriends to the live-in. The same whistleblower how- ever told the board of inquiry that Anthony Saliba had been extraneous to those events. When asked about this alle- gation by MaltaToday, Abdilla claimed she had made no such assertion in his regard. "If it was reported as such, this is not something within my control." Abdilla was also unable to sustain her allegation with the board of inquiry that full-time lecturers had been paid in full despite working reduced hours, another accusation that fell flat when asked by the board of in- quiry to back up the claim. Abdilla has also refused to clarify her current employment status with MCAST, and wheth- er she is still receiving a full sal- ary while on forced leave from the College. "Regarding the payroll related matters, I sug- gest you address your questions to the ministry or consult the NAO audit reports on payroll matters." Inquiry findings Last week MaltaToday report- ed how whistleblowers came forward to the 2018 ministerial inquiry board, saying they had been pressured by Abdilla in se- lecting favoured candidates for MCAST teaching jobs. The inquiry forwarded their report to the police for investi- gation. Yet the education ministry – namely spokesperson Etienne St John, permanent secretary Frank Fabri and MCAST prin- cipal James Calleja – has since Februrary 2021 refused to an- swer repeated requests by Mal- taToday to explain why Abdilla remains suspended on full pay, despite the findings of the in- quiry. The ministry insists on not commenting on this inquiry, which reported Abdilla on pos- sible perjury. Abdilla would claim with these members of the MCAST in- terviewing panel that she had been instructed by top brass such as the ministry or Silvio de Bono, to pick the candidates of her choosing. In one case she complained that an unqualified candidate for a part-time lectur- ing post was not selected, "was required to be selected at all costs". In the case of a particular can- didate for an English lecturing post, Abdila ordered one of the members that the candidate had to "come first", and that the rest of the interviewing board had to be told that the candidate came "strongly recommended". Concurrently, the inquiry dis- covered a culture of bullying and harassment, mainly perpe- trated by Abdilla herself in her own position of power, who was described by co-workers as a "vindictive, power-hungry" individual who had fostered a "fear mentality" amongst the MCAST administration. The staff even accused Ab- dilla of having instigated sub- ordinates in committing ir- regularities on recruitment, discriminatory practices and even falsifying score sheets for candidates interviewed for jobs. The inquiry found that it was Abdilla's "very weak, almost in- existent collaboration" between her HR department and the fi- nance department, that resulted in an industrial dispute over in- correct salaries paid to 186 lec- turers. Bribery allegation was 'joke' yet former MCAST executive may still be on payroll Education minister is refusing to confirm outcome of MCAST inquiry held in 2018, and whether person who alleged claims of corruption and bribery has been paid a full salary while on forced leave Silvio de Bono (left) was chair of the MCAST board of governors. The allegation that he was pocketing a 'commission' from new teaching recruits was made by an ousted HR executive, Josephine Abdilla, yet she was unable to back up the claim when repeatedly asked by a ministerial inquiry set up to investigate her reports.

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