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Taxpayers compensate Neville Gafa for being ‘disturbed’

Neville Gafa, with the Prime Minister's chief of staff Keith Schembri.

Neville Gafa’s contract with the Foundation for Medical Services (FMS) shows that he was entitled to close to €3,500 per year as a “disturbance allowance” on top of a list of perks he received as part of a package with a salary base of €30,000 per year, court documents show.

On top of his salary, Gafa was receiving free mobile and internet connection plus the cover of additional telecommunications costs of up to €1,850. He had a vehicle allowance of over €4,650 per year, as well as an annual performance bonus of up to 15% of his salary.

The generous package was given to Gafa despite his total lack of experience in the field. Gafa previously worked as a shop assistant with an optician, although his close relations to Castille seem to have been sufficient qualification for the job.

A ‘disturbance allowance’ is paid to government employees who work irregular office hours or undertake duties of an extraordinary nature beyond office hours and do not benefit from any form of compensation, according to the public sector services manual.

Yet, Gafa is being accused of claiming hundreds of hours of overtime payments amounting to over €6,500 that the FMS wants back. Gafa was employed on a ‘person of trust’ basis – government rules on employment contracts stipulate that ‘persons of trust’ are not entitled to overtime payments.

The overtime payments being contested were claimed between July 2013 and May 2014 – when he was there to deal with “customer care” issues on behalf of the Office of the Prime Minister.

Excerpt from court documents presented in relation to Neville Gafa’s employment.

Yet, the employment contract submitted in court was signed in June 2014, which does not cover the period in question. The 2014 contract for Gafa as Projects Director was for three years.

That contract states: “For the avoidance of doubt, it is stipulated that the remunerative structure agreed above is full and sufficient compensation to the employee for any and all hours worked in the proper fulfilment of his duties”.

The tasks listed in his job description were to coordinate between the Minister and the Parliament Secretary, coordination within the Health Secretariat, liaising between the Office of the Prime Minister and Secretariat Health, and coordination within the Health Department.

Neville Gafa’s job description in his contract with the Foundation for Medical Services.

No other contract was made available to the court, according to the documents available in relation to the case in which the FMS is claiming back taxpayers’ money. It is unclear why a contract was presented that was unrelated to the period in question, but the document confirms he was the chosen one to represent the interests of the Office of the Prime Minister in the public health sector where claims of preferential treatment to those loyal to the Labour Party in government have been regularly voiced.

The Times of Malta had reported that his contract as customer care officer with then Health Minister Godfrey Farrugia had stipulated that he was entitled to €116.50 allowance every month for ‘extra hours’ worked.

Farrugia told The Shift News that Gafa was “sent to the Health Ministry by the Office of the Prime Minister” as a customer care officer a few weeks after the Labour Party swept to power in March 2013. He said he had instructed his chief of staff to address issues of overpayment.

Testimonies in court by senior managers at the department confirm this was “obviously a political appointment… he was not part of the civil service but part of the Secretariat”.

A letter submitted by his lawyer Robert Abela, who was also a legal consultant to the Prime Minister, summarily states Gafa did not owe any money to the FMS.

In the time sheets submitted to the court listing the hours of overtime paid, Gafa’s description shifts from customer care officer to the representative of the Office of the Prime Minister. He claims hundreds of hours in overtime work – in May 2014 alone, he claimed 141 hours of overtime work (close to a full extra month of work).

In February of the same year, he claimed 111 hours of overtime, while another 123.5 hours of overtime were also claimed the following month. In April of the same year, Gafa claimed another 113 hours of overtime.

The time sheet for overtime claimed by Neville Gafa in May 2014.

Internal correspondence available in the court documents submitted showed that several attempts to meet Gafa to discuss the issues were refuted, either because Gafa claimed he was sick or too busy with other commitments to attend.

He was fired by the FMS on 5 December 2018, giving him a month’s notice. This means that when Gafa reportedly showed The Times of Malta his business card as proof of employment, after the newspaper revealed his trip to Libya where he met a warlord during a “personal visit”, Gafa knew he was on notice.

The Foundation of Medica Services termination letter to Neville Gafa.

Yet when Health Minister Chris Fearne was denying Gafa’s involvement with the Ministry, Gafa’s contract with the FMS was still valid – signed by a Joseph Rapa as Permanent Secretary for what was then the Ministry for Health and Energy under Konrad Mizzi. Carmen Ciantar, who also assists Fearne in his political campaigns while receiving a salary from taxpayers, also signed the contract.

The forms for overtime Gafa claimed were presented to the Health Ministry.

The Times of Malta refers to sources at the Office of the Prime Minister describing Gafa as a loyal friend to the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Keith Schembri.

Gafa is also facing court action by a Libyan whistleblower in the medical visas scandal, where Khaled Ben Nasan has alleged that Gafa pocketed around €38,000 in fees for visas for wounded Libyans to be treated Malta – the visas never materialised.

Pressed to answer questions on Gafa’s current employment after fresh revelations of another recent trip to Libya, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat confirmed that he was there on official government business, despite Gafa facing accusations of fraud in multiple cases before the courts.

Muscat could not remember which Ministry was employing Gafa, who was accused of stalking assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia up to a day before she was killed. Yet, media reports in Libya place Gafa firmly at the heart of Castille.

“The head of the Supreme Council of State Khalid al-Mashri on Wednesday received a Maltese delegation led by the Ambassador of the Republic of Malta to Libya Charles Saliba … the Office of Prime Minister representative Neville Gafa,” Libyan media reported.

The roles and responsibilities of those visiting the country on behalf of the Maltese government have to be communicated in advance. Yet, when telling the Maltese press he could not remember which Ministry Gafa worked for, it seems Muscat overlooked the fact that Gafa was one of his own.

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