Court dismisses case against Gafa’s extra overtime pay on technicality

Neville Gafa’ has won a legal battle to keep more than €6,500 in “extra” overtime payments after a court threw out the health authorities request for a refund on a legal technicality.

The case was filed in 2017 by the Health Parliamentary Secretary and Chief Medical Officer in an attempt to regain more than €6,500 that was paid to Gafa’, while he was a project manager at the Foundation for Medical Services.

He was employed on a ‘person of trust’ basis and 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 and amount to €7,237 for overtime when he was entitled to just €699. – when he was there to deal with “customer care” issues on behalf of the Office of the Prime Minister.

However, in a recent court judgment, Magistrate Simone Grech pointed out that the Chief Medical Officer had filed the request for a refund using a legal procedure that had been specifically created to make credit collection easy and simple.

The law clearly specified the types of payments that were covered by this legal procedure, which did not include overtime.

“The problem is that this request is about extra payments of overtime to a government employee. This case is not about a debt owed to the government because, as such, there was no service given to the alleged debtor,” the judgment said.

Gafa’s job description was 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.

He was appointed to the role soon after the Labour Party rose to power in 2013. Gafa’ had contested the government’s request for the overtime payments and sent a letter through his lawyer, who at that time was Robert Abela – now prime minister – saying there was no outstanding payment from his end.

The letter submitted by Abela on Gafa’s behalf.

The health authorities had argued in court that Gafa’ was aware that the payments were “a mistake” and a breach of his contract.

The overpayment “is clear and can be proven and Gafa’ took advantage when he was aware that these were not owed to him,” the health authorities argued in their court application.

In the timesheets 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).

When Chris Fearne was appointed Health Minister, he worked there up until April 2016, after which his contract was terminated. “Till this day, I don’t know why,” he had stated in his testimony to a board of public inquiry.

His termination came soon after he was implicated in an alleged medical visas racket where he was accused of collecting thousands of euro to apply for visas for injured Libyans to be treated in Malta. These, however, never saw the visas.

Always a dark horse, it was only earlier this year that Gafa’ revealed what his trips to Libya were all about as he proudly declared that he saved “thousands of lives” of migrants. While testifying in the public inquiry into Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination, Gafa’ said he had brokered a deal with the Libyan authorities during his visits between June 2018 and January 2020 to send back migrants to Libya, preventing them from arriving on Maltese shores.

A self-declared person of trust, Gafa’ was removed from his role as “coordinator” at the Office of the Prime Minister when Abela was sworn in as prime minister. A close friend of the former chief of staff Keith Schembri, Gafa’ was recently spotted accompanying Schembri before his testimony in court on Monday.

The health authorities have appealed the decision.


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