Veteran Labour MP Anton Refalo, who was removed from his role as Gozo Minister following the 2017 elections and is now Agricultural Minister, is making it a point to retain favour with his constituents by dishing out almost €2 million in direct orders during the first six months of the year.
A number of Gozitans were recruited to work at his new Ministry based in Malta, and assigned jobs such as landing and tuna attendants, fish market attendants and secretarial duties, according to information published in the Government Gazette.
Other Gozitans have been given alternative jobs at the Ministry, simply listed as ‘coordinators’ and engaged through direct orders to bypass the government recruitment system.
No information has been given on their exact duties at the Ministry, with the Government Gazette listing them only as having a ‘contract of service’.
It seems Refalo is intent on remaining as popular as ever with Gozitans after he was stripped of his role despite delivering a success for the Labour Party in the last general elections.
This ‘success’ came at the expense of taxpayers and the private sector, which had suffered a massive blow as a result of a sudden depletion in human resources available, with hundreds of employees given government jobs in a massive ‘jobs-for-votes’ campaign in the run-up to the election.
Yet former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat chose Justyne Caruana for Gozo Minister instead of Refalo. She was forced to resign after her husband, former Deputy Police Commissioner Silvio Valletta, was exposed as having a close relationship with the man accused of masterminding Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination – Yorgen Fenech.
Valletta was one of the main investigators on the case before it emerged he was passing on information to the suspect. Muscat and his chief of staff Keith Schembri have repeatedly been mentioned in court hearings related to the case.
Caruana and Valletta were close to former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s core team. When Muscat gave the Gozo Ministry to Caruana and offered Refalo the Agriculture Ministry as an alternative, Refalo had rejected it. He accepted the post last January as part of Robert Abela’s new Cabinet.
It is an open secret that Refalo, a lawyer by profession, still has his eyes on the Gozo Ministry, currently occupied by Clint Camilleri, and that he considers the Agriculture Ministry assigned to him as merely a stepping stone.
Sources told The Shift that although the Agriculture Ministry is based in Malta, “in six months it has already become an extension of the Gozo Ministry”.
“Almost nine out of every 10 people employed or given odd jobs at the Ministry happen to be Gozitan.”
In addition, a security company regularly awarded direct orders by Gozo Channel during Refalo’s time as Gozo Minister – Executive Security Services Ltd – has already been awarded two direct orders at the Agriculture and Fisheries Ministry amounting to more than €110,000.
The company, owned by Stephen Ciangura, a soldier seconded as a driver to former PN MP turned Labour crony, Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, recruited dozens of Gozitans prior to the 2017 general election to work at Gozo Channel through a contract that has been contested in court, and won, by the union on unequal pay conditions.