A feud among Labour protagonists in Qala has intensified since the local council’s street cleaners were transferred to a department under the Gozo Ministry headed by Clint Camilleri, a first-time Labour MP who also hails from Qala.
Loss of the street cleaners in the week prior to the town’s feast one month ago resulted in an “emergency”, Mayor Paul Buttigieg told The Shift, forcing the Council to “unanimously agree” to contract the job to an outside vendor.
An investigation by The Shift into the Community Work Scheme, which employed the transferred cleaners, found that the scheme, intended to offer work exposure for the long term unemployed as a stepping stone into productive work, is being used in Gozo as a route into government jobs, bypassing standard recruitment procedures.
A spokesperson for Camilleri justified the cleaners’ reassignment by saying that the Council still has 10 workers assigned to it, which addresses the “village’s exigencies”, and that additional Ministry workers could be deployed, if needed, “to carry out work in the same village, as they do in other villages, in response to exigencies.”
Questioned about these ten workers, Buttigieg retorted that “most already have their specific duties assigned to them. I say most because there are workers who are on light duties because of long term injury or infirmity. However, the worst case is an employee who simply refuses any orders for work. Several reports have been lodged against this employee, but to no avail.”
Although Buttigieg would not be drawn into specifics about the recalcitrant worker, the suggestion is that the employee is politically shielded by someone higher up.
The Labour mayor (the Council has a PL majority) also drew attention to the “irony” that the three workers have been sent to work in Qala by the Ministry “on several occasions to do exactly the same work in Qala that they were doing before they were transferred.”
Asked about Buttigieg’s claims, Camilleri rejected the suggestion of “a turf war” between protagonists in the Council and the Ministry. He added that the Gozo Ministry “assists every local council in Gozo without distinction.”
His spokesperson also refuted suggestions that Qala is seeing a proxy battle within a wider power struggle between the camps of Camilleri and that of his predecessor, Justyne Caruana. The spokesperson said that the notion of any strife between the two “is absolutely not true.”
Talk of a power struggle emerged after Joseph Buttigieg, a first-time Qala councillor and close aide to the Gozo Minister, lashed out publicly at Mayor Buttigieg in a comment on Facebook. The comment was made in reaction to a post by the Mayor, drawing attention to Gozo Ministry workers washing the town square, in which he wrote: “Yearly cleaning of Qala square by MGOZ workers.”
“Don’t try to take credit for the work of others, like you do often times,” councillor Buttigieg hit back. “Just because you live there and woke up early to take pictures, does not mean you requested this or you were involved. It’s time to start calling a spade a spade.”
Sources told The Shift that the Mayor is close to former Minister Caruana, while the Councillor works in Minister Camilleri’s secretariat.
There are also traces of antipathy between Paul Buttigieg and Clint Camilleri that goes back to an incident in 2016 that arose after the council objected to a development application to turn a countryside ruin into a villa. At the time, Camilleri was mayor, and Buttigieg was a councillor. Buttigieg had seconded a call made in an email to object to the development, and when the owners of the land – relatives of Buttigieg – as well as the architect, learned of the email, it caused trouble in his family.
Camilleri then admitted having talked with “some people”, as well as the architect, and apologized to the council. He also said that the council should not involve itself in development applications by private individuals, rather they should “only get involved in large projects.”
The architect, Alexander Bigeni, is set to be assigned a supervisory role by the Gozo Ministry on a multi-million euro public swimming pool project. Development of the pool has been awarded to a company partly owned by Excel Investments Limited, whose majority shareholder is property magnate Joseph Portelli.
Excel is one of Bigeni’s major clients. It includes a controversial sprawling block of flats in Qala that is one of Gozo’s largest-ever residential developments. Bigeni took over three of four parts of the larger project from an earlier architect, who renounced her brief.
Three months ago, the council initiated legal proceedings for revocation of planning permits on parts of the project.
More recently, Mayor Buttigieg featured in an article in The Sunday Times of Malta on 16 August that focused on direct orders in which he or his family had been beneficiaries “in recent years.” In a strongly-worded statement following publication, Buttigieg maintained that his sister’s local publishing firm had been contracted for Council printing work for the past twelve years, well before he had become mayor. He also said that a woodworking job the article referred to was worth some one thousand euros, dating back to 2009, and he had recused himself from the meeting in which a vote on the job was taken.
In the statement about the article, Buttigieg wrote that “this manoeuvre is intended as an attempt to tarnish my reputation and in some manner discourage me in my endeavours to protect Qala and the environment, in general.”