Embattled Xewkija mayor and Gozo Ministerial aide Hubert Saliba dismissed allegations of wrongdoing, following claims he sought discounts for his daughter from a children’s therapist working in the local council’s facilities, during a stormy three-hour meeting of the council last Tuesday.
Saliba is being accused of having sought a personal discount for his daughter’s therapy, in exchange for allowing an occupational therapist to use a library room, whose use had been earlier granted unanimously by the council in a meeting on 30 June 2020.
The allegations are all the more incendiary given Saliba’s role as an aide to Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri who was also reportedly informed of the allegations in an email one month ago when they surfaced.
Sources have further told The Shift that someone who, in a phone call, claimed to be a “director” at the Ministry for Gozo, attempted to calm things down after NGO chairperson Pauliana Said threatened to go “public through social media” a month ago.
Said, who runs the NGO Voice for Inclusion in Gozo, which assists those with special needs, had been looking for premises where an occupational therapist, Josette Sammut, could provide sessions to children in Gozo. This would spare Gozitan families having to travel to Malta for their children’s weekly sessions.
A request was presented to the Xewkija Local Council by councillor Jeanelle Attard to allow the therapist to temporarily use a vacant room at the Xewkija Library, for a “month or two.” The council unanimously approved the use of the room.
Then, in an email sent to councillors one month ago, seen by The Shift, Said wrote that the therapist, Sammut, had informed her in an “angry call” that the mayor had called her and said that “the use of the room cannot be made available unless a discount is given personally to the mayor himself for the services to be provided to his child.”
This was corroborated during last Tuesday’s meeting when councillor Attard phoned Said and Sammut and put them on speaker phone. They both repeated claims that Saliba had told Sammut that permission to use the room would be withdrawn if a discount was not given to him.
When Said was on speaker phone during the meeting, Saliba accused her of making “insinuations” against him.
Councillor Attard also declared during the meeting that Saliba had admitted to her that he had asked for a discount in a ‘momentary lapse of clarity’’brought on by personal anguish related to his daughter.
Contacted by The Shift, Saliba declined to comment on any question put to him, including questions on the efforts to cover up the request.
Later, he wrote an email to The Shift in which he said he had “never asked for a personal discount and I categorically deny such allegations”.
He repeated the explanation he had offered during the council meeting – that he had instead asked the therapist to offer “a special treatment on rates of prices” for all children “in the locality” who might need therapy.
The therapy consists of an assessment, which costs €285, as well as weekly hourlong sessions, at an additional cost of €35 each.
A senior legal source consulted by The Shift said that, if proven, Saliba’s alleged request for a discount on threat of rescinding the council’s agreement on use of the room may amount to a criminal offence punishable by possible imprisonment.
Saliba, a first-time Labour mayor in a Labour-dominated council, earlier worked for the Gozitan heritage NGO Wirt Għawdex, before being employed by the government on the eve of the 2017 general election.
Sources told The Shift that he was promoted, during the tenure of Justyne Caruana, and eventually employed by the secretariat of the current minister, Clint Camilleri.
The Shift wrote to Camilleri to ask why he had not asked the police to investigate after he had received an email one month ago in which the allegations against Saliba had been made.
He was also asked what he would do about the anonymous “director” who pressured the NGO’s chairperson to calm things down after she threatened to reveal all on social media, as well as whether he would be asking Saliba to resign, or dismiss him, from his secretariat following the serious allegations that have now emerged during the heated Xewkija council meeting last Tuesday.
In reply to questions by The Shift, the Gozo Ministry said allegations should be referred to ‘the local councils’ division’ and the Ministry would “take any action deemed necessary upon clarifications sought and appropriately verified.”