Turning your lemons into their lemonade

The General Workers’ Union found a lucrative way to turn other people’s lemons into their lemonade.

They did it by squeezing profits out of those who are temporarily down on their luck.

Okay, yes, unions are supposed to help the worker rather than screw them over. But don’t worry, the taxpayer is footing the bill.

Here’s how they got their hands on more of your hard-earned money.

The GWU was tasked with running a new programme called the Community Work Scheme as a nonprofit foundation. It was meant to help “severely disadvantaged persons” who have been unemployed get work experience and retraining so they could transition to gainful employment.

It all sounded so good on paper. But like everything this government touches, someone had to get greedy and stuff their pockets with everything they could get their sticky hands on. Why not? Everyone else is doing it, too.

Good intentions didn’t prove to be such an obstacle when finding a way to take personal advantage of a plan to help others.

I guess once you’ve pulled off a scam the size of Electrogas or VGH, looking for loopholes in something like this is child’s play.

The best way to hide the fact that you’re cashing in is to conceal yourself behind a company, like a Hearnville or Tillgate. This way no one sees you actually stuffing stacks of bills into your own pocket.

So the GWU created a for-profit company called District Operations Limited and subcontracted it to run the scheme of what was supposed to be this nonprofit foundation. That’s the first layer.

Next, create another company to act as your ‘cash hoover’. In this case, District One Limited,  one of the minority shareholders in District Operations.

Are you following so far? The GWU subcontracted this not-for-profit Community Work scheme to a company called District Operations. And District Operations is owned by the GWU (the majority shareholder), and another entity called District One.

Here’s where it gets even more interesting. District One is co-owned by Konrad Mizzi’s favourite lawyer, Aron Mifsud Bonnici, and GWU accountant Robert Borg who was also involved in the preparation of an evaluation report on the hospitals’ privatisation.

After his involvement in the Electrogas deal, Mifsud Bonnici must have also learned a trick or two while travelling with the disgraced former minister to Montenegro on that shady wind farm jaunt. Judging by the layered companies, they gave this entire Community Work scheme the ol’ Konnie Kon tainted touch.

Unfortunately, the National Audit Office noticed the creative ways they came up with to make large payments to themselves.

Over €1.2 million was drained away through “administrative expenses”. That’s according to accounts they filed with the Malta Business Registry in 2018.

“Directors’ remuneration’ went from €16,714 to €46,600 between 2017 and 2018. And “other board members” were given €32,400 — up from €7,089 the previous year — to keep them happy.

We have no idea what they did to earn these fees, but I suspect it wasn’t very much. No contract was ever drawn up between the Community Work Scheme Enterprise Foundation (CWSEF) and District Operations.

As for District Operations, that entity earned €78,026 in profits in 2017 and €39,203 in 2018 (after deducting generous directors fees and other expenses) from this supposedly not-for-profit scheme.

The funds were paid out as dividends to shareholders: to the GWU, and to Mifsud Bonnici’s and Borg’s District One.

In the meantime, all those workers they sent to Gozo to sweep streets and collect litter from parks are costing you €1,220 per month each.

But don’t worry, they aren’t all working at once. Some don’t show up at all. Not in this heat. Much like the police overtime scandal, they seem to be taking turns reporting for ‘work’ while everyone collects full pay.

And don’t think this is just temporary, either.

When the NAO looked at the project in 2018, they warned of the risk “that the scheme becomes an end in itself”. A way of knocking down the unemployment stats by absorbing those people into the CWS. And that is exactly what’s happened.

You see, this project doesn’t have a built-in end date.

It quickly became another dumping ground for bypassing normal recruitment procedures to dish out non-jobs to friends of friends. Some 920 people are currently employed under the Community Work Scheme.

To put that into perspective, if the village of Qala had hired three street cleaners through the Community Work Scheme, it would have still cost taxpayers €43,920 per year. Instead, they contracted it out themselves for an additional €18,720 per year.

Someone’s been especially busy buying favours in Gozo. The Shift has revealed that numbers there increased by 321 workers between June 2017 and April 2020, though the place doesn’t seem to be getting any cleaner than it was before this scheme started.

Unfortunately for you, there’s no end in sight. The situation has sunk to the bottom of the cesspool.

But I guess it’s difficult to tell one’s subordinates to rein things in and run an honest department when the prime minister’s office and his inner circle are implicated in the murder of a journalist who was shining a light on their own get rich quick schemes.

You’ll keep paying for corruption like this and filling the bank accounts of politically connected people for as long as the Muscat Gang remains in power.

Continuity Bob is there to make sure “their turn” lasts as long as it can.

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