Agriculture Ministry turning Pitkalija into Gozo employment agency as election looms

A government-owned company responsible for the running of the vegetable market in Ta’ Qali – Pitkalija Ltd – has been flooded with Gozitan employees placed on its books during the past months thanks to the active efforts of Agriculture Minister Anton Refalo.

The former Gozo Minister has placed at least 12 new ‘crate washers’ on the company’s books, since taking over the agriculture ministry last January.

The company, through its various contractors, has also recruited several other personnel through a contract of service, paid by taxpayers, including office administrators, support officers, security personnel and first aiders to check the temperature of those entering the premises due to the ongoing pandemic.

With a few exceptions, almost all the new employees are Gozitan or are registered as voters in Gozo.

Sources close to the company told The Shift that Pitkalija Ltd has never seen so many employees on its books for years.

“It seems that during the past months Gozo started producing expert crate washers, so much so that most of them working here are now Gozitans,” a senior company official said sarcastically.

The new recruits have added significant costs to the overall operations of the State entity. Though no information is available on the financial standing of the company, sources described the current situation as “not so rosy”.

Pitkalija Ltd has not published its accounts since 2016 despite legal obligations.

A heavy presence from Gozo is also reflected on the company’s board of directors – four of the five members on the board are from Gozo. They were appointed by Clint Camilleri, then-Parliamentary Secretary responsible for agriculture and now Gozo Minister.

Apart from Damian Bigeni, a lawyer whose wife happens to be the minister’s cousin, Camilleri had also appointed Manuela Mercieca and Reuben Mercieca, both from Sannat, and Alexandra Pirotta Muscat, from Xewkija, to sit on the board of Pitkalija Ltd.

Rivalry between the two Gozitan Ministers in Robert Abela’s Cabinet is expected to increase significantly in the coming months as a general election looms closer.

Both Camilleri and Refalo are known for their political patronage in acquiring votes through the dishing out of government jobs and other favours.

Only a few weeks ago, The Shift reported how Refalo handed out some €2 million in direct orders since his return to Cabinet last January, mainly to curry favour among his Gozitan constituents, either through jobs or contracts for works at his ministry and other entities under his political remit.

On the other hand, Camilleri, who was the least popular of the three Gozitan Labour MPs during the last general election (the third being MP Justyne Caruana), is embarking on a village-politics strategy, meeting constituents and trying to ‘solve’ the demands put forward by Gozitan voters related to jobs, planning permits and other ‘requirements’, multiple sources have confirmed.

While it is no secret that Refalo is still eyeing his return to his former Ministry in Pjazza San Frangisk, his successor Caruana is still in the game.

Despite pressure by Castille to relinquish her parliamentary seat following revelations that her husband, former Deputy Police Commissioner Silvio Valletta was ‘close’ to Yorgen Fenech, Caruana has vowed to make a comeback.

Though not among Castille’s current favourite list of MPs, Caruana has been given lucrative government contracts in the past weeks, pushing her income to some €90,000 from the state coffers in just a few months.

                           
                               
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