The police have still not concluded criminal investigations into alleged abuse at MCAST more than two years after the Education Ministry, then led by Minister Evarist Bartolo, passed on the conclusions of an inquiry which identified serious deficiencies at the college, possibly of a criminal nature.
Asked by The Shift for an update on the probe into the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology (MCAST) and to state if any criminal action has been taken so far, a spokesman for the police replied that although more than two years have gone by since they started, “the investigations are still ongoing”.
The police did not give any further details about what stage the investigations have reached or whether any arraignments are in the pipeline.
The Shift is informed that the inquiry – which was handed to the police by the Education Ministry on 18 April 2019, Maundy Thursday, using a familiar strategy to bury bad news as no newspapers are published on Good Friday – had found that for many years, particularly under the Labour government, tens of lecturers and other staff had been recruited at the college “on recommendations”, mainly from Labour politicians.
The inquiry, led by financial consultant Paul Bonello, included precise details of how many lecturing staff were recruited through the ‘recommendations system’ and implied that in many instances, marks during the interviews were changed or altered to ensure the ‘recommended’ lecturers bypassed the system and were put on the College’s payroll.
The Shift is also informed that the police failed to start their investigation for months after receiving the report, which happened during the period that the force was led by disgraced former Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar. In fact, it was not until Cutajar was replaced at the Police HQ by current Commissioner Angelo Gafa that instructions were given to begin the investigation.
The Inquiry on MCAST’s recommendations system
The inquiry into the alleged wrongdoing at MCAST was ordered in July 2018 after serious allegations of a criminal nature were made by a senior member of staff. The claims which also implicated abuse of a sexual nature by lecturers in a particular teaching programme, included political interference in recruitment processes and in the administration of the college through the Ministry and its appointees, including the Chairman of the Board of Governors.
It was also implied that the ‘political recommendations system’ was also used in the recruitment process of the current Principal, Prof James Calleja – a former permanent secretary at the Education Ministry under a PN administration and one of the selected few kept in place when Labour was returned to power.
While then Minister Evarist Bartolo spent weeks avoiding media questions on the subject, he later issued a statement in which he announced that he was referring the claims of a criminal nature to the police while instituting an inquiry to look into the “administrative and operational aspects” of the claims.
The Ministry said that it would have no problem in publishing the conclusions of the inquiry and acting on its recommendations, when completed.
However, after the inquiry was presented to him, Minister Bartolo did an about-turn and said that he would not publish the inquiry after all, because it had been passed to the police for further investigations.
When pressed in parliament and by the media to publish the inquiry’s content, Minister Bartolo and his successor Owen Bonnici, refused to do so, citing “legal advice” due to the ongoing investigations.
In the meantime, no action has yet been taken at MCAST to address the recommendations of the inquiry.
Featured photo: Former Education Minister Evarist Bartolo with then Chairman of MCAST, Silvio De Bono, at the time the allegations were made.