The most recent list of direct orders made by Education Minister Justyne Caruana in the last six months shows that Caruana’s ‘boyfriend’, Xewkija Tigers player-coach Daniel Bogdanovic, was paid in full for the controversial €15,000, three-month contract he’d been awarded to conduct a study on the national sports curriculum, despite the prime minister’s intervention to terminate the deal.
The list provides details of the 68 direct orders gifted under Caruana’s political direction between January and June – amounting to a total spend of some €2 million. Apart from Bogdanovic, the recipients include the Curia, a former Labour mayor and the MCAST Principal, James Calleja, among others.
Bogdanovic, known in Gozo as the Minister’s current partner, was awarded a three-month assignment to compile a “report on the National Sports School” and paid some €5,000 a month.
Although the contract, which was revealed by the media earlier this year, was supposedly halted by Prime Minister Robert Abela – though he failed to cite a specific reason – the list published in the Government Gazette shows that Bogdanovic was still paid in full for the assignment.
The footballer possesses no qualifications in the field and the award of this contract was touted by critics as an example of ‘nepotism’ by the Minister.
An investigation into the contract was initiated by the Standards Commissioner following accusations of abuse of power by independent candidate Arnold Cassola. In his complaint to the Commissioner, Cassola accused the Education Minister of breaching the code of ethics by awarding public funds to her own boyfriend.
The Shift News is also informed that an identical second complaint has been reported to the Standards Commissioner on the same issue by someone close to the footballer.
Asked whether the investigation has been concluded, a spokesman for Standards Commissioner George Hyzler confirmed yesterday that the investigation is still ongoing.
Apart from his ‘consultancy’ job to the education minister, Bogdanovic was also listed as being employed in the minister’s private secretariat, assisting her in her daily duties, since she was re-integrated in Robert Abela’s Cabinet in November 2020.
Although Minister Caruana had denied that Bogdanovic forms part of her secretariat, publicly available information on the government’s internal IT system showed that he was an officer in her private secretariat. The information has been removed recently.
The code of ethics prohibits ministers from employing in their secretariats members of their family or other relatives. However, the code is silent on other forms of relationships.
The Shift is also informed that the same situation in which Minister Caruana is involved also exists in at least another of Robert Abela’s ministries.
Archbishop’s Curia gets hefty €134,000 order
Among the list of beneficiaries of Justyne Caruana’s direct orders, the Archbishop’s Curia tops the list of disbursements without any competitive call.
In June, the Education Ministry decided to purchase some €134,000 worth of religious books from the Maltese Archdiocese via a direct order, instead of putting out a tender for which other local book suppliers could have bid.
It is not yet known why the Ministry did not issue a public call for such a lucrative contract and instead went directly to the Curia.
During the same period, the Education Ministry gave a €350,000 direct order to United Estates for the lease of offices at the Pinto Business Centre in Qormi.
The Education Ministry has also opened an office in Gozo, which allows Justyne Caruana to be closer to her constituency and ‘meet’ her voters. This decision, also put into effect via a direct order, is costing taxpayers €45,600 a year for the lease of premises from Richard Vella.
Among the consultancies and ‘contracts for service’ dished out by the Gozitan politician, the list for the first six months of this year includes Mark Borg – a university professor given a €40,300 consultancy, Prof James Calleja, MCAST’s principal who was given a new consultancy for €27,235, and Mario Salerno – a former Labour mayor who is advising Caruana on ‘gardening administration’ for €16,484 a year.