Payments of overtime to Gozo ministry employees more than tripled in the five years between 2014 and 2019, an investigation by the The Shift has found.
An analysis of data submitted in parliament recently, following a parliamentary question by PN MP Chris Said, shows that under the direction of former Gozo minister, Justyne Caruana, now serving as education minister, the payment of overtime shot up dramatically, significantly surpassing the estimated budget allocated by the finance ministry.
The data, which covers the 2014-2019 period, shows that while the total amount of overtime paid to Gozo ministry employees in 2014 stood at almost €52,000, this rocketed to over €175,000 by 2019, when Caruana was Gozo minister.
In 2020, Caruana was replaced in the Gozo ministry by 33-year-old Clint Camilleri.
Although the figures might at first glance suggest that the drastic increase in paid overtime may have been attributed to an increase in the number of public servants attached to the Gozo ministry, closer examination makes it clear that this wasn’t the case.
According to government documents, the number of employees directly assigned to the Gozo ministry did not increase significantly during the five-year period.
While by the end of 2014, when €52,000 were paid in overtime, there were 1,190 public servants attached to the Gozo ministry, this only went up marginally to 1,201 by the end of 2019, by which time the amount of overtime paid for the same number of employees had tripled.
So far, it is not known what attributed to this massive surge in overtime at the Gozo ministry.
According to the 2019 budget estimates, the finance ministry had only allocated a maximum of €105,000 to be spent on overtime for that year.
This meant that the ministry instead used other funds, originally allocated for other purposes, to be able to increase the amount of overtime payments to its employees.
Gozitans on taxpayer payroll balloon
The overtime cited in this information submitted to parliament concerns only a small selection of the thousands of Gozitan workers who were put on the taxpayers’ payroll since Labour was swept to power in 2013.
Although according to official statistics, the number of Gozo ministry employees has remained little changed over the past five years, hundreds of other workers have been recruited through a selection of ‘schemes’ and ‘methods’ – all of which are ultimately paid out of state coffers.
A glaring example is the so-called Community Workers Scheme – administered by the General Workers Union and ostensibly aimed at training the long-term unemployed. Instead, the scheme has been used in Gozo to put hundreds on the government payroll.
According to the latest statistics, some 400 out of the 1000 ‘long-term unemployed’ enrolled in this scheme hail from Gozo, and most have been assigned odd jobs at local councils, schools, the Gozo ministry or with NGOs.
It’s been reported that most of these workers are rarely present at their place of work, and in many cases have been found doing private work, particularly in the construction industry, while supposedly being on government time.
Hundreds of people were also recruited through the private sector and made available to the government or other public entities such as Gozo Channel.
This happens through the award of contracts of service to private companies for the provision of security, clerical, and a raft of other support services to various government department and companies.
While employees are ‘recruited’ by private entities to offer these services to government department and agencies, it is the government itself that pays their salaries, often recruited through political recommendations.
Gozo Channel offers one such example. In the past few years, the ferry service provider has hired numerous private companies to carry out operations such as mooring, hiring of seamen, manning of onboard catering and the provision of cleaning services and security at the Mgarr and Cirkewwa passenger terminals.
The companies providing these services, often through direct contracts, are paid hundreds of thousands of euros to keep their employees on their payroll, which is funded directly by the government.
Gozo is considered a politically sensitive district for the governing Labour Party since the general elections of 2017, when it won the majority of votes on the island for the first time ever since Malta’s independence.
Prime Minister Robert Abela is determined to maintain that majority, and has, unprecedentedly, given cabinet positions to all three of the Labour MPs elected in Gozo.
On their part, Agriculture Minister Anton Refalo, Education Minister Justyne Caruana and Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri are conducting an internal battle for votes, competing to curry most favour with potential voters.
A slip in the polls by Labour in Gozo would mean that one of the three current ministers would lose their seat in cabinet.