Embattled Education Minister Justyne Caruana is insisting that there is no professional relationship between her ministry and the Xewkija Tigers player-coach Daniel Bogdanovic even as the Standards Commissioner has found a breach of ethics in the contract awarded to the man with whom she is involved in an intimate relationship.
Replying to questions by The Shift, the minister said, “please note that there are no contracts in place for any role within the ministry”.
Sources have told The Shift that after the prime minister’s intervention earlier this year, Bogdanovic was no longer allowed to work at the minister’s private secretariat. Yet he was instead ‘seconded’ to another agency falling under the same ministry.
Meanwhile, an investigation by the Standards Commissioner George Hyzler into a €5,000-a-month contract Caruana gave to Bogdanovic has found ethics were breached. The Times of Malta has said that Hyzler has handed a copy of his investigation to parliamentary speaker Anġlu Farrugia on Friday.
When the Standards Commissioner hands a report to the Speaker, rather than publishing it, there is a prima facie breach of the ethics code. There were two complaints filed – one by Arnold Cassola and another by a relative of the player-coach.
Bogdanovic is still frequently seen on school sites, including ongoing projects on Gozitan schools, claiming that he is performing inspections on the progress of works.
Technically, Bogdanovic was put on the government’s payroll through the Jobsplus scheme for the long-term unemployed, administered by the General Workers Union. However, for some time after Caruana was made education minister, he was ‘seconded’ to work in her private secretariat.
The minister had flatly denied this information even though the evidence was on the government’s internal system. This information has since been deleted, although sources say Bogdanovic has been assigned to the Foundation for Tomorrow Schools. This information could not be verified.
Last month, Bogdanovic and the minister attended a concert at the Astra Theatre in Victoria. Replying to questions, the minister said she “attended the concert as a private citizen and not in my official capacity”.
Yet she was invited to the concert because of her role as education minister. The pair sat together in the theatre following the concert just metres away from Gozo Minister and political rival Clint Camilleri.
Standards Commissioner finds breach of ethics
Minister Caruana, who was forced to resign in January 2020, shortly after revelations of the close connections between her husband at the time – former Deputy Police Commissioner Silvio Valletta – and the man accused of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination, Yorgen Fenech.
She was returned to Cabinet as education minister by Prime Minister Robert Abela only months later. One her first moves was to ‘second’ Daniel Bogdanovic to her private secretariat.
Soon after, Caruana also ordered her permanent secretary, Frank Fabri, to give Bogdanovic a lucrative three-month direct order, tasking him to write a report on the National Sports School while cashing in €5,000 a month from State coffers.
Bogdanovic had no expertise or knowledge to conduct this assignment.
As soon as the contract was leaked to the media in late March 2021, Prime Minister Robert Abela said he had intervened to rescind the contract even though he never explained why he felt obliged to take that decision.
Abela has dismissed a Government Gazette notice showing Bogdanovic had received the €15,000 contract payment, stating – without any evidence – that Caruana’s close friend had not been paid this money.
Featured photo of Justyne Caruana and Daniel Bogdanovic having lunch at Ta Dbiegi, Gozo, was sent in by one of our readers.