The real author of a €15,000 report commissioned by Education Minister Justyne Caruana and supposedly written by her boyfriend Daniel Bogdanovic is in fact a former aide to disgraced former European Commissioner John Dalli.
An as yet unpublished probe by Standards Commissioner George Hyzler, which found the education minister has breached the Code of Ethics, states that the real author was one of Caruana’s publicly paid consultants Paul Debattista.
Debattista, now of pensionable age, was put on Caruana’s payroll as one of her consultants in December 2020 shortly after Prime Minister Robert Abela decided to reintegrate the Gozitan MP into his Cabinet, only a few months after she was forced to resign over her then husband’s (Deputy Police Commissioner Silvio Valletta) close ties with Yorgen Fenech who is accused of commissioning journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder.
Debattista has a PhD in industrial chemistry. He joined Labour in 2013 after spending much of his working life at local wine producer Marsovin where he occupied the post of Group CEO. He was the General Manager of the now defunct Lowenbrau brewery, which used to form part of the same group.
He became close to Dalli through his job at Marsovin, where Dalli had served as a consultant.
In 2008, soon after Dalli was appointed Minister for Health and Social Policy, Debattista joined him and was appointed CEO of the Housing Authority. Following Dalli’s departure to Brussels, Debattista was still retained on the government’s payroll and given a job at the Management Efficiency Unit.
Soon after the change of government in 2013, Debattista immediately shifted to Labour and joined then Parliamentary Secretary Stefan Buontempo who was made responsible for Sport, Research and Innovation.
A year later, Debattista left Buontempo to join the private secretariat of then Finance Minister Edward Scicluna, acting as his chief of staff until the minister’s resignation in 2020.
Scicluna also appointed Debattista as Malta’s representative on the board of directors of the European Investment Bank (EIB) – a position he still holds. Yet he also joined Justyne Caruana’s secretariat as one of her consultants.
Concerted effort to conceal the truth
Reporting on the conclusions of the Standards Commissioner’s investigation into the €15,000 contract (for three months) that the education minister gave to the man she is having a relationship with, The Times of Malta said Hyzler had a tough job establishing the truth.
While Minister Caruana and her permanent secretary, Frank Fabri, tried to conceal who had decided to award the contract to Bogdanovic, Paul Debattista confirmed that it was the minister who commissioned the report.
Although Debattista did not admit that he had authored the report, it was he who gave a scanned copy to the Commissioner, saying that he had obtained it from unnamed Gozitan friends.
It was only after examining email data that Hyzler concluded that the report was written, almost in its entirety, by Debattista.
Frank Fabri in the picture again
This is not the first time that permanent secretary at the education ministry Frank Fabri was uncooperative in an investigation.
As permanent secretary who answers to the prime minister, Fabri is obliged to make sure that no public resources are wasted and to uphold the principles of transparency and accountability. Yet the Standards Commissioner noted his lack of replies when asked to state who had decided to give the direct order to Bogdanovic.
Fabri, a former mayor of Rabat, had already used the same tactic in court over other serious claims.
In 2010, the police brought charges against the owner of a cleaning services company, John Borg, alleging that he had bribed Fabri when he was at the helm of the Rabat Local Council.
Yet Borg, later acquitted, said it was Fabri who had solicited the bribes. Borg told the police that he used to pay Fabri Lm150 (€350) a month for a cleaning contract at the Rabat local council.
Borg provided the police with recordings of telephone conversations in which he had recounted his dealings with Fabri. He also said the former mayor had asked him for an increase, demanding Lm250 (€575) a month. Borg’s contract was terminated when Borg refused.
When asked to give evidence in court over the allegations made by the contractor, Fabri chose to avail himself of his right not to answer. No other witness was produced by the prosecution (police) to give evidence on the alleged corruption.
The police have never arraigned Fabri on this case.
Fabri resigned from his post in 2007 although still a popular mayor at the time. This was a year after the alleged bribes occurred. He said that he wanted to concentrate on his career and take up a directorship post at the education ministry.
Following Labour’s return to power, Fabri was made permanent secretary. He was once touted to be disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat’s choice to replace Mario Cutajar as principal permanent secretary.