The results of an inquiry completed in 2019, and kept under lock and key by the government since, show an ‘endemic toxic system’ at MCAST in relation to the recruitment of staff, with hundreds of missing or falsified interview ‘score cards’, as management succumbed to pressure from ministers.
The inquiry, held under the official Inquiries Act, was launched following a series of claims made by a high MCAST official in 2018, including to then Education Minister Evarist Bartolo. Yet despite being finished a year later, the government has kept the report buried despite promises to publish it.
The Shift, which is now exclusively publishing parts of the report, after it was presented in court earlier this week. The whole report and accompanying incriminating evidence were passed on to the police more than three years ago.
Yet no investigations have been concluded so far and no action has been taken against those involved.
‘Missing’ and ‘altered’ scorecards in an ‘endemic toxic system’
The investigation, led by financial expert Paul Bonello, found that the tertiary education facility was inundated with very serious administrative shortcomings, particularly in its management and the way it recruits lecturers and other staff.
In what the inquiry describes as a recruitment process based “on a system of endemic and toxic recommendations”, it found that dozens of scorecards used by members of interviewing boards to recruit lecturers were altered with “tip-ex” and the marks originally obtained by those sitting for the interview changed.
In just six months of interviews in 2018, and reviewed by the Bonello inquiry, 57 results were found to be falsified, where results were changed to recruit the “recommended” candidate.
The inquiry found that this system was apparently “endemic”, and such instances were found to go back to 2010.
According to the inquiry, the peak of the fraudulent system was reached in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 were the largest amount of ‘altered’ or ‘lost’ scorecards were found.
The inquiry, which interviewed former and current government-appointed principals, chairmen, and senior MCAST staff members, heard evidence in which the top management of the College acknowledged the system of recommendations and actively participated in it.
‘Such pressure existed all the time’
Silvio De Bono, a former work colleague of ex education minister Evarist Bartolo, was appointed principal as soon as Labour was returned to power in 2013. He admitted that he used to receive a large number of recommendations on who to recruit at MCAST, even from the Office of the Prime Minister.
“I didn’t make recommendations directly,” he told the board. “However, I used to have recommendations, even from the OPM, and I used to pass on the message to the human resources (HR) department to take care of these candidates, if found to be ok,” Debono told the inquiry.
“I can assure you that in my position such pressure is exerted all the time,” Debono added.
Confirming pressure and recommendations, including phone calls from former parliamentary secretary Silvio Parnis, as well as the wife of Minister Anton Refalo, a senior HR officer ( Josephine Abdilla) told the board that even the current principal (James Calleja) was recommended for the job.
“He (De Bono) used to tell me that he received instructions that that job (principal) is for James Calleja”, she told the inquiry.
De Bono denies this.
Recommending a thorough overhaul of the recruitment process at MCAST, the inquiry board, which also included lawyer Phyllis Aquilina and Antoinette Cutajar, slammed the MCAST administration for allowing this fraudulent system to flourish in an education institution supposed to uphold meritocracy and equality.
Although then Education Minister Evarist Bartolo had said that he would publish the inquiry once concluded, this never happened.
Instead, on the night of Maundy Thursday in 2019 – and repeating a familiar strategy to bury bad news, since no newspapers are published on Good Friday – Bartolo issued a brief press release stating that he had handed the inquiry report to the police.
Since then, nothing has been done and no one has been taken to court over the falsification of documents and other fraudulent activity.