Harrowing stories of alleged abuse, bullying, manipulation and harassment at the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra were reported to Culture Minister Owen Bonnici and his permanent secretary Joyce Dimech by past and present members, but both public officials chose to look the other way rather than take action, according to orchestra members who spoke to The Shift.
“Careers were simply destroyed by [CEO] Sigmund [Mifsud] with the backing of senior government officials during the past years,” said a national orchestra manager who was forced to resign. “Sigmund was not fit for the job from day one, and he made our life a living hell.”
A trumpeter at the national orchestra, Mifsud was given the position of Malta Philharmonic Orchestra CEO in 2013, soon after Labour was returned to power. He had contested the general elections as a Labour Party candidate but failed to make it into parliament after endorsing Joseph Muscat.
“We tried hard to guide him on how things should be done as he had no clue how to manage a company,” another employee said. “But all our efforts were ignored, and the office had become a shouting match mixed with acts of continuing bullying and harassment.”
Orchestra employees told The Shift that Mifsud insisted on getting his way even on the most minor details, boasting that he was “untouchable” because he had the backing of disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat.
“Contractors were chosen according to his whim, and procurement rules were completely ignored,” a manager said, “while those who had helped him in his electoral campaign were his preferred suppliers, now paid by the MPO.”
“If anyone disagreed, he or she was harassed and driven to a point where they had no other option but to resign.”
Another employee described receiving a call from Castille after expressing reservations about a small project on which he was working. “An official I don’t know told me to do exactly as Sigmund said as Michelle Muscat liked his idea. I couldn’t believe my ears.”
All the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra employees who spoke to The Shift agreed that the most significant disappointment they suffered was Permanent Secretary Joyce Dimech doing nothing to help them after being informed of their situation.
“In a last ditch attempt, Dimech was given all the information, and we begged her to intervene… Countless people had to leave as they couldn’t take it any longer. It was affecting their mental health. Yet nothing changed, and we had to follow suit.”
The national orchestra has been rocked by scandals in recent months, including a case of sexual harassment revealed by The Shift in October.
The Shift is informed that after meeting the victim of sexual harassment on 6 September, Minister Bonnici passed on to Dimech the serious allegations being made, but neither Bonnici nor Dimech went to the police.
It was only after the victim resigned and The Shift made public the reason she had given for her resignation that the police took action. A 31-year-old manager from Gozo was arraigned in court, where he admitted to the charges.
The Shift is also reliably informed that Sigmund Mifsud tried to persuade the victim to withdraw her allegations to shield her abuser.
According to a national orchestra board member, Mifsud allegedly told the board that Dimech instructed him to keep quiet and said she would sort everything out.
Joyce Dimech did not reply to questions from The Shift asking her to explain her actions on the sexual harassment claims.
She also refused to answer questions from the board about what instructions or direction she had given Mifsud, if any.
The court banned the publication of the abuser’s name. Yet orchestra members who spoke to The Shift said it was a known fact that members of the abuser’s family are also closely connected to the national orchestra…and Dimech, who is also Gozitan.
The Shift asked Dimech to explain this too, but she remained silent.
Culture Minister Owen Bonnici admitted he had met the victim of sexual harassment. He did not go to the police but instead directed the victim to the Commission on Domestic Violence.
Sigmund Mifsud has been arraigned in court.