Damning audit on home help for elderly finds ‘mess’, raises questions on misappropriation of funds

Thousands of service hours unaccounted for, and no monitoring in place

 

Some 30% of hours in which Gozitan elderly clients were supposed to be given their government-funded Home Help Service are unaccounted for, and no one knows why despite taxpayers forking out €9 an hour for this public service.

An NAO investigation, zooming in on the Home Help Service, supposedly offered to the elderly in Gozo, could not determine what happened to some 57,000 paid hours which social assistants, employed directly by the government or provided through a private contractor, were supposed to provide care for the elderly at private homes.

In what has now become the norm, particularly in Gozo, no effective monitoring is being undertaken by the government to ascertain the quality of the service, making it practically impossible for the NAO and other investigative authorities to delve deeper into their findings.

During 2021, the ministry’s division responsible for monitoring the Home Help service visited only 1% of clients and only for an introductory short meeting. The division, called Services Gozo Directorate, is led by Joyce Farrugia.

When asked during interviews with those involved in the service provision, including social assistants, no one could come up with a reason for the unaccounted hours, with some providers insisting on some unknown arrangement “approved by the higher authorities”.

The NAO did not establish who these “higher authorities” were.

“In the case of the Gozo Ministry social assistants deployed to the Home Help Unit, the provision of services to other than clients’ homes constitutes a misclassification of accounts. This transpires since such services were charged to the Home Help accounting line item,” the NAO audit concluded.

The Home Help Service is intended to increase the independence of older persons and persons with special needs to live within the community through help with cleaning, errands, shopping and collecting medicines.

Elderly clients pay a small contribution to subscribe to this service, with the rest of the costs forked out by taxpayers.

Each client is assigned a social care assistant who is supposed to dedicate several hours weekly to assist the elderly in their homes.

Yet the hours assigned have not been provided, with clients having to make do with fewer hours even though the government still pays the assistants for the total hours.

“I am supposed to have an assistant for four hours a week. She barely stays for two hours, and usually, I have to call her,” an 85-year-old woman from Ghajnsielem said.

An 80-year-old man from Kerċem told The Shift that “my assistant never comes. She calls me every now and then to see whether I need something, but that’s it,” he said.

“When I called the ministry to complain, they told me she should come. But they never sent anyone to see whether I was receiving the service I was paying for. Still, at our age, it’s better than nothing,” another client said.

The Shift is reliably informed that while most support assistants do visit their clients, they spend much less time than allocated, with the rest of the paid hours spent elsewhere on private errands or assignments.

According to the NAO, in 2021, the government paid a total of €1.2 million to the contractor – Support Services Ltd – for the service of Home Help and another €500,000 in salaries provided to ministry social assistants.

Some 958 clients in 854 households are subscribed to this service in Gozo.

The number of site visits carried out by Gozo Ministry officials to monitor the service declined from 37% in 2019 to just 1% in 2021.

In a statement, the Opposition said the findings of the NAO were “damning” and demanded explanations and accountability over this “seemingly phantom service”.

                           
                           
                               
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karmenu Psaila
karmenu Psaila
1 month ago

what a pity for the elderly in Gozo , but when you call in a department in Gozo most of the time the government employee is not in place , they work as they want I wonder if they have introduced a palm reader and a camera by the front door of each department to control those who are abusing and regarding the carers they should have a schedule were the she writes the hours and the elderly checks it and sign but most of the elderly dont check or cannot read .

C Cachia
C Cachia
1 month ago

Check the bank accounts of every member of Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri’s family!

John C.
John C.
1 month ago

Same director, same permanent secretary and same minister. A scandal every week. Shameful and disgusting

Out of Curiosity
Out of Curiosity
1 month ago

I’ve said here many times that nothing will stop this highly corrupt Government from to continue diluting public funds by ignoring public procurement regulations completely, as one of the main reasons being impunity at all levels. The situation is so bad in public administration that those honest have abandoned the idea to flag wrongdoings and those rotten have now found a well of gold with the persistent idea to get away with murder each time.

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