Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne is refusing to state whether he ordered the return of Carmen Ciantar from her two-month self-suspension.
Fearne, who gave Ciantar a five-year irregular contract at €163,000 a year from taxpayer funds, has also fallen silent when asked whether Ciantar was investigated, by whom and the probe’s actual conclusions.
The Shift can also reveal that according to her employment contract, Ciantar cannot suspend herself.
Worse, Ciantar cannot decide when she should return to her place of work and in which capacity.
According to her contract and the rules of her employer, the Foundation for Medical Services (FMS), which The Shift revealed, these decisions are to be taken by the board of directors, led by Joseph Sammut.
The Board usually takes direction from Minister Fearne.
Last Monday, out of the blue, Ciantar sent an email to news editors, announcing that she would be lifting her self-suspension as, according to her, “the truth and my integrity have won out over the massive and moneyed dark forces which tried to annihilate both”.
When both Ciantar and Fearne were asked to give more information about what she was referring to and to provide some form of evidence that she was investigated and exonerated, both Fearne and Ciantar declined to give any further information.
The Shift also asked Minister Fearne to state whether he had agreed with Ciantar’s lifting of her self-suspension, whether he was even informed, and to state under which provision in Ciantar’s contract and the FMS’s Disciplinary Procedures was Ciantar allowed to, first, self-suspend herself and then lift her own suspension.
Fearne was also asked whether, in view of her self-proclaimed “win over the dark forces”, Ciantar would be paid her remuneration for the two months she did not set foot in FMS offices.
Despite various reminders, Minster Fearne ignored the questions.
Considered as Minister Fearne’s right hand, Ciantar announced her self-suspension at the end of last May when Pakistani news portals alleged that she was on the take from the corrupt deal of the privatisation of the three state hospitals.
These claims were not carried by national independent newsrooms. They followed reports following a year’s international investigation by The Shift, The Times of Malta and OCCRP. There was a lack of proof, and the claims were similar to disinformation tactics recorded by this newsroom.
Yet Ciantar decided to suspend herself “to clear her name”, with the approval of Health Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne. She then decided to unsuspend herself in a letter sent to the media, with no justification except for her rhetoric on integrity, which is questionable.
No information has been published on whether an investigation was held and its conclusions.
She was an operative of disgraced former minister Konrad Mizzi when the scandalous deal was made. Ciantar then joined Fearne’s bandwagon before the 2017 general elections.
She was directly involved in his campaign – particularly against Konrad Mizzi in the same district. And later, helped Fearne win the internal Labour contest and become deputy leader.
In return, Fearne appointed her FMS CEO and put her on a €13,500 a month salary while also serving as his Chief of Staff, as The Shift revealed.
The NAO termed the contract irregular, and Fearne was asked to revise it. It wasn’t, despite Prime Minister Robert Abela promising the public that Ciantar’s package would be revised.
After orchestrating Fearne’s unsuccessful campaign to become Prime Minister, defeated against all odds by Robert Abela, Ciantar stopped acting as his chief of staff and kept the FMS job and all the €163,000 a year package.
Ciantar’s new contract, given to her after the last general elections, ends in July 2024.
Her daughter, Celine, also implicated in the latest allegations, was also put on the government’s payroll immediately after graduating as a dentist. Fearne nominated her to sit on a sensitive ministry board deciding on patients who should be sent abroad for medical care.