Standards Commissioner Joe Azzopardi has passed the buck to Speaker of the House of Representatives Anglu Farrugia to deal with a complaint about Education Minister Clifton Grima having misled parliament on the faltering American University of Malta’s bid to have its licence renewed.
Independent politician Arnold Cassola filed the complaint on 24 November 2022 after The Shift reported how Grima misled parliament about an audit that eventually cleared the way for the American University of Malta’s licence to be renewed for a further five years.
Azzopardi found in his ruling that when a minister gives misleading answers to parliamentary questions, the Speaker of the House should handle the matter.
Accusing the Commissioner of “washing his hands” of the issue, Cassola commented, “We wait to see whether the Hon. Speaker will take immediate action on this particular case and swift action on future such matters or whether we remain stuck in limbo with no authority taking action and with ministers left free to mislead with their parliamentary answers”.
The complaint was filed 10 months ago before Azzopardi took office, on 24 November, after The Shift reported how the American University of Malta’s latest audit had not yet been made public and about how Grima had misled parliament about its publication by the Malta Further and Higher Education Authority.
The controversial educational institution’s licence was renewed on the strength of the MFHEA’s audit.
The Shift reported that Grima misled parliament when he informed Opposition MP Rebekah Borg that “the report was published on the website of the MFHEA” when no such report had been published.
The long road to a licence renewal
There appears to have been good reason for keeping the audit report under wraps for as long as possible.
Following an initial external quality assurance audit carried out in 2021, in which the AUM fared rather poorly, the licensing authority renewed the Cottonera-based university’s license for an additional year – up to mid-2022 – instead of for the usual five.
The exception was given so that the MFHEA could, in the meantime, carry out a second audit – in the process giving the AUM some breathing room to put its house in order to qualify for the five-year renewal.
During the first audit, the AUM failed to meet the standards required in eight of the 11 quality assurance standards on which it was evaluated, apart from other issues raised, particularly concerning its financing.
The Authority insisted at the time that a new audit would be carried out and that it would be made public before the five-year licence would be renewed.
The licence was renewed last summer without anyone knowing the criteria on which the decision was based or the conclusions of the latest audit.
The five-year renewal coincided with a deal struck between the government and the Jordanian Sadeen Education Investment Limited, for a swap and outright sale of public land granted to the Jordanians by disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat.
According to the deal, Prime Minister Robert Abela agreed to sell public land at Smart City for just €0.47c per square metre for use as the AUM’s second campus instead of that previously planned for Zonqor Point in Marsascala.