The panel of doctors responsible for approving financial aid for people claiming disability benefits, recently embroiled in a fraud scandal, has remained largely unchanged over the years, according to answers received from the Ministry for Social Policy and Children’s Rights.
The government aid scheme was brought to the public’s attention following revelations of a benefits fraud racket involving former Labour MP Silvio Grixti, in which hundreds of people fraudulently received millions of euros to which they were not entitled.
The list of current medical panel members responsible for approving the benefits, appointed last January until the end of 2024, is publicly available.
But the list obtained by The Shift shows that before January, despite the government being aware of the ongoing fraud, the panel had been composed mainly of the same consultants, including those who served during the time of the alleged racket.
The Shift is not informed which panel members were involved in signing off on the fraudulent claims.
The medical panel, comprising some 30 practitioners appointed by Social Services Minister Michael Falzon through the Social Security Act, were to advise the Director General for Social Security, Grazio Barbara, on the medical aspects of the claim before its approval.
They include Joseph Cassar Delia, whose son Edward was a Labour candidate in the last general elections, and Joseph Spiteri, a psychiatrist who held positions at Mount Carmel Hospital and the Corradino Correctional Facility, known to be close to the Labour Party’s top brass.
Recently, The Times of Malta reported how former MP Silvio Grixti, who resigned from parliament in 2021, allegedly provided forged medical documents to patients for them to fraudulently benefit from monthly government handouts for disabilities they did not have.
The prospective beneficiary would then present the documents to the medical panel at the Department of Social Security, who would approve the benefits after interviews, which it seems lasted a few minutes.
The alleged racket reportedly ballooned to include fraudulent claimants with forged documents from sources other than Grixti. It is claimed that ‘clients’ were sent to Grixti and onto the medical board by the customer care section at the Office of the Prime Minister and other ministries.
Medical practitioners whose signatures were unknowingly used to legitimise the forged documents without them having ever met the patient in question said the documents were “literal photocopies” of each other, barely legible and riddled with grammatical errors, leading them to question how those on the government-appointed board could ever approve them.
While Prime Minister Robert Abela claimed that he knew about the issue since 2021, the government only appointed an independent board to investigate the scandal last Saturday, following the revelations and subsequent public outcry.
The ‘independent’ board is chaired by former Judge Antonio Mizzi, the husband of former Labour MEP Marlene Mizzi.
In a statement on Monday, independent politician Arnold Cassola called for investigations into all those involved in the “vote buying racket”.
He said, “Apart from politicians, canvassers, middlemen and certificate forgers, the members of the Medical Board should also be investigated.”
In his statement, Cassola asked how it could be possible that the Medical Board “never noticed that scores of certificates were carbon copies of each other, some of which are riddled with idiotic mistakes.”
The terms of reference for the independent board appointed by Minister Michael Falzon state that it should investigate how the fraudulent applications were accepted and whether there were administrative shortcomings or irregularities in the verification process, including the medical evaluation.
Along with Mizzi, the board includes Anthony Scicluna and Raymond Muscat, tasked with making recommendations for improvements to the disability programme.
In a statement on Saturday, Falzon said the board’s conclusions would be presented in five months and would be made public.