Senior public officials are concerned over how the government’s disciplinary mechanism, the Public Service Commission, has dealt with the findings of abuse by the President of the Malta Union of Nurses (MUMN) Paul Pace and his superiors at Mount Carmel Hospital and the national health service.
An official fact-finding probe, carried out by Senior Health Ministry officials earlier this year, found systematic abuse of overtime and other infringements by Pace, taking place over several years, which, under normal circumstances, would have automatically led to dismissal and possible criminal action.
However, the Public Service Commission, headed by the Permanent Secretary of the Justice Ministry, Johann Galea, did not feel that the case merited Pace’s dismissal and instead issued a five-day suspension.
Following allegations of abuse by Pace made in the media, the Health Ministry appointed a Fact-Finding Board headed by Kevin Francica – the Director General of Compliance and Inspections, and three other senior officials.
In a detailed report, never published but seen by The Shift, and presented to the Public Service Commission for eventual disciplinary action, a systematic pattern of abuse by Pace, particularly in overtime payments, was established.
The probe took months to compile and involved hours of interviews with all those involved, including Pace himself.
Overtime while on holiday abroad
Backed by precise dates and hours, the board found that Pace was on holiday in Portugal in 2022 and Egypt in February 2023 but marked his presence at Mount Carmel Hospital. He then claimed overtime for these hours and was paid without question.
“On Sunday 26 February 2023, Mr Pace claimed 10 hours for overtime for work he claimed to perform,” the report states. Yet, “on 16 and 28 February 2023, Pace was on board a plane travelling to and from Egypt for some time in which he claimed overtime.”
“On Friday 17, Sunday 19 and Monday 27 February 2023, Pace signed the attendance sheet from 06.45 to 18.45, thereby attesting that he was present for duty at Mount Carmel when, in fact, he was on holiday in Egypt.”
The report lists many other hours of claimed and paid overtime when Pace was on his holiday in Egypt and during his trip to Portugal.
For example, “Pace signed the attendance sheet on Sundays, 25 September and 2 October 2022, including Sunday allowances” when he was in Portugal. Sundays are usually paid at a double rate.
When asked about the incidents, Pace’s supervisor, Maria Assunta Bonello, admitted to approving it “without verifying the information”.
“Paul Pace’s direct superior, Maria Assunta Bonello, allegedly tempered with the official TOIL (attendance sheet) record forms by inserting TOIL, on Pace’s behalf retrospectively,” the report concludes.
It is not known whether any disciplinary action was taken against Bonello.
Among other conclusions, the report also states: Pace “does not follow the established vacation leave procedures within the Mental Health Services (system) and refuses to conform”, that he “does not follow attendance sheets recording procedures and refuses to confirm”, that he has “on-call duty arrangements which “seem to be designed exclusively for him” and that “there is sufficient prima facie evidence for further investigation into overtime misuse and other potential overpayments.”
The investigation also concluded that Pace took “union leave” without authorisation, “carried private work without the necessary approvals and without availing himself of vacation leave or temporary absence”, and in three instances while carrying private work, he also claimed overtime.
Trade union officials are allowed to take leave from their place of work to attend trade union duties. However, this is only possible with authorisation.
Pace claims he is a victim
Pace admitted he claimed overtime while abroad but said it was because he was called from work and solved problems on the phone. Yet, according to his CEO, Stephanie Xuereb, and other officials, his overtime claims were unjustified and not authorised.
In an interview with The Times of Malta, Pace insisted that he was the victim of political orchestration against him due to his militantism in the nurses’ union. He demanded The Times be investigated for the leak.
Pace claimed the authorities “tried to make a mountain out of a molehill and found a few mistakes”.
He also complained about his personal details being divulged by Labour’s former president Manuel Cuschieri, which, he said, were passed onto the Labour propagandist by government officials to tarnish his reputation.