The media was not invited to the signing of a collective agreement between the government and the Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses (MUMN), with coverage outsourced to a private company and heavily edited footage distributed to newsrooms in an apparent bid to keep Prime Minister Robert Abela out of shots with disgraced MUMN President Paul Pace.
A report drafted for the Health Ministry, not published but seen by The Shift, found a pattern of employment and labour abuse by Pace, which The Shift revealed. He was found to have claimed he was at work and charging for overtime at the same time as being on holiday in Egypt and Portugal. And he was let off with a slap on the wrist.
On Monday, the MUMN signed an agreement with the government, but the Department of Information, which falls under the prime minister’s office, did not invite the media, which could have captured Abela and Pace sitting together and shaking hands.
Instead of inviting the media, the Office of the Prime Minister and Abela’s communications team paid a contractor to take footage of the occasion, including statements from Abela and Pace.
This footage was heavily edited and sent to newsrooms with a written statement.
The clip used as a main news story by state broadcaster PBS does not have a single frame where Abela and Pace appear together.
A clip showing the signing of the agreement, hailed by the prime minister as “historic”, also cut Abela shaking hands with Pace.
Likewise, in footage of Abela touring the hospital and meeting nurses, Pace, who was there throughout, does not appear in the frame.
Asked for an explanation on why the media was not invited for the signing of this collective agreement, which saw improvements in the conditions of work of nurses and other health workers, Edward Montebello, the chief government spokesman and former Labour TV Head, did not reply.
He also did not respond to questions regarding the footage filmed and edited by a private company and why Abela avoided taking questions at the event.
Evidence of fraud gets Pace slap on the wrist
Paul Pace, who has been heading the nurses’ union for many years, was given a five-day suspension as punishment after the internal government probe found he had been claiming overtime to which he was not entitled.
In a damning report published by The Shift, senior health ministry officials found that Pace had claimed tens of hours of overtime while he was on holiday abroad, was marked as at work while actually out of the country, and refused to follow various procedures expected of other employees, among other infringements.
While the findings, including some of a criminal nature, were passed on to the Public Service Commission for disciplinary action, which would usually lead to dismissal, the board, headed by the Justice Ministry’s Permanent Secretary Johann Galea, issued a five-day suspension.
Despite the evidence, Pace claims he was victimised for taking strong stands against the government.