Ministerial customer care officials, including those at the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), are ‘helping’ voters postpone paying their utility bills and avoid having their services disconnected through an intervention with ARMS Ltd, the state entity responsible for issuing Enemalta and Water Services Corporation bills, The Shift has found.
The Times of Malta recently revealed that government ministers and other officials fed names to the Transport Malta licensing director to ‘help’ them obtain driving licenses. Despite voluminous amounts of evidence, the government has denied corruption, and the police are yet to act.
According to independent MEP Arnold Cassola and information given to The Shift, the names of consumers who present their ARMS final notices to OPM officials are recommended to the state utility institution to be given a second, third, or even fourth chance to settle their long-overdue bills.
Through separate investigations, The Shift established a new ‘system’, which has been informally put in place at ARMS to satisfy ministerial demands.
How the unofficial system works
According to established rules, defaulters with pending payments of utility bills are typically given several months to settle their dues through various reminders sent by ARMS Ltd.
However, in the case of continued default, ARMS issues a ‘final notice’ warning that their electricity and water service will be discontinued if the pending bill is not settled by cut-off date.
Through a new backdoor system, defaulters who persist in not paying and receiving a final notice are now seeking the intervention of OPM and ministry officials.
The Shift is informed that customer care officials inside ministries have been given contacts of three senior managers at ARMS (The Shift is withholding their names pending documentation), very close to the Labour Party, who pressure the company’s credit control office not to enforce such final notices.
Sources say that the final decision on this ‘extra help’ is being taken by Marisa Ciappara, the Financial Controller of ARMS, who incidentally is also the Financial Controller of the Labour Party.
Apart from Ciappara, ARMS is also controlled by Chief Operations Officer Nikita Zammit Alamango, another top Labour Party official.
The Shift is informed that on some occasions, Labour MPs also call and send messages directly to Ciappara, soliciting ‘help’ for their constituents.
When presented by The Shift with the information on ARMS officials tasked with ‘helping’ specific individuals and asked whether she has decided to postpone or cancel disconnection orders following ‘recommendations’, Ciappara did not respond.
ARMS Ltd officials who spoke to The Shift confidentially noted that the financial controller of the Labour Party has access to the database of all companies and business people who have thousands of euros in pending bills.
“One can only imagine why some are allowed to accumulate hundreds of thousands in dues,” the officials said.
Even the two major political parties and their commercial arms, including their loss-making TV stations, are known to have hundreds of thousands of euros in unsettled bills, yet Ciappara has not ordered their services be disconnected.
Asked to comment on her potentially conflicting double roles, Ciappara, also, did not respond.
Abela justifies nepotism as “part of Malta’s political system”
Following the latest scandals which rocked the country, related to rackets in social benefits and driving tests, the prime minister justified it as “the way the Maltese political system works”. His own secretary, Rachel Debono, was one of those facilitating the racket.
Mounting his defence during a press conference on Monday, Abela also let slip that the same is happening regarding medical appointments.
“If people come to us for assistance in medical appointments, shouldn’t we help out,” he asked rhetorically.
The Shift is informed that ministerial customer care offices – a type of mini-Labour party club inside the ministerial private secretariats – are frequently asked for assistance in jumping queues for medical treatment at Mater Dei, including operations.