A self-employed contractor who in 2021 received thousands of euros each month from the Building and Construction Agency (BCA) was then hired as the agency’s full-time chief officer from a JobsPlus register reserved for people seeking work.
Additionally, a few months after his recruitment, Antoine Bartolo was given an additional €10,000 annual pay rise on the orders of Karl Azzopardi, BCA’s CEO, who left the agency just a week later.
The somewhat irregular pay rise remained despite his former boss’s premature and contested departure.
The latest situation came to light through a series of parliamentary questions from Nationalist Party MP David Agius.
In 2021, on the instruction of Azzopardi, Bartolo received direct orders, free from any competition, to perform tasks mainly relating to the development of IT business processes.
The invoices, published in parliament, show Bartolo received up to €8,000 a month for his assignments as a self-employed contractor.
However, in November 2021, the direct orders stopped and he was recruited as chief officer for core operations at the BCA on a financial package of around €80,000 a year.
Agius asked Minister of Public Works and Planning Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi to provide information on Bartolo’s transition from self-employed contractor to full-time employee. He was also asked to publish the vacancy that should be advertised publicly for government positions.
Azzopardi said no public vacancy was necessary in Bartolo’s case as he was recruited as an ideal candidate through the JobsPlus register.
Through the register system, when a vacancy occurs, JobsPlus checks the required skills amongst jobseekers on its database, providing the employer with those that meet the criteria. In the case matches are found to fit the vacancy, no public competition is made.
Furthermore, the JobsPlus register has several sections, including one that holds the details of those who are unemployed and another that has data on those who are employed but are looking for an alternative job.
It is unknown which section Bartolo was registered with at the time of his selection.
However, it is common knowledge that the section of JobsPlus for those looking for alternative employment is often abused by government departments to employ predetermined candidates and avoid open calls for certain vacancies.
Zrinzo Azzopardi did not provide any further details on the intricacies of the recruitment process that landed Bartolo a three-year contract.
He did, however, acknowledge that he received a significant pay rise from the former CEO just after being hired, but when pressed by the PN MP, he could not explain why it was necessary. He pinned the responsibility for the decision on the CEO, but did not comment on whether it should have been withdrawn.
Azzopardi left the BCA after a spat with the minister in May 2022.
Shortly after his departure, he asked the Industrial Tribunal to condemn the minister and the BCA over claimed “unfair dismissal” and asked for compensation of some €200,000. The case is still pending.
Azzopardi served in various other top government jobs before joining the BCA, including at Malta Industrial Parks, now renamed INDIS Malta, under the remit of former minister Chris Cardona.
During his stint at the latter, a car showroom owned by Gauci Automobiles Ltd in Birkirkara, Cardona’s district, was turned into the head office of the government agency, with its owners, Mark and Paul Gauci, paid tens of thousands of euros a year.
Azzopardi was replaced by Jesmond Muscat, a canvasser of Zrinzo Azzopardi, who, in 2017, at his former government job, wrote himself a €55,000 cheque without authorisation.
He returned the cheque when the incident was brought to the government’s attention.