‘Super-CEO’ Pierre Fenech covered and vouched for former Labour Party MP Rosianne Cutajar regarding a consultancy contract handed to her which the National Audit Office found was “backdated,” “irregular,” “contrived,” and “fraudulent”.
Fenech is concurrently the CEO of the Mediterranean Conference Centre as well as the CEO of the Institute of Tourism Studies – two unrelated roles.
Fenech, who contracted Cutajar, consistently hid her employment from oversight, diverted blame and provided contradictory information to cover for her, the report found.
The 50-page report, published on Wednesday, also found “no need” for Cutajar to be engaged as a consultant. It stated her employment “breached all” recruitment regulations, that Cutajar lied in a 2020 declaration to parliament for income generated the previous year and that she was “facilitated” by Fenech.
The consultancy contract was first revealed by The Shift in April, following leaks of chats between Cutajar and Yorgen Fenech, charged with involvement in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
While collecting evidence for their investigation, led by Auditor General Charles Deguara, the NAO’s questions to Pierre Fenech were met with “vague” answers, which sometimes contradicted the testimony of others queried.
The NAO said Fenech hid Cutajar’s employment from the ITS board of governors “despite the obligation at law for its involvement in such matters.”
Additionally, Fenech hid Cutajar’s consultancy from a human resources plan sent to the board just a few weeks after Cutajar was supposedly engaged.
Following a review “of all ITS Board of Governors minutes,” the NAO found that Fenech hid Cutajar’s consultancy, remaining “obscure to the board throughout her employment.”
Fenech claimed Cutajar’s duties and salary were discussed with the ITS executive management office ahead of her engagement, but the office said her employment was not mentioned or discussed in any relevant meetings.
Instead of raising the need for a consultancy with the board of governors, Fenech claimed the consultancy was “politically sensitive” and discussed the issue with Konrad Mizzi, tourism minister at the time, and his chief of staff, Kevin Borg.
Following Mizzi’s unceremonious expulsion from Labour’s parliamentary group in November 2019, Borg was shuffled around multiple ministries and government entities.
Fenech claimed that after discussing with Mizzi in April 2019, he offered the role to Cutajar, who accepted. The NAO found that Fenech also hid the consultancy from the tourism ministry’s permanent secretary, “whose endorsement was to be the first in a sequence of authorisations necessary for the institute to validate [Cutajar’s] recruitment.”
He claimed to be unaware of the requirements, pinning the blame on Borg for failing to notify him of them as “he had no prior experience of such employment.”
But Borg refuted the claims that he “referred Hon. Cutajar for appointment as consultant in a specific and direct manner” as an “idoneous candidate”.
Fenech continued to hide details on Cutajar’s consultancy throughout her employment, despite both being aware that the contract was backdated. The NAO concluded: “While the financial beneficiary of this breach was Cutajar, this was facilitated and rendered possible by the actions of [Fenech] when consenting to the disbursement of public funds he was duty bound to safeguard.”
The Shift previously revealed how Fenech makes €122,000 a year through his double government jobs and allowances. His unprecedented employments were created by Konrad Mizzi and reconfirmed by Prime Minister Robert Abela.
Current Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo has said Fenech is not remunerated for the hours he puts in at the two roles but rather for his performance and achievements.