Aqra dan l-artiklu bil-Malti
John Borg is the Gozo Ministry’s permanent secretary, and his job is to enforce regulations so that public funds are used responsibly and effectively. Instead, he personally broke the rules, squandering hundreds of thousands of euros of public funds irregularly.
He’s responsible for what the NAO tamely called “habitually bypassing procurement rules”, but the truth is far darker.
Borg, according to the NAO, committed “prohibited” practices. Instead of protecting public funds, Borg authorised organised abuse of state funds through devious plans intended solely to defeat all checks and balances.
Hundreds of thousands of euros were irregularly funnelled into the pockets of specific “companies” and individuals through his actions or inaction. In some cases, hundreds of thousands of euros were paid without Borg deciding whether the state got anything in return.
All this was revealed in the latest NAO report, which focused only on the Corporate Services Directorate with only four sub-accounts selected for review. Out of those, only ten suppliers were investigated with a small sample of invoices. It wasn’t even a comprehensive investigation of the Gozo Ministry.
If just a glimpse at Gozo revealed so many of Borg’s rampant irregularities, the true scale of his violations can only be imagined. The sheer number of infractions uncovered by the NAO’s limited audit ought to trigger a thorough and complete audit of the ministry’s operations. It should have led to Borg’s instant suspension and disciplinary, if not criminal, action.
The prime minister should have summoned Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri and sacked him, but of course, we know very well that none of this will happen. When another permanent secretary covered up for the abuses committed by former minister Justyne Caruana, he was rewarded with a plum job as ITS general manager.
Borg has been permanent secretary under three ministers. He’s survived this long for one reason – he’s been aiding and abetting his minister’s abuses.
Borg personally approved a massive increase in the value of a contract before it was even signed. On 11 December, a security services contract for Gozo College Secondary School Car Park worth €20,593 was signed, but Borg had already approved its increase by 50% four days earlier.
The Department of Contracts guidelines specify that “modifications to the provisions of the tender before the signing of agreements are prohibited”.
Borg also authorised around 30 direct orders for a single provider of cleaning services worth €219,588. By issuing direct orders for one month’s duration, Borg avoided a public call, ensuring that the same provider got all the money.
It takes some organisation to issue a new cleaning direct order every month, but to make sure suppliers make the maximum profit, insurance policy clauses and health and safety clauses were conveniently left out of contracts. Those clauses are intended to cover losses, damage, injuries or deaths. Borg was responsible for ensuring those safeguards were in place.
Borg also approved 37 direct orders to one security service company, which received €209,082. The same company was simultaneously being paid for security through a public tender issued in 2019 but still running in 2022. The same company had another two agreements through negotiated procedures, which were still in force.
In addition, several other security providers were given direct orders of less than €10,000, just below the threshold for a public call. Security providers should have third-party insurance cover but the NAO found they didn’t, boosting suppliers’ profits.
One individual got 15 direct orders for nine-week periods each to provide project management, costing taxpayers €64,146. Borg also approved direct orders for clerical services for two to three months at a time. He engaged a clerk directly on three-monthly contracts without any call for application, costing the state €26,992.
Borg also authorised payment of €284,838 for cleaning Gozo’s Innovation Hub even though it is the responsibility of Malta Industrial Parks. Even worse, the ministry “was not in a position to monitor the service delivery”, the NAO said. Borg authorised payment of hundreds of thousands of euros without knowing whether any cleaning occurred.
Even more galling is that Borg didn’t need those cleaners, clerks and security officers because the Gozo Ministry paid €16.1 million for 335 workers from the GWU’s unemployed scheme. Surely some could do some cleaning or provide security at a school car park.
The NAO found the ministry didn’t even know what those workers were doing. In one case, there were simply no attendance sheets for a whole month. One of those workers tasked as a beach cleaner had no record of clocking in or out. Another general cleaner “mistakenly noted” that his break was 1.5 hours instead of 15 minutes.
Ironically, those workers were paid “performance bonuses”, but no documentation as to how this was decided was provided to the NAO.
Even more shocking is that the agreement between the ministry and the GWU’s company over the “community worker scheme” was signed retrospectively. The agreement doesn’t specify how much the GWU pays workers or how much it keeps in admin fees. But in 2022 alone, €450,000 went to the GWU from the Gozo Ministry alone.
Borg was obliged to provide a list of VAT defaulters to the Tax Commissioner’s Office, but he didn’t until the NAO found out in July 2022. He failed to request the Ministry for Finance and Employment endorsement before issuing direct orders and to cover everything up, he didn’t publish the list of awarded contracts.
The NAO lamented that it “experienced limited cooperation”. Permanent Secretary Borg should have provided all the information and documentation requested, but instead, he caused “significant delays for the submission of replies”, and even after being given a final deadline, he failed to provide several documents requested.
The Caruana Galizia inquiry called for the creation of a specific crime for public officials obstructing authorities in the execution of their duties. It recommended the introduction of the crime of abuse of office for public officials.
Had Labour implemented those recommendations, John Borg would be facing criminal prosecution. Instead, he carries on in his role as if nothing had ever happened. Meanwhile, millions of euros go astray.