Opinion: Thick as mince or thick as thieves?

Michael Falzon’s time is up, again. As ever more lurid details emerge of the disability benefits scandal that happened under his nose, Falzon blunders on.

The man has absolutely no insight into his total unfitness for office. He cost the nation millions in fraudulent disability benefits thanks to a criminal racket allegedly run from within his ministry with the involvement of his own person of trust – Mark Calleja, known as Gulija.

There are only two explanations as to how that massive criminal scheme could run for years – either the minister was directly involved or the minister was so utterly incompetent that he didn’t even notice.  It’s either thick as mince or thick as thieves.

Let’s be kind to Falzon and assume he knew nothing that he was just too incompetent to notice.  He certainly knew about it by 2021.

Yet, in these three years, he made no attempt to figure out what was wrong in his ministry or who was responsible for allowing such daylight robbery.

He never wondered whether anybody from his own ministry facilitated that scam.  He waited a full two years until the racket was exposed before setting up an internal inquiry into the benefits process.

The man slept for two years, hoping the whole thing would go away. Falzon must be panicking as Roger Agius spills the beans.

Agius was Silvio Grixti’s trusted confidant and personal driver for the years in which Grixti allegedly provided forged documents to hundreds of persons to obtain disability benefits to which they weren’t entitled.

Agius later became Parliamentary Secretary Andy Ellul’s driver while Agius himself was receiving disability benefits on the false grounds that he suffered from severe epilepsy and had no driving licence.

Agius and others allegedly acted as middlemen, recruiting people to the disability scam and then collecting substantial sums of money from them.

He admitted to being part of the racket.  He knew exactly what was going on and who was behind it. He offered the Attorney General and the investigating inspector all the information he had.

Agius wrote to the Attorney General and the inspector, informing them he was ready to testify under oath about the political officials who formed the criminal conspiracy and the cabinet members who had been complicit since 2019.

He told them he’d reveal the name of the public official at Falzon’s ministry behind the scam who gave him a burner phone to use when calling about the benefits fraud.

He was ready to reveal that the same official would fix the composition of the medical board to guarantee the approval of applicants involved in the scam.

He also said he was ready to testify that he passed documents to Falzon’s official until March 2023. He was ready to testify what the same official told him, “As long as the minister (Michael Falzon) remains in the post, we’ll never have any trouble”.

Agius never received a reply from the Attorney General. On 2 January, during police interrogation, Agius offered to provide details of how and where Falzon’s official committed those crimes.

The inspector dismissed his offer as “theatrics”.

Agius has published those documents in a Facebook post.

In court, Agius’ defence lawyer alleged that Mark Calleja, Falzon’s person of trust, received images of the applicants involved in the scam whose application had been rejected and ordered them reconsidered.

This was in breach of the rules which state that medical boards’ decisions are final and not subject to appeal.

Grazio Barbara, the Director General at Falzon’s ministry, testified under oath that he knew this was happening and that rules were broken. Did the Director General not inform his minister of such blatant breaches?

Falzon must be terrified.  He knows more sleaze will leak out soon – the court decided “there is sufficient evidence to indict Silvio Grixti and other associates”.

Falzon’s fear was evident when The Times’ reporter confronted him outside parliament.

“Is he still working in your ministry?” the reporter asked, referring to Mark Calleja.

“I have no comment to make,” Falzon replied dismissively.

“Does he still enjoy your trust?” the reporter insisted.

Falzon lost it: “Write what you like, as you always do”.

Falzon knows he’s cornered, but that doesn’t stop him from trying to save his skin.

In a social media post, he declared: “I deny in the most absolute and categorical way any sort of involvement”.

Falzon said this before, in the wake of the Gaffarena scandal on government property in Old Mint Street, Valletta, when he was responsible for Lands. He was removed from office then.

“I assure everybody that I remain fully committed to ensuring that in my work as a ministry (sic), we continue to help all those who need our help, and this in order to implement the social justice we believe in so much.”

He thinks his role as minister is “to help all those who need our help”. His role is to hold himself accountable to the people and tell us whether Mark Calleja still works in his ministry. Falzon didn’t mention Calleja in his Facebook post.

When the racket was exposed in September 2023, Falzon said: “Had I been involved in it, I would have found no difficulty (resigning), but it came from outside (the ministry)”.

Now we know it didn’t. And if he were involved, it wouldn’t be his resignation he’d be facing. He should be facing prosecution, conviction and jail time.

Falzon was sacked by Joseph Muscat in 2016 when a National Audit Office report found Falzon had “readily facilitated” the “irregular” expropriation instigated by Mark Gaffarena, costing the state €3.2 million.

“The NAO deems such collusive action as highly inappropriate and in clear breach of the fundamental principles of good governance, transparency and fairness.”

Now Falzon’s done it again.  Except this time, it’s costing us far more. By March 2024, 288 persons were found guilty of defrauding the state of €5.1 million.

Police sources estimate there were at least 800 people who benefitted fraudulently. Falzon let this happen.

                           

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Jay Ho
Jay Ho
20 days ago

It’s depressing that despite the overwhelming and obvious evidence already confirmed in this case, as in many others over the past decade, that these people in power are guilty -no action is ever taken.
In most civilized countries with even rudimentary concepts of law, justice and accountability these criminals, liars and thieves would at the least lose their job and standing, but could realistically expect jail time and massive fines also.
Alas, this is Mafiastate Malta and we already know that none of the guilty will be punished, and even those that have been found guilty will either be pardoned, or forgotten until the smells abates.

simon oosterman
simon oosterman
20 days ago

The problem is that Robert Abela is also either involved or too incompetent to notice. Plus Falzon is a loyal ‘friend’.

Paul Pullicino
Paul Pullicino
20 days ago

I am shocked at the timeline you chose to write this article. You could have waited till 2050 to publish it.

Tony Montanaro
Tony Montanaro
19 days ago
Reply to  Paul Pullicino

🙂

D. Borg
D. Borg
20 days ago

Unfortunately I beg to disagree.
I doubt the “honourable” Michael Falzon is at all terrified.
After all, he’ll probably receive another juicy “loss of office compensation” – just as he did following the Gaffarena/Scerri scandal – if he is “requested” to resign again.
He had also cashed in on Bank of Valletta’s pseudo resignation – notwithstanding the option to revert back in the bank’s employment.
Evidently the State (considering also its stake in BoV) has been benevolent towards Dr. Falzon, three times over.
I guess we must also thank him for the sterling service he has rendered to date.

Joseph Tabone Adami
Joseph Tabone Adami
20 days ago

Will Minister Falzon too be granted a ‘plenary indulgence’ – subject to the usual conditions – by the lord forgiver (or is it ‘forgetful’) of all?

Could be – but a proper justice system is not accustomed to seeing things that way!

carmelo borg
20 days ago

DAN L ANGLU LI JAWWEG HALQU TAHSBU SE ITIR U JITLA IS SEMA BIR RUH U IL GISEM

saviour mamo
saviour mamo
20 days ago

For the elections in 2017 and 2022, the Labour government abused the disability benefits scheme. In 2024 the government is buying votes with phantom jobs.

Vanni
Vanni
20 days ago

Falzon is worth his weight in gold, as he, before the scheme was outed, gained Labour thousands upon thousands of votes, especially when one takes into account the ripple effects.
And I guess this time round he took out an insurance policy, one which ensures he won’t be sacrificed alone.

Toni Borg
Toni Borg
18 days ago

If Abela had to sack every Minister who has been found, either directly or indirectly, involved in a fraudulent scam, am sure parliament would all be void of the governments benches!!!

These people were voted in office in our name, to protect ALL citizens and not just to milk the Maltese coffers to keep labourites happy and win their vote!!!

Never in Malta was there a corrupt government as this!!!

#SHAMEONYOU!!!

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