Rule of law: still in shambles

The homophobic and misogynist vitriol doing the rounds on social media in the wake of the femicide of Paulina Dembska has given politicians a great opportunity for some virtue signalling. It is moments like these where incompetent and morally corrupt politicians find their calling by doing theatrical gestures that portray them as the saviours of morality, only that they are very selective when choosing to time these gestures. As for corruption, the government says and does a lot of theatre but the fundamental acts being taken by the Prime Minister and his cronies are all consistent in covering up for corrupt allies by convoluting rule of law. The banality of this convolution is based on the premise that a legal process exists. “There is a legal process, therefore rule of law exists”. As soon as politicians like Julia Farrugia would be asked about corruption and sleaze in their own ministries they will not find the moral fortitude to report the sleaze to the police themselves.

One of these “rule of law” processes involves a golden handshake for ministers who resign or retire from their posts, a privilege which apparently, disgraced and corrupt Minister Justyne Caruana is eligible for. Meanwhile, another “rule of law” process was put in motion to postpone Frank Fabri’s resignation while his fate is decided.

Frank Fabri is the corrupt permanent secretary and bureaucrat who signed Justyne Caruana’s corrupt contract to her boyfriend. Frank, who currently still has executive power over roughly half a billion of Euros in funds in government accounts allocated to the departments and Ministry’s entities, has had enough time to tamper with evidence and negotiate a transition to his new post. Frank also enjoys the backing of Robert Abela but does not enjoy the backing of his new Minister, Cliffton Grima with whom he had historically a ruptured relationship. So, currently, there is a struggle on who will replace Frank Fabri while Fabri’s faith is decided.

Frank has no choice but to exit the Ministry of Education and the only question about him now is whether he will be given a safe-heaven by this government or whether he will be hauled to court on criminal charges. It is also untrue what Mario Cutajar and Cliffton Grima implied that Frank is indispensable to stay on for the transition. Frank is in fact the least indispensable bureaucrat in the Ministry of Education.

 

Maria Galea was Frank Fabri’s right-hand woman.

Frank was promoted up in the ranks of the Ministry of Education by Evarist Bartolo because he was the youngest amongst a class of education executives who were old and traditional in their thinking. Frank also exuded a modern perspective on schooling and education and was therefore assumed to be a good choice to execute Varist’s educational reforms such as having schools with both girls and boys.

Varist’s choice proved to be catastrophic and Varist was too embarrassed to admit to Frank, eventually, and later on, that he was not right for the job. Instead, Varist hoped that Frank would do better, only that he didn’t. Frank was totally inexperienced for such a role which involved a wide range of management and finance skills. Being the permanent secretary of one of the biggest ministries is not an easy task, and Frank was totally clueless. And Frank’s failures have cost the public purse dearly. Varist had to employ political appointees to literally unjam bureaucratic processes which used to be jammed by the incompetence and inefficiency of Frank and his team itself. These highly skilled technocratic political appointees would chase the civil service mechanism under Frank’s responsibility either to do the right thing or solve the mess they would have done previously. It was an incredible reversal of roles where the highly technocratic skills to run the finances and administration of the ministry were coming from the political office instead of the supposed civil service technocrats themselves. During this history of total incompetence and inefficiency, Frank has made enemies with practically all the stakeholders in the education sector to the extent that the teachers’ unions don’t even want to negotiate with him. The unions only negotiate with the Minister because they don’t trust Frank and his acolytes. Frank is practically useless in the Ministry of Education and has no legitimacy whatsoever.

Despite the fact that there were various education executives who were traditional in perspective, some of them were also highly efficient technocrats. Varist also tried to push other young technocrats to take over top civil service posts in the Education Ministry. Eventually, as Frank took control and exercised his power, many of these highly trained and competent bureaucrats resigned in frustration over Frank’s incompetence. Frank went on to fill the top civil-service posts in the Ministry of Education with his inexperienced acolytes – most of them also devoted Labourites and his friends.

Frank’s sidekick and main partner in the administrative machinery was Maria Galea who has so far avoided the limelight in the recent case of the Bogdanovich contract. Maria Galea was an inexperienced political hack who quickly rose up in the ranks of the civil service to take executive control of the Ministry’s finances as Director of Finance and then as Director-General. Frank confided with Maria and she was responsible for executing Bogdanvich’s contract and ensuring that the payments were made. Galea too knew that what she was doing was irregular and corrupt but she did it anyway because as a Labourite she felt compelled to cover up and serve her political friends and masters instead of doing the right thing. Maria Galea has no excuse for saying she was doing her job. As a Director General overseeing public finances, she holds a responsibility to ensure that finances are not used illicitly and when she knows that funds are being used illicitly, the excuse of “just doing your job” doesn’t stick. Maria Galea’s job was in fact to ensure that this thing does not happen.

The reality is this. Despite the fact that Maria Galea’s role in the civil service was in fact to prevent the illicit use of public finances, our culture of impunity enables her to slide away from the limelight. Anything goes in a shambles of civil service and your sins will be covered as long as you provide allegiance to the Labour Party. You can also be reckless with public funds, do a bad job and still remain in your post. After all, it doesn’t matter because it’s not their money that they are spending.

So, today, Frank Fabri leaves the civil service machinery of the Education Ministry in shambles and Cliffton Grima will have to struggle to reconstruct it against the challenges of political interference from the OPM. Meanwhile, the corrupt bureaucrats are trying to get away with it and they still hold a lot of executive power which they can leverage to protect themselves, tamper with evidence and ensure a safe transition of their careers.

In actual fact, the sleaze and the corruption enabled by Frank Fabri and Maria Galea is much more extensive than Bogdanovich’s contract. When the Minster of Finance Clyde Caruana once lamented that there was a drain of employees from the private sector to the public sector, he was specifically referring to Justyne Caruana. Justyne Caruana not only allocated funds to employ her constituents in a spree of nepotism, Justyne also used to directly intervene in boards to provide preferential treatment to children expecting a service from the Ministry of Education. The corruption, the recklessness and the impunity of the Ministry of Education under Justyne Caruana was rampant and explicit. A police case investigating Justyne Caruana and Frank Fabri should extend to an investigation into all of their practices.

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