Malta’s entire Cabinet of ministers is officially under a criminal investigation into their misuse of public funds on social media, Lovin Malta has learnt.
A magisterial inquiry is underway by Magistrate Doreen Clarke, while police investigations are being conducted by Inspector Rennie Stivala from the Economic Crimes Unit.
This comes after a report by Standards Commissioner George Hyzler which found “widespread misuse of public resources” by ministers and parliamentary secretaries.
The report was triggered by a complaint filed by Lovin Malta after it became clear that ministers were using public funds and resources to boost their own Facebook pages instead of setting up official ministry pages.
Incomplete figures made public some years ago showed that at least €1.2 million were spent by ministries on social media over a 55-month period despite most ministries not having official Facebook pages.
When Hyzler finalised his report, he sent it to the National Audit Office for review. However, the NAO said it did not have the mandate or resources to conduct a criminal investigation.
The NAO therefore passed on the investigation to the police, which triggered a magisterial inquiry. The Nationalist Party had also called for a criminal investigation while civil society NGO Repubblika had called for a full investigation and for ministers to pay back any funds that were misappropriated.
According to Malta’s Criminal Code, any public officer or servant who for his own private gain “misapplies or purloins any money entrusted to him by the virtue of his office” shall on conviction be liable to imprisonment of between two or six years and to a perpetual general interdiction.
A perpetual general interdiction means that one loses the right to hold public office or employment, and would also mean losing the right to vote.
Back in May, Prime Minister Robert Abela declared this case “closed”, because ministers were now rectifying their position according to draft guidelines prepared by Hyzler and approved by the government, which stipulate that no public funds or resources should be used on the ministers’ personal Facebook pages . The government’s official guidelines have not yet been published.
“There was no code of ethics. It was a system going on for several years, and this was an acceptable practice,” Abela had said.
However, former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had promised to tackle the issue way back in April 2018, after several reports by Lovin Malta about the way government was misusing Facebook.
“Not a cent went from public funds to a personal page,” Abela said.
Hyzler, who had surveyed the accounts of only five ministers, said the issue was likely to be widespread. He also pointed out that ministers were making use of slick productions paid for by public resources and this was creating unfair competition with MPs who were not in Cabinet.
Hyzler had also pointed out that several ministers refused to answer his questions, including Economy Minister Silvio Schembri and Transport Minister Ian Borg. Finance Minister Edward Scicluna recently defended his own unsatisfactory replies.
Today, Abela also promised to look into another investigation by Lovin Malta which found that the two major political parties in Malta have failed to publish their audited accounts for more than a decade.
How do you think this will end?