Make no mistake about it. Education Minister Justyne Caruana must resign. Every day Prime Minister Robert Abela allows her to remain on will cause irreparable damage to Malta’s already fragile reputation and the vital sector she’s responsible for.
Caruana is the latest Cabinet member who could be subject to a criminal investigation after dishing out a handsome €15,000 three-month contract to her boyfriend, former football Daniel Bogdanovic, through direct order.
The Standards Commissioner has described Caruana’s actions as an “abuse of power” after she led an effort to hide Bogdanovic’s evident incompetence for a job that was eventually handled by consultant Paul Debattista.
This is not Caruana’s first rodeo either after she was forced to resign as Gozo Minister in January 2020 in the wake of damning allegations facing her now-estranged husband, Deputy Police Commissioner Silvio Valletta.
Valletta has been named as a major leak in the Daphne Caruana Galizia investigation, which he was leading until he was forcibly removed by court order, by middleman Melvin Theuma and hitman Vince Muscat.
These details included the arrest of the three men charged with carrying out the murder, Muscat’s potential pardon, information that Theuma’s and Yorgen Fenech’s phones were wiretapped, and that Cardona’s number was discovered on the phone of one of Daphne’s killers.
He also provided information to the hitman over Caruana Galizia’s whereabouts in the lead-up to her murder.
Valletta had an intimate relationship with Fenech, having dinner with him regularly and even going abroad with him on occasion. There even exists a video of Valletta “fooling around” in Fenech’s Rolls Royce.
Caruana at the very least knew of her then-husband’s close relationship with the Tumas Group businessman, who had already been outed as the owner of 17 Black, and was forced out of Abela’s cabinet.
However, she was brought back in from the cold in November 2020, with the Prime Minister justifying his decision by saying that she had left Valletta soon after the allegations surfaced.
“I had no problems reinstating her,” Abela told Lovin Malta back then.
Just one month after being reappointed to Cabinet, Caruana sent a request for a direct order to the Finance Ministry, to engage Bogdanovic in carrying out work for the ministry.
“It is my understanding that Minister Justyne Caruana used her discretion in a way that constitutes abuse of power, and broke with the ministerial code of ethics, by giving preferential treatment to Daniel Bogdanovic, and in particular by giving Bogdanovic a contract by direct order that he was neither qualified for or competent to carry out,” Standards Commissioner George Hyzler said.
When the news first broke, Caruana was even hospitalised on an overdose on medication following an argument that erupted at the ministry.
Bogdanovic has served other roles in the ministry, which included technical work, photocopies, taking visitors’ temperature, among other things. He continues to work there.
Caruana’s actions spit in the face of Malta’s Prime Minister and the electorate as a whole, who repaid the trust granted to her by using her position to grant her boyfriend a cushy job.
By abusing her power after being given a second chance simply shows that she views power as a means to give those closest to her a boost, rather than as a vehicle to actually improve the nation.
Worst of all, Caruana is currently responsible for one of the most crucial ministries in the country, the Ministry of Education. Malta’s educational system is in crisis despite significant investment.
Malta has one of the highest rates of early school leavers, with around 30% of the workforce having at best a secondary school level of education.
Meanwhile, there continues to be an educator shortage in the country, with the government struggling to reach every classroom in the country effectively, creating a level of inequality simply based on the school you attend.
And to top it all off, disputes between the ministry and teaching unions are regular, with strikes or industrial directives almost a weekly occurrence.
Malta’s educational system needs major reform. The government knows it too, with Finance Minister Clyde Caruana, Abela’s right-hand man, spearheading an employment policy designed to quickly address the worrying signs in the job market brought on by Malta’s educational deficit.
What it does not need is a Minister whose immediate priority in getting reinstated was to find a job for an intimate friend.
Bogdanovic was awarded a €5,000 a month contract, which was only stopped thanks to media reports. What kind of message does it send to the countless educators trying to make ends meet?
What kind of message does it send to the many students that fall under her umbrella?
The scandal does not only distract her from her job but goes completely contrary to her role as Education Minister. She should be encouraging lifelong learning, not sending out a message that being close to a person in power is the desired path to success.
Malta deserves more. The country is currently under the microscope of the FATF grey list, something that will affect all of us the longer we stay on it.
This kind of behaviour from a leading Cabinet member does not bode well for a country desperate to show that it’s changing. Unfortunately, the complete silence from Malta’s Prime Minister, hints at a business a usual approach, which was put us in hot water in the first place.
Caruana is not the first person in Abela’s Cabinet to escape any sort of reprimand despite shocking allegations against them. Abela must act or risk comparisons with his predecessor Joseph Muscat who was forced to resign for refusing to take action when it was desperately obvious and necessary.
Abela must find the courage to act and not fear losing massive vote-getters ahead of an election that could define his legacy. He cannot let Malta and the entire education sector down now.
Justyne Caruana must go immediately.
Should Justyne Caruana resign?