The Malta Independent 25 August 2016, Thursday

GPD officials named in damning NAO report ‘transferred to other departments’

Neil Camilleri Sunday, 24 January 2016, 11:00 Last update: about 8 months ago

Two former top officials of the Government Property Division (GPD) who were blasted, along with former Parliamentary Secretary Michael Falzon, over their role in the Gaffarena expropriation scandal have been transferred to other government departments, this paper has learnt.

The National Audit Office report, published on Wednesday, chastised Michael Falzon for his role in the controversial expropriation deal but it also laid equal blame on the former GPD Director-General Raymond Camilleri and the Director of Estates Management, Carmel Camilleri.

The report said the trio had failed to safeguard the government’s interests by expropriating half of an Old Mint Street property from businessman extraordinaire Mark Gaffarena which, although useful, served no identified public purpose. It also said that the standards expected in terms of good governance were lacking.

It was “unequivocally clear”, said the report, that Marco Gaffarena was privy to sensitive government information that put him at an advantage over the original owners, who knew nothing of the government’s plans to expropriate the property. They sold their shares of the Old Mint Street building to Gaffarena for a pittance, while the controversial businessman was later compensated by over €1.6 million in cash and land by the government for the expropriation.

According to the Auditor-General’s report, the deal proposed by Gaffarena had been “favourably advocated by the Director Estate Management (DEM), endorsed by the Director-General (DG) GPD and authorised by Dr Falzon.” It said it considered the prompt and decisive action taken by the GPD in advocating these expropriations without any form of discussion or analysis “incomprehensible”.

The Auditor-General also said the public purpose served by the expropriation was “far from clear”. The only documentation to this effect was a minute by the DEM on the property’s possible use as a ministry or museum. “The elusiveness of public purpose was not attributable to inadequate documentation as the PS OPM, DG GPD and DEM confirmed that they had not discussed the public purpose that was to be served through these expropriations.”

Considering the inflated valuation of 36 Old Mint Street, the undervaluation of Government land given to Gaffarena and the substantial cash payments made over and above the vague public purpose, the NAO deemed the expropriation as “not constituting value for money”.

Raymond Camilleri, pictured, had resigned back in August in the middle of the NAO and IAID investigations. Carmel Camilleri had been out on leave and handed in his resignation on Thursday evening.

Speaking to The Malta Independent on Sunday a spokeswoman for Principal Permanent Secretary Mario Cutajar confirmed the resignations and said both men had been “transferred to other departments”.

The spokeswoman added that “procedures by the Public Service Commission will follow”. The government, she said, has also asked the Attorney-General to look into the reports submitted by both the IAID and the NAO “to consider any further steps that may be taken”.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat announced on Thursday that he had filed a court case against Gaffarena to reverse the deal and recoup the government assets lost in the expropriation deal.  

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