The Malta Independent 19 August 2019, Monday

TMID Editorial: Neville Gafa - A diplomat who reports to no one

Saturday, 29 June 2019, 10:05 Last update: about 3 months ago

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat simply cannot be believed when he says he doesn’t know which government ministry employs Neville Gafa.  He is, after all, the Prime Minister and it is not as though Gafa’s name has not been in the news. 

Plus, this individual was entrusted to form part of a diplomatic delegation to a particularly sensitive, war-torn and neighbouring country with which Malta has had such a long history.

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The Malta Independent had first reported last week that Gafa - who is erstwhile embroiled in the Libyan medical visas scandal and who has no shortage of friends and enemies alike in Libya - had been pictured in talks with the Libyan Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Metig.

That meeting was only reported through a press release from the Libyan Prime Minister’s Office.  There was no reciprocal statement from our own Department of Information.  The meeting was clearly meant to have been held well under the radar, possibly because of Gafa’s involvement or for other reasons best known to the Maltese government.

But since then no one within the government has seemed willing to explain exactly what Gafa was doing in Tripoli.

Last week, this newsroom sent questions to the Foreign Affairs Ministry, headed by minister Carmelo Abela, asking what Gafa’s exact role in the Tripoli discussion was, and whether he was employed by the same ministry. Those questions went unanswered, despite a number of reminders, and despite the fact that we made contact with a top ministry official.

Questions sent by email to Gafa himself also remained unanswered.

Then, on Thursday, journalists had to actually confront the Prime Minister with the exact same question. Muscat confirmed that Gafa was in Tripoli representing the government, but insisted he did not know which ministry employed the official: ‘He was there as part of a team of people of people coming from different sectors. I was informed he would be there. He used his contacts with the Libyan government on behalf of the Maltese government and is part of an ongoing structure.’

‘He is employed by the government but I don’t know what his contract says because it is not available to me at this moment,’ Muscat said when pressed further to say which ministry actually employs Gafa.

The Prime Minister’s statement is very hard to swallow. First of all, it is the Prime Minister’s duty to know such things, particularly when sensitive diplomatic talks are being conducted.

Secondly, Gafa is not some obscure civil servant whose name has only come to light now. His name has been hitting the headlines for many months now, and the accusations levelled against him have even led to a court case, which is still ongoing.

Furthermore, the Prime Minister has admitted that he knew that Gafa would be in Tripoli representing the government, so how can he claim to not know which ministry he falls under?

To make matters even more confounding, Gafa’s Facebook profile says that he works at the Office of the Prime Minister, while also mentioning that he is a former Projects Director at the Ministry for Health.

With all this in mind one has to ask: why all the secrecy? Why does the government, which acknowledges that Gafa was in Tripoli on its behalf, not just come out and say what it has to say?

It is hard to believe that Gafa’s presence on the diplomatic team is utterly indispensible, is it actually possible that there is no one else in government with government contacts in Libya?  If that is the case, we are in a sorry state indeed.

And why has it taken so long for anyone to answer questions about the individual’s presence during diplomatic talks, and why did the press, which went through the proper channels at first, need to resort to confronting the Prime Minister? 

That it is clearly because no one seems to want to take paternity of him – not the Office of the Prime Minister, not the Foreign Affairs Ministry and not the Health Ministry, from which he had been expelled.

The Prime Minister simply said he ‘works for the government’.  But surely Gafa must take orders from someone and answer to someone, or is he a one-man-band answerable only to himself?

We would actually like to know, in the national interest, exactly who is representing us citizens.  We are not talking about a private sector company where no one needs to explain anything except to the shareholders.  We are talking about the State and the citizens, the shareholders in this enterprise if you will, have a right to know who is brokering what on their behalf.

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