The Malta Independent 16 October 2019, Wednesday

Neville Gafa contract disclosure through Freedom of Information Act request refused

Rebekah Cilia Sunday, 4 August 2019, 10:00 Last update: about 3 months ago

A request made by this newsroom for a copy of mystery diplomat Neville Gafa’s contract through the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act has been refused on the basis that the requested information is publicly available by virtue of a parliamentary question tabled on 8 July.

The request was originally made on 2 July, following over seven months of unanswered questions and stonewalling by the government, ministries, as well as Gafa himself. A copy of Gafa’s contract was requested together with information on which ministry or entity Gafa works for and in what capacity.

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The parliamentary question referenced in the FOI reply gave details of Gafa’s position and salary scale but did not divulge his contract.

The Freedom of Information (FOI) Act establishes the right to the general public to information held by public authorities in order to promote added transparency and accountability in government, according to the FOI website.

Questions about Gafa’s position within the government arose in November 2018, when he held diplomatic talks in Tripoli. The Libyan government’s communication office and the country’s interior ministry described Gafa as ‘a special envoy of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’.

This had also been seen in pictures uploaded on various Libyan social media sites and online news portals. 

When contacted by this newsroom at the time and asked why Gafa had been in Libya and whether he held a diplomatic passport, Foreign Minister Carmelo Abela insisted that Gafà was not employed by his ministry and did not hold a diplomatic passport.

Gafa had labelled this trip as a ‘personal visit’ and the Office of the Prime Minister insisted that it had questioned him about it. The OPM also denied Gafa was representing the government.

Last June, an image of Gafa surfaced showing that he had been to least one diplomatic meeting in Tripoli between Malta’s ambassador to Libya, Charles Saliba, and Libyan Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Maiteeq, during which Malta said it was willing to re-open its embassy in Tripoli.

Prime Minister Muscat subsequently confirmed that Gafa had been in Tripoli on behalf of the Maltese government, adding that he had known about the trip but did not know which ministry employed Gafa.

“He is employed by the government but I don’t know what his contract says because it’s not available to me at this moment,” Muscat had told journalists.

On 8 July, Muscat confirmed, in response to a parliamentary question, that Gafa was employed as a coordinator within his own office – a role which he is said to have taken up in January 2019.

Muscat also said that Gafa had been employed as a customer care assistant within the Ministry for Health between June 2013 and April 2014. At the time, he was employed on salary scale 11.

Between April 2014 and December 2018, Gafa was employed as a projects director with the Foundation for Medical Services, and has been employed as a coordinator within the Office of the Prime Minister since January.

Asked for details on Gafa’s salary, Muscat referred to the Engagement of Staff for Ministers’ Secretariats document, which states that OPM coordinators are Scale 6 employees, with a gross yearly income of €25,227. He also has an overtime allowance of 20 per cent of scale 7 (€4,684), a car allowance of €1,864 and a telephone allowance of €1,165.

Asked for a description of his duties, the prime minister simply referred to Gafa’s role as a coordinator. He also said there was only one occasion when Gafa had formed part of a government delegation on visits to Libya.

Apart from being a Labour activist, Gafa was allegedly involved in a medical visas racket linked to Libyan refugees and was subsequently sacked by the health ministry.

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