The Malta Independent 22 September 2020, Tuesday

Police officers ‘covered their tracks’ to avoid notice in annual overtime evaluation – Farrugia

Albert Galea Friday, 14 February 2020, 13:34 Last update: about 8 months ago

Police officers succeeded in "covering their tracks" in order to avoid their alleged overtime abuses being noticed in the Police Force' annual overtime evaluation report, former Home Affairs Minister Michael Farrugia said on Friday.

Farrugia told journalists that he had acted immediately upon receiving a letter from the whistleblower which indicated that existence of the alleged abuses within the Police's Traffic Unit which have made the headlines in recent days.

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40 police officers from the police's traffic branch were arrested over the course of the last few days in connection with an investigation into overtime abuse, something first alerted by a whistleblower. The Malta Independent reported on Thursday that aside from being investigated for overtime abuse, the officers are also under investigation for taking protection money from contractors and transport firms, while also misappropriating fuel.

Farrugia said that upon receipt of the letter from the whistleblower he had immediately summoned the Permanent Secretary and then instructed the Police Commissioner to open an investigation to first verify the claims made, and then delve into them to ascertain who was carrying out the abuses, who was authorising it, and who knew what was happening and did not take steps to put a stop to it.

He noted that nobody, not even the whistleblower, had been advised that investigations were underway.

Farrugia said that an evaluation was carried out each year specifically on overtime and how money in this regard was being spent. He said that if there were people who were declaring overtime which they had not worked and which was then approved, the onus falls on the person who was then signing off that overtime.

Asked by The Malta Independent how the alleged abuses did not come up in the said evaluation reports, Farrugia said that "until we were alerted there was no indication that there were these abuses."

"Whoever was carrying out these abuses was covering their tracks, and the responsible authorities in the police were not conscious of these things.  When the whistleblower sent the letter, steps were taken immediately", he said.

Asked, again by this newsroom, whether the fact that these people managed to cover their tracks to the point that official police procedure did not pick up on their abuses, Farrugia replied that he would expect there to be an analysis on the Police Force Standard Operating Procedures which takes into account what the investigations have uncovered.

"One now must identify the defects [in the system], and I hope and think that the Police will take all the necessary steps to change their standard operating procedures", Farrugia said.

Asked whether he would take political responsibility considering that the scandal happened under his watch as Home Affairs Minister, Farrugia said that he would have shouldered responsibility had nothing been done about the information that was received.

"The responsibility has to be shouldered by those who broke the law, and who authorised it", he said.

Video by Alenka Falzon

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