The Malta Independent 29 February 2024, Thursday
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Social Affairs Minister says he will not resign over benefits racket

Albert Galea Wednesday, 13 September 2023, 16:10 Last update: about 7 months ago

The government’s Social Affairs Minister Michael Falzon has said that he will not resign over a benefits racket which saw false medical certificates used for people to get social benefits which they did not qualify for.

Speaking to the media on Wednesday, Falzon said that the scandal had not come from within his ministry but came from outside it.

"Had I been involved I would have found no difficulty [to resign], but it came from outside [the ministry]," he said.

The questions come as the scandal, revealed by Times of Malta earlier this month, which saw former PL MP Silvio Grixti be implicated in a long-running racket for hundreds, often from Labour Party strongholds, to receive disability benefits of around 450 per month they were not entitled to by using false medical certificates, rumbles on.

Some have also claimed that the certificates were obtained through ministers’ canvassers in exchange for a kickback or for voting for the Labour Party in the general election.

There is no evidence to state that Falzon was involved in the racket or even aware of it until September 2022 – at which point cases had already been reported to the police, but social benefits fall under his remit as Minister for Social Affairs – a post he has held for almost seven years.

“If we had found something and then failed to go to the police with it, you’d have been the first to rightly ask why we didn’t report it. But we did report it,” Falzon told journalists.

He said that there is a difference “between wanting political responsibility and wanting political blood” and criticised the Nationalist Party for seemingly only being driven by their ambition for the seat of power.

Falzon’s ministry appointed a board – headed by retired judge Antonio Mizzi – after the racket was revealed; a board which is set to assess the processes used in granting benefits across the board and which, Falzon said, will make recommendations where there is the need for improvement.

Asked however why it took over a year since he was informed about the cases to appoint this board, Falzon said that any process which takes place must be sure not to interfere with investigations being done by higher authorities such as the police.

He however denied that anything was being hidden, saying that what is important is that government authorities coordinate with the police where it is necessary.

Falzon stressed that the ministry-appointed board will not be investigating any individual cases and has nothing to do with the police’s investigations.

“It will look at the processes of every single social benefit, if need be," Falzon said.

This is in conflict with the board’s terms of reference which denotes that the board has been tasked to specifically look into the Severe Disability Assistance – which is the one under the spotlight – and not other benefits which the government has in place.

Falzon also said that those who do receive benefits that they are entitled to will not have them removed, and also praised the work of the ministry’s Income Support and Compliance Division which runs ongoing checks and recoups around 4 million every year in benefits which should not have been granted to people.

Asked by The Malta Independent whether he agreed with a suggestion floated by former PL MP and Minister Evarist Bartolo for the Labour Party to set up its Board of Vigilance and Discipline in order to monitor the integrity of their politicians, Falzon was evasive in his answers.

“In terms of internal party discipline, it won’t be me in my position as Minister for Social Affairs to in some way or another judge what the party does,” he said.

After it was pointed out that Falzon was also an elected official in the name of the Labour Party, he said reiterated that such a board would be an internal matter and would be party prerogative.

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