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Tomorrow’s schools and Eritrea – a tale of two inquiries

Matthew Vella

October 3 2004 -  Labour education spokesperson Carmelo Abela has described the delayed publication of the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools inquiry as a case of government using “two weights and two measures,” in comments given to MaltaToday following news of the finalisation of the Magisterial inquiry into the FTS, which for the past month has been in the hands of Attorney General Silvio Camilleri.
Drawing comparisons with the other finalised inquiry in the case of the deportation of 220 Eritreans back in 2002, Abela called for the immediate publication of the FTS report. “In the case of the other Eritrean inquiry, perhaps because the Government ‘liked’ the conclusions of that particular inquiry, it was published immediately. In this case it did not. Why? The Government is using two weights and two measures for a magisterial inquiry.
“I also urge the Attorney General, if possible, to expedite his work. But most importantly, I appeal to the Minister concerned to publish this inquiry immediately for the sake of transparency.”
Lawrence Gonzi’s Cabinet may have already set itself a verbal precedent of sorts in having all ministers accountable and responsible for their actions, as the John Dalli experience may have proved. If the patriarch had still been at the helm of the seasoned Nationalist Party, Eddie Fenech Adami would have been the first to come to the aid of slandered ministers heaving under accusations of misdemeanour and corruption.
Deputy Prime Minister Tonio Borg, and Education Minster Louis Galea, the latest cabinet members to attract attention to matters relating to their ministerial portfolios, have been the focus of two magisterial inquiries. Borg has already been let off the hook by Magistrate Abigail Lofaro’s swift review of the deportation of 220 Eritreans back to a documented human rights tragedy in Eritrea. The other magisterial inquiry, led by Consuelo Scerri Herrera on the beleaguered Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools (FTS), of which the generosity shown to the constituents of Education Minister Louis Galea was called into question by Labour MP Carmelo Abela, is bound to present far more interesting results, given that Maltese society tends to be more impassioned by political misdemeanour rather than human rights breaches in far off lands.
Contrary to the swiftness of the Lofaro inquiry and its immediate publication, the FTS inquiry has yet to be shown to the public since Attorney General Silvio Camilleri is currently examining the inquiry so as to decide what steps should be taken or not with regard to its conclusions.
The overarching implication is that between 2002 and 2003, over Lm400,000 worth of direct orders, issued arbitrarily by the FTS without any form of public call for tender, and a remarkable number of which went to Minister Galea’s constituents, resulting in the sacking of chief executive Alfred Ferrante, the transfer of three FTS project officers, and a change in its board of directors – namely the removal of former chairman Conrad Thake and Board member Mario Callus, an acolyte of Minister Louis Galea.
However, if the magisterial inquiry is here to set the record straight on Cabinet ministers’ conduct and the workings of their ministries, the ad hoc approach to legal scrutiny could turn out to be a drab affair. As far as the media gloss is concerned, Magistrates are very much publicity-shy legal luminaries: even in the case of the Eritrean inquiry, which was a public one, there was no comment forthcoming from Magistrate Lofaro, neither throughout the inquiry nor after the final report. It was, in fact, Tonio Borg to herald the exoneration of his Ministry from ‘illicit pressure’ to deport the Eritreans – Lofaro was not present to comment on her inquiry throughout the press conference, to answer for the way the inquiry was conducted.
Without going into the reality of the political and humanitarian climate in Eritrea at the time of deportation, or the international obligations of the Maltese government with regards to torture and inhumane treatment, the inquiry highlighted the well-oiled cogs of Malta’s immigration and detention policy, which attracts notorious critique from Amnesty International and the International Federation of Human Rights, and which still leaves Tonio Borg unflustered by the attention his policy attracts internationally.
The Lofaro inquiry was also conducted in record time - four months - without having Amnesty participate in the hearings since Lofaro refused to accept demands not to tap into sources of the Amnesty report into the Eritrean torture following the 2002 deportation, which in itself was the reason why the inquiry was launched in the first place. It also failed to wait long enough for legal immunity to be granted to a UNHCR representative to testify at the hearings. Tonio Borg’s terms of reference were clear: get the inquiry ready in the shortest time possible.
The FTS inquiry on the other hand, has taken eleven months to mature and its implications could be serious for Minister Louis Galea.
Once again, the network of patron-client relations has surfaced in a tale of numerous direct orders dispensed to Galea’s constituents. Even more damning should be the fact that at the helm of FTS, was PN activist Mario Callus, who was investigated by the Permanent Commission for Corruption into a similar case to the FTS scandal – the Auxiliary Workers’ Training scheme, a Lm4 million initiative launched under Galea’s auspices to absorb surplus government workers in areas of refuse collection and construction back in 1989.
Callus was found to be just one of the numerous of Louis Galea constituents to have provided 75 per cent of all machinery to the AWT scheme, which rented out dumpers and bulldozers without issuing public calls for tender. Between 1989 and 1991, Callus raked in Lm26 daily for renting out two dumpers to the AWT scheme, at the time also serving as the president of the PN’s Siggiewi club, Louis Galea’s hometown.
With the FTS inquiry’s findings now in the hands of the Attorney General, it is up to Dr Silvio Camilleri to examine the results to determine what further steps, if any, will be taken. Camilleri told MaltaToday he did not consider it “opportune” to give the public or the media access to the inquiry until it is examined by his office.