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NEWS | Sunday, 27 April 2008

Court confirms Ghajnsielem local council illegalities

Karl Schembri

A Gozo court confirmed a series of illegalities costing thousands of liri committed by the Ghajnsielem local council in employing an unqualified clerk who was also promoted to council secretary.
The sentence delivered earlier this month confirmed the reports carried by this newspaper over the last four years that were denied by the mayor and ignored by the local councils department.
In the case filed by Adriana Gatt Terribile against the council of Ghajnsielem, the court ruled that the employment of Bibiana Sultana as clerk back in 2000 was illegal as she lacked the minimum qualifications for the job.
The secretary was kept in employment by the mayor, Francis Cauchi, with only three O levels, although local council regulations state that secretaries need at least five. She has a grade 4 in Maltese, a C in Italian and a C in English. She also got a D in Mathematics.
Even though in possession of fewer qualifications than other applicants for the same post, Sultana was recommended for the job of clerk by a board set up by the mayor in 2000.
The same clerk was allowed by the council to apply for the job of executive secretary, process the incoming applications for the same post and eventually got the job, until the court issued a prohibitory injunction to stop all procedures.
The council had commissioned its auditor and accountant to interview applicants for the post, for which there were 21 applications. Three individuals were short listed in a report submitted to the council: Gatt Terribile, Bibiana Sultana, and George Larry Zammit, although Sultana was the least qualified academically.
The report, signed by auditor George Mangion, states that “our choice is based on a mixture of work experience at managerial level, academic qualifications and knowledge of the Local Council procedures and operations. In our opinion, of the three short listed, Bibiana Sultana qualifies on both counts of experience and qualifications and of course is immediately available.”
In court, the mayor had agreed that Sultana had no qualifications when compared to the other two. Gatt Terribile had a Master’s degree, but the mayor still stood by the auditor’s decision.
Also in court, Alfred Armeni, a principal at the local councils department, had confirmed that his department had taken the mayor’s word that Sultana was qualified for the job without going into the merits of the case.
The Ghajnsielem council was also accused by the local councils department of having an exhaustive list of “illegal payments” issued to individuals and organisations there, including payments for trips abroad for council members and relatives and that have never been refunded.
In its sentence, the court also declared it will start proceedings against the council holding it in contempt of court when it ignored a prohibitory injunction stopping it from employing an executive secretary pending a sentence.
The court’s judgement is expected to open the floodgates of even further court cases as the aggrieved applicants for the post who were denied the job are understood to be filing claims for compensation soon.
Since her illegal employment, the council has forked out some Lm30,000 in unauthorised wages, fringe benefits and bonuses to Sultana.

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