All posts by Jurgen Cassar

The Commissioner for Education visits the Institute for Tourism Studies Freshers’ 2022

The Commissioner for Education, Chief Justice Emeritus Vincent De Gaetano, visited the Institute for Tourism Studies Freshers’ 2022.

The ITS CEO, Mr Pierre Fenech, welcomed the Commissioner and explained the vision and upcoming ITS projects.

The Office of the Ombudsman took part in this year’s ITS Freshers’ event giving information about the role and services of the institution.

Ombudsman presents the Ombudsplan 2023 to the Speaker of the House

Recommends an anti-deadlock mechanism to unblock situations where the required agreement of two-thirds of parliamentary support for certain appointments is not reached.

The Parliamentary Ombudsman, Mr. Anthony C. Mifsud, presented the Ombudsplan 2023 to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Hon. Anglu Farrugia.

The Ombudsplan 2023 highlights the urgent need for an anti-deadlock mechanism to unblock situations where the required agreement of two-thirds of parliamentary support for certain appointments is not reached and makes recommendations to this effect.

As in previous years, the Ombudsplan 2023 also highlights issues that the Ombudsman considers that deserve particular discussion, namely the culture of sanctioning and the need for an efficient public service with sound values.

The Ombudsplan will be tabled in Parliament after it reconvenes from the summer recess and will be discussed later during a special sitting of the House Business Committee.

The Ombudsplan can be downloaded from here

Appointment of Commissioners for Health, Education, Environment, and Planning

The Parliamentary Ombudsman, Mr. Anthony C. Mifsud, has today appointed three Commissioners for Administrative Investigations for specialised areas.

Perit Alan Saliba has been re-appointed as Commissioner for Environment and Planning.

Chief Justice Emeritus Vincent A. De Gaetano has been re-appointed as Commissioner for Education.

Prof. Raymond Galea has been appointed as Commissioner for Health. He succeeds Mr. Charles Messina, whose two terms as Commissioner for Health expired.

The Parliamentary Ombudsman appointed the Commissioners in terms of the power conferred on him by Articles 17 A (1) and (2) of the Ombudsman Act 1995 as amended. The appointment is for a five-year term with effect from today.

The Commissioners, like the Ombudsman, are autonomous Officers of Parliament and enjoy the same independence and security of tenure.  The Commissioners work independently but coordinate their work with the Office of the Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman thanked Mr. Charles Messina for his dedicated and sterling work as Commissioner for Health during the last ten years.

 

Perit Alan Saliba, Commissioner for Environment and Planning

 

Chief Justice Emeritus Vincent A. De Gaetano, Commissioner for Education

 

Prof. Raymond Galea, Commissioner for Health

 

Left to Right: Perit Alan Saliba, Commissioner for Environment and Planning; Chief Justice Emeritus Vincent A. De Gaetano, Commissioner for Education; Mr. Anthony C. Mifsud, Parliamentary Ombudsman; Mr. Charles Messina, outgoing Commissioner for Health; and Prof Raymond Galea, newly appointed Commissioner for Health.

Recommendations not implemented: Lands Authority fails to take appropriate action to remedy a sewage blockage caused by a garage it owns

 

In terms of Article 22(4) of the Ombudsman Act, the Ombudsman, Mr. Anthony C. Mifsud, and the Commissioner for Environment and Planning, Perit Alan Saliba, have sent to the House of Representatives the Final Opinion about a complaint concerning a sewage blockage in a block of apartments in Siggiewi caused by a poorly maintained garage owned by the Lands Authority.

Case Summary

On 18 May 2021, the Office of the Ombudsman received a complaint against the Lands Authority for failing to take action to remedy the condition of its owned garage, which was causing a blockage in the drainage system of a block of apartments in Siggiewi. The complainant alleged that this blockage was causing lift damages and rat infestation.

Following an investigation, the Commissioner concluded that there were serious shortcomings in how the Lands Authority dealt with this complaint.

The Commissioner recommended that the Authority should make the necessary repairs without further delay.

Outcome

Since the Lands Authority did not accept the Commissioner’s recommendations, the case was referred to the Prime Minister in May 2022. Since no action has been taken, the Ombudsman and the Commissioner sent the report to the attention of the House of Representatives.

Documents:

08.04.22 – Final Opinion

30.05.22 – Letter to the Hon. Prime Minister

30.06.22 – Letter to Mr Speaker 

The Parliamentary Ombudsman presents the Annual Report 2021 to the Speaker of the House

The Parliamentary Ombudsman, Mr. Anthony C. Mifsud, called upon the President of the House of Representatives, the Hon. Dr. Angelo Farrugia to present the Office of the Ombudsman’s Annual Report for 2021.

The Annual Report describes the past year as a year of transition and uncertainty.  The 2021 Annual Report refers to the needed reforms to further separation of powers in the country’s administration raised by the President of Malta in his Republic Day Speech.

Case Load

In 2021, the Office of the Ombudsman received 527 (+5%) complaints, of which 239 (-2.5%) were investigated by the Parliamentary Ombudsman, 143 (+35%) were investigated by the Commissioner for Health, 95 (-11%) by the Commissioner for Environment and Planning and the remaining 50 (+11%) were investigated by the Commissioner for Education. The Office also dealt with 433 enquiries, 13% less than the previous year.

Recommendation not implemented: student complains that the University of Malta unfairly treated him in the examination and grading of his dissertation

In terms of Article 22(4) of the Ombudsman Act, the Ombudsman, Mr. Anthony C. Mifsud, and the Commissioner for Education, Chief Justice Emeritus Vincent A. De Gaetano, have sent to the House of Representatives the Final Opinion on a complaint lodged by a mature student registered with the Islands and Small States Institute of the University of Malta. He complained that he was unfairly treated in the course of the examination and grading of his dissertation.

Summary of the Case

The complainant alleged that he was unfairly treated in the examination and grading of his dissertation; moreover, the University authorities displayed a patronising attitude towards him. He also complained about what he calls “wilful neglect” on the part of the University (through the Institute), particularly in the composition of the board which eventually examined his dissertation and which, by assigning to that dissertation a very low mark when compared to the marks he had previously obtained for the other components of the course, resulted in an overall low-grade mark for his Master’s degree.

As the Commissioner for Education has often reiterated in his Opinions and Letters of Closure, it is not his function to re-examine the grades or marks awarded to students but only to ensure that in the process leading up to that grading or marking there was no element of maladministration as defined in Article 22(1) and (2) of the Ombudsman Act (Cap. 385) read in conjunction with Article 13(1).

In the Commissioner’s considered opinion, the complainant’s dissertation was doomed from the very moment that the Senate approved the Board of Examiners on the recommendation of the Institute. The complainant’s dissertation had a heavy ethnomusicological and performative arts component, but only one of the three examiners appointed to examine his dissertation had any expertise in these components.

The Commissioner for Education concluded that the board’s composition appointed to examine the complainant’s dissertation was wrong in principle and unfair, resulting in an ab initio prejudice to the ensuing examination and grading process and final result.

The Commissioner recommended that the Board of Examiners be reconstituted afresh  with persons with appropriate expertise who would then re-evaluate the dissertation in question in its entirety.

Outcome

The University of Malta informed the Commissioner for Education that it would not give effect to his recommendation.

The Ombudsman and the Commissioner brought the case to the Prime Minister’s attention. Since no action has been taken, the Ombudsman and the Commissioner sent the report to the House of Representatives for its attention.

Documents:

04.03.2022 – Final Opinion

01.04.2022 – Reply from the University of Malta

06.04.2022 – Response to the letter from the University of Malta

06.04.2022 – Letter to the Prime Minister

06.04.2022 – Letter to the Speaker of the House of Representatives

Recommendation not implemented: The University of Malta fails to assist in due time a third-country national in renewing his work permit.

In terms of Article 22(4) of the Ombudsman Act, the Ombudsman, Mr. Anthony C. Mifsud, and the Commissioner for Education, Chief Justice Emeritus Vincent A. De Gaetano, have sent to the House of Representatives the Final Opinion on a complaint lodged by a member of the academic staff of the University of Malta who alleged that the University had failed to assist him in due time in the renewal of his work permit.

Summary of the case

The complaint referred in substance to the failure and neglect by the University to assist a tenured and full-time academic at the University, who is a third-country national, to have his work permit renewed. The academic complained that notwithstanding several requests made by him to the University to be supplied with the necessary letter that he was still on the books of the University – a letter needed to regularise his position with Identity Malta and to be allowed to remain in Malta – such a letter was only provided after considerable delay. This resulted in financial loss to the complainant.

The Commissioner found that both in act and in omission, the University acted contrary to law, unjustly and oppressively in failing to assist in due time the complainant.

Outcome

The Final Opinion was communicated to the University of Malta together with a request, in terms of Article 22(3) of the Ombudsman Act, to indicate what action the University intended to take in line with the recommendation. Despite reminders sent, the University has not reacted.

Since the recommendation was not accepted by the University, the Ombudsman and the Commissioner, after seeking the intervention of the Prime Minister, sent the report to the House of Representatives for its attention.

Documents:

25.01.22 – Final Opinion

06.04.22 – Letter to Prime Minister

28.04.22 – Letter to Mr Speaker

Recommendations not implemented: Primary School teacher on a career break not allowed to work temporarily in the private sector

In terms of Article 22(4) of the Ombudsman Act, the Ombudsman, Mr. Anthony C. Mifsud, and the Commissioner for Education, Chief Justice Emeritus Vincent A. De Gaetano, have sent to the House of Representatives the Final Opinion on a complaint lodged by a primary school teacher who wished to work in the private sector while on a career break.

Summary of the Case

The complainant, who resides in Gozo and is a primary school teacher currently on a career break, filed her complaint with the Ombudsman’s Office after having exhausted all other possible avenues. For years previously, she had regularly commuted from Gozo to Malta and back to attend to her teaching duties on the main island. She is currently fifth on the list of primary school teachers waiting to be deployed to Gozo. As a primary school teacher in government service and with very young children, the only work-life balance measure available to the complainant was the “career break,” as envisaged in item 2.3 of the Manual on Work-Life Balance Measures.

To keep in touch with the education sector and because the career break entailed a substantial diminution of income for the family, the complainant sought temporary employment (on a definite contract) in the private sector (a church school). Permission was repeatedly refused.

The Commissioner for Education concluded that by denying the complainant’s possibility to work on a definite contract (whether full-time or part-time in a church school, the complainant has been the victim of maladministration in terms of Art. 22 of the Ombudsman Act.

The Commissioner recommended that:

  1. That the complainant be allowed to work at least part-time and on a definite contract in the private sector in the educational field in Gozo even though benefitting from a career break; and
  2. The last two paragraphs of item 6.2.3.1 of the Public Service Management Code be revisited to ensure that they do not undermine the whole purpose of the various work-life balance measures and the career break.

Outcome

Both the People & Standards division within the Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry for Education indicated, for reasons that the Commissioner considers to be unfounded, that they did not intend to implement the recommendations made in his Final Opinion.

In March 2022, the Ombudsman and the Commissioner brought the case to the Prime Minister’s attention. Since no action was taken, the Ombudsman and the Commissioner sent the report to the House of Representatives for its attention.

Documents:

23.02.22 – Final Opinion

09.03.22 – Letter from the PS&D OPM

16.03.22 – Letter from Permanent Secretary – MEDS

17.03.22 – Letter to Prime Minister – May 2021

21.04.22 – Letter to Mr Speaker

A group of students from the Maria Regina College, Mosta Secondary School visited the Office of the Ombudsman

A group of Year 9 and 10 students from the Maria Regina College, Mosta Secondary School visited the Office of the Ombudsman to acquaint themselves with the institution’s work.

The students participated in an information session addressed by the Commissioner for Education, Chief Justice Emeritus Vincent A. De Gaetano. The students had a similar session with the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, Dr. George M. Hyzler.