University resisting merit-based promotions, Education Commissioner claims

Miguela Xuereb

University of Malta’s refusal to keep proper records with respect to staff interviews appeared to be motivated by its desire to be free to promote whoever it wished, rather than do so on the basis of merit, according to Education Commissioner Charles Caruana Carabez.

In the latest annual report published by the Office of the Ombudsman, Caruana Carabez observed that he received 68 complaints last year, of which 32 concerned the education authorities, 25 concerned the university, 7 concerned MCAST while the remaining 4 concerned the Institute of Tourism Studies.

Many of the complaints made by university staff in recent years concerned promotion, but Caruana Carabez noted that his inquiries into the matter were stymied by the university’s lack of records of marks assigned to the various components examined by the interviewing boards.

He highlighted that while he had condemned the practice, the university persisted in ignoring his advice.

“It is clear that such a bad practice cloaks selection processes in an impenetrable way, and the only reason which one may surmise for it is that of giving the University the freedom to select or promote whoever it wishes, even if the person selected does not have the same merit as others who are not,” the commissioner said.

“As a result, every inquiry into the propriety of selection processes founders on the rock of subjectivity, which is always claimed as having been the deciding factor.”

Commissioner laments uncooperative Education Ministry

In spite of his strong remarks on the matter, Caruana Carabez said that the most uncooperative entity proved to be the Education Ministry (MEDE), which “retained its convoluted and stodgy approach.”

He said that the ministry “gives the Commissioner the impression that his work is considered as a kind of bothersome intrusion which MEDE would gladly do without, rather than as a most necessary indicator of possible areas for improvement.”

He pointed out that the ministry always contested his preliminary advice, and his recommendations were at times adopted in a piecemeal fashion or even ignored outright.

Most of the complaints concerning the ministry were made by its employees and concerned promotions and transfers.

However, there was a marked increase in complaints by students concerning stipends and scholarships, with Caruana Carabez surmising that this may be due to a “period of semi-stasis” in the Maintenance Grant Stipends and Scholarship Schemes Board following the transfers and resignations of key personnel.

The commissioner noted that while maintenance grants were withheld for students who work more than 20 hours a week, this rule appeared to be “so inflexibly applied that it gives rise to the suspicion that it is at times a cost-cutting exercise.”

Medical certificates to jump queue for Gozo transfer arouse suspicions

Caruana Carabez also flagged a marked increase in the number of complaints made by Gozitan personnel working in Malta who seek a transfer to Gozo.

Within the public sector, Gozitans working in Malta are placed on a queue based on seniority, and those at the top of the queue are offered a suitable post in Gozo as soon as a vacancy occurs.

However, this queue can be jumped by people who get certified as unfit for duty in Malta on medical grounds, and as Caruana Carabez noted, “those without such medical certification are extremely suspicious of the way medical certification is obtained.”

Additionally, the People and Standards Division of the Office of the Prime Minister, which is responsible for the board which decides whether a person is unfit to commute to Malta, cannot dispute such certificates.

“Neither can the Commissioner, and because of this, such complaints drag on for a long time without any sign of solution,” Caruana Carabez concluded.