Daniel Bogdanovic, the Education Minister’s partner, was originally engaged in the government’s jobless work scheme in 2017 and a criminal investigation into a €15,000 contract dished out by Justyne Caruana has brought renewed focus on the issue.
According to sources and testimony to Malta’s Standards Commissioner George Hyzler, Bogdanovic was first assigned to the maintenance and construction section within the Ministry of Gozo and deployed to repair or build rubble walls.
He is one of hundreds assigned to the same section in the past few years on the back of jobless work schemes. The section is tasked with the upkeep of roads and public areas – patching, repair of roads; cleanliness, including beach cleaning; construction of pavements; upkeep of farmers’ roads and rubble walls; and more.
It is also one of the most bloated departments. Sources talk of workers spending a couple of hours on the job every day, and even less in the case of beach cleaners. Most have time to work on second jobs in the private sector.
According to Hyzler’s report, Bogdanovic was originally engaged via the scheme for the jobless sometime prior to the general election of 2017 when the Gozo Minister was Anton Refalo.
Just a few months earlier, Bogdanovic had been embroiled in a scandal that saw allegations of political interference to get him released from arrest over domestic violence concerns in time to play a football match.
In connection with that case, he was charged with threatening his ex-wife and causing her to fear that violence would be used against her, but these charges were dismissed after she refrained from testifying. It is understood that she forgave him. He was found guilty over the other minor charges of not keeping two guns he had securely locked up and misuses of telecommunication equripment.
However, after the election, Caruana replaced Refalo as Minister for Gozo. On 2nd January 2018, the Gozo Ministry’s jobless scheme was absorbed by the Community Work Scheme
Soon after Bogdanovic was reassigned as a “sports educator” and, according to sources, deployed to work at the State-run Gozo Sports Centre.
Kenneth Cutajar, the executive head of District Operations Limited, which runs the community work scheme, testified that the Ministry for Gozo was reimbursing the salary that it paid Bogdanovic.
Bogdanovic was later reassigned to the Ministry for Education towards the end of 2020, just weeks after Justyne Caruana was appointed as Minister.
The rest is now well known: he became a “coordinating officer” at the Minister’s secretariat, and then he was given the €15,000 direct order to produce a report into the National Sports School that, according to Hyzler, he was “neither qualified nor competent” to carry out.
Hylzer’s report uncovered that Bogdanovic did not even conduct the work, which was actually completed by consultant Paul Debattista.
The €15,000 contract and those involved, including Justyne Caruana, are now subject to criminal investigation.
In a wider sense, Bogdanovic’s story provides some context into how the community work scheme is being abused as a route into government employment, bypassing normal recruitment procedures.
The community work scheme was initially set up in 2009 to get the long-term unemployed – defined as those who had been on the unemployment register for longer than two years – into productive employment. These people were deployed to work in the community, mostly with local councils, and paid less than the minimum wage.
In 2016 JobsPlus contracted a foundation that was set up by the General Workers Union, called Community Work Scheme Enterprise Foundation, to manage the scheme. Besides the long-term unemployed, the contract created another category of eligibility for recruitment, an undefined category called “other resources.”
Payment was also gradually increased, reaching the minimum wage in 2016 and before reaching €11,500 a year plus bonuses two years later.
In a report in 2019, the Auditor General wrote that these dynamics created a risk of “the Scheme becoming an end in itself rather than the means to enable participants to improve their employability chances in more productive sectors.”
Numbers have particularly risen in Gozo. The entity that has the largest community worker assignees nationally is the maintenance and construction section of the Gozo Ministry.
That is the section that Daniel Bogdanovic originally joined when he was engaged via a separate jobless scheme that was eventually absorbed by the community work scheme.
The GWU’s Community Work Scheme Enterprise Foundation won the five-year contract to manage the scheme in 2016. It then assigned the management to a company called District Operations Limited, which is owned by another company of the GWU (called GWU Holdings) and District One Limited.
The latter is owned by the lawyer Aron Mifsud Bonnici, who in the past represented ex-Minister Konrad Mizzi and served as secretary on various boards, and Robert Borg, who has been described in media reports as an accountant and financial controller for the GWU.
The initial five-year contract given to the GWU’s foundation to manage the scheme expired at the beginning of this year, but the explanations of the chief executive of District Operations Limited Kenneth Cutajar were made in the present tense in Hyzler’s report. Cutajar testified last August; at the time he said that Bogdanovic was still engaged by the community work scheme and assigned to the Education Ministry.
The Shift reported last September that a new contract for management of the scheme was given to the GWU last September.
What do you think of the contract?