Alfred Grixti says that if he were in PN’s shoes he would also make a ‘song and dance’ about his ‘eye for an eye’ comment
Foundation for Social Welfare services CEO Alfred Grixti told
The Malta Independent, while being pressed on his ‘eye for an eye’ Facebook post, that if he were in the Opposition’s place, he would also make ‘a song and dance’ about someone posting such a statement.
Writing on Facebook following the EPP (the EU Parliamentary party which the PN forms part of) voting against Leo Brincat’s nomination for a post within the European Court of Auditors, Mr Grixti said that nobody expected better from the PN, because they were a negative party. “But you are warned,” he added. “The time for taking stock will come. If needs be, with you we will adopt an eye for an eye (concept). Don’t worry. The people will pay you back for all the damage you are causing to Malta. You will pay a hefty price for it.” The Malta Independent had published that story.
Mr Grixti was heavily criticised for his comment, with the PN going as far as requesting the Prime Minister to remove Mr Grixti from his post.
Mr Grixti insists that all of this is a ‘song and dance’, and is all part of the political game. While stressing that he distinguishes between his personal political beliefs and his job, and while arguing that he has never discriminated against his workers and those who require services from the agencies which fall beneath him , he said “in reality I sleep comfortably at night because my conscience is clear.”
“I am confident in my ability to distinguish between my political beliefs and activism”
He recently told this newsroom in a previous article that his post was made after office hours. Following that reply, this newsroom asked: “You recently said that the post was made after hours,
yet you are the head of the FSWS, which has a number of organisations under it. Is that really an excuse?
Mr Grixti responds: “Let me tell you what I told senior management the first day I was appointed to this post. I said, ‘Listen, I am a political appointee. I am obviously here to deliver on the PL’s electoral manifesto in this sector, but I couldn’t care two hoots about your politics. I am not here to discuss politics or to make partisan political judgements and evaluations’. That is my guiding light.”
“I am confident in my ability to distinguish between my political beliefs and activism, and my fulltime job. Before coming here, I was at the ETC and I didn’t discriminate politically there, nor here. We are dealing with vulnerable people, and if someone comes to Sedqa, I do not ask them for their party card. I am perfectly capable of distinguishing between my roles. I have no problem in saying what I feel strongly publicly, but hand on heart that does not interfere in my job. When I look at someone I don’t see whether they are blue or red. I wear my political beliefs on my sleeve, I’ve nailed my Labour colours to the highest flag pole, but I get on with everyone and I do not look at peoples’ faces.”
Mr Grixti said that when he was a teacher, a colleague of his once said that “he admired me as I don’t look at who is in government and always do my job to the best of my ability. I told him ‘Listen, from 8.30am to 2.30pm I am paid out of public funds, so I give my 100%. After 2.30 pm I do whatever I want as long as I do not break any laws.’ My attitude is still the same. You can say that I answer emails while on holiday, so yes, my current job is a 24hour job, but I believe the bottom line is whether one is capable of distinguishing between his role as the head of an entity. I think that if I messed up in any way I would have already been either sacked or in the papers, not just for writing something on Facebook, but for discrimination or solely promoting labourites, etc. We don’t do that here.”
Pressed about the content of his Facebook comment, given that he is the CEO who deals with organisations who perform sensitive work, he said: “Yes, let’s put it this way, if you think anyone in the PN or their MEPs need to utilise these service and we would deny it, you are wrong. That is the short answer.”
Asked why he said it, Mr Grixti argued: “Because it is in the political context. The political context is that if someone wants to play political hardball, so can we.”
Then why use that phrase? “Because it is more colourful and emphasise it more.”
Mr Grixti also said, after a number of back and forth questions and answers, said that he is still a political activist, a deputy mayor of Żebbuġ. “The way the regulations are, any time they choose to sack me from this job I would go back to my full-time job as a head of school, as I am ‘lent’ here. Because, what they call my substantive post is politically free, that is why I can stand for the local council elections. Theoretically, I can stand for the general elections but I’m not interested.”
“I wasn’t doing anything to court the hardcore Labour vote because I am standing for any election, but as a life-long Labour activist my interest is in seeing Labour reelected. And I think the PN, by and large, has not done itself a favour by what it has done to Leo Brincat. They made their point once with Toni Abela, now they did it again. I am positive they are not winning votes back that way, so as far as I am concerned, if they want to continue shooting themselves in the foot from now until the election they are welcome to do so. But I think they misjudged the number of Maltese who feel betrayed by their actions. We Maltese do not like airing our dirty linen in public, and they did just that. And it will backfire.”
“If there is any politician on both sides of the House who one can call Mr Clean, it is Leo Brincat. I think it was unfair on him. He is a very balanced politician, not partisan. Leo Brincat gets criticised by die-hards as he is not militant enough, and even the choice of Mr Brincat should have been appreciated. I think they threw the baby out with the bathwater.”
Asked point blank whether he sees anything wrong in what he said while holding his position at FSWS, he said: “No, and I qualify this as I am capable of distinguishing between my personal opinions, which everyone already knows about, and the service I am here to give.”
Mr Grixti was again pressed on whether the everyday Joe could be frightened when it comes to a CEO of such a public entity making such statements on Facebook.
“The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Since I’ve been here, have we ever turned anyone away on political grounds? The answer is no. Have we not provided our services to anyone? The answer is no, we work with anyone who comes and we don’t ask them about their political affiliation.”
“There is an issue at the moment, which does not have anything to do directly with FSWS per se. The Department of Social Security, for auditing purposes, is double checking on the eligibility of all categories of beneficiaries. One category is foster carers. Now I don’t agree with the way they handled it, but they asked them to produce the certificate issued by the fostering board to confirm that they are foster carers. I think they should have gone directly to the board themselves and asked them for it instead of bothering the carers. I know of a case where a foster carer had a word with an Opposition member about it, instead of doing as I would have done and call Social Solidarity Minister Michael Farrugia to ask what this mess was about. The Opposition told the carer that if they want to go public they will hold a press conference about it. Now who is trying to score partisan points, me or this PN MP?”
He stressed that nothing happened to the foster carer. “We are giving all the foster carers all the help they need.” He said that he told the Director of Aġenzija Appoġġ to take the papers directly to the Department themselves, so as the foster workers will no longer be bothered.
Mr Grixti stresses that he has been a public sector employee all his life and that he has “never been charged, let alone found guilty of discrimination. And listen, it’s in the game, I didn’t lose any sleep because the PN dedicated a press release to me, saying that I should be sacked. It’s in the game. If I were in their place I would do the same.”
He said that by airing Malta’s dirty linen abroad in that manner, one has to draw a line and you are inviting an eye for an eye form of retaliation. He stressed that such arguments should be kept local. “I have never, and will never discriminate against anyone. I have no problem with the criticism against me as my conscience is clear, but other people need to take a long hard look in the mirror. Are they doing well by Malta?”
This was not the first time that a simple Facebook status stirred controversy. Such statuses had even led to a drastic measure by the government. In August 2015, Education Minister Evarist Bartolo banned all ETC senior management from having a Facebook presence after the CEO, Philip Rizzo, posted a comment beneath a photo uploaded by one of his subordinates wearing a one-piece swimsuit telling her that she was “the only ETC Head of Division with the three Bs… Brains, Boobs and Balls.”
Other Political appointees, such as Glenn Bedingfield, Franco Debono and Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando have all stirred controversy with their posts on public fora.
We Maltese do not like airing our dirty linen in public, and they (the PN) did just that
Foundation for Social Welfare Services CEO Alfred Grixti Photo: Jonathan Borg