In November 2015, the Public Accounts Committee requested the Auditor General to investigate the
issuance of visas by the Maltese Consulate in Algiers between March 2014 and September 2015.
During this period, 14,640 applications were received, of which 6,779 were issued a visa while 7,589
were refused. The National Audit Office (NAO) established that 99.5% of applications were decided
within the 15-days stipulated in the Visa Code. Notwithstanding this, there was no visibility over the
process beyond the point when the Consul decides to issue or refuse a visa, at which stage third
parties are involved. This heightened the risk of wrongdoing, precluding the NAO from establishing
whether the issuance of visas was intentionally prolonged to elicit payments for hastening thereof.

The NAO is of the opinion that the setting within which the Consulate operated facilitated the
incidence of allegations. The fact that the Consulate operated from the same premises as the VFS,
the Consulate’s external service provider, blurred the distinction between the two from the
perspective of applicants. Aggravating matters were the difficulties encountered by prospective
applicants when seeking to schedule appointments with the VFS. Gaps in the screening process,
attributed by the Consul to a lack of resources, also resulted in a less than optimal system of vetting
applicants. Another factor was the poor contract management of the VFS by the Consulate, with
various contractual obligations not adhered to with no consequence. The extent to which this and
other shortcomings could be attributed to the lack of experience of the Consul is debatable, with the
language-related issues identified by this Office compounding matters. The NAO also acknowledges
the possible effect that the high refusal rate may have had on agents and other third parties, which
rate was deemed significant when compared to that of other representations in Algeria.

During the period reviewed, arrivals from and departures to Algeria amounted to 5,083 and 2,664,
respectively. Of the 5,083 arrivals and 2,664 departures, 3,696 and 882, respectively, travelled on
the basis of a visa issued by the Consulate. The NAO established that for every four arrivals
presenting a visa issued by the Consulate, there was one departure. At least 2,846 of the 3,696
arrivals did not have a corresponding departure. Of the 882 departures, in 32 instances, no
corresponding arrival was identified within the audit period. These discrepancies must be considered
in terms of the regulatory framework that allows for free, unrecorded movement within Schengen.

The NAO established that Government was aware of the allegations made in relation to the
Consulate. This Office deemed action taken by Government as appropriate, as the Consul and the
Ministry for Foreign Affairs duly informed the Police of alleged irregularities. The Minister for Foreign
Affairs was also informed. The Police took action by seeking the views of persons of interest, in
particular the Consul and the Algerian travel agent, from whom most allegations originated.
Whether any other action could have been taken by Government remains subject to debate,
conditioned by the context within which the Consulate was operating, as well as its operational set
up. Moreover, the NAO acknowledges that there were aspects of the allegations beyond the control
of the Consulate, particularly the involvement of the VFS and other agents in the visa process.

The Consul was engaged following an internal call for applications for commercial representatives
issued by the Malta Enterprise, with consular duties forming part of this role. While the NAO
acknowledges an element of convergence in these responsibilities and that of a consul, this Office is
of the understanding that the latter’s role encompasses a broader array of functions that extend
beyond the promotion of business. The NAO contends that requirements deemed satisfactory for
the appointment of a commercial representative may be inadequate in the selection of a consul.

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