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Lands Authority refuses to publish former Gozo Minister’s new contract

Taxpayers pick up €80,000 yearly tab paid to former minister Justyne Caruana, forced to resign in January.

Former Gozo Minister Justyne Caruana with her husband, former Deputy Police Commissioner Silvio Valletta who was forced to resign after revelations on his close relations with murder suspect Yorgen Fenech.

The article has been updated to include a reply from Alex Scerri Herrera.

The Lands Authority is refusing to publish the contract and letter of appointment for former Gozo Minister Justyne Caruana who was given a direct order of €48,000 as a legal consultant – one of a number of roles given to Caruana after she was forced to resign last January.

The Authority is claiming the contract is “commercially sensitive”. There was no public call for the position and it is the latest contract awarded to the former Minister who now has an annual income totalling almost €80,000, which is far higher than her salary as an MP.

Caruana was forced to resign last January following revelations about her husband’s ties to Yorgen Fenech, the suspected mastermind of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination. Silvio Valletta was passing on information to Fenech when he was one of the police chiefs involved in the investigation into her death.

Since her resignation over the scandal, Caruana was also appointed Chair of a new Parliamentary Committee dedicated to Gozo Affairs, boosting her parttime €20,000 MP honoraria by an extra €10,000. The contract given to her by the Lands Authority, led by James Piscopo, raises her total annual income funded by taxpayers to almost €80,000.

In addition, she continues her private practice as a lawyer bidding for local council tenders in Gozo, despite her previous responsibilities as an MP included scrutinising all public authorities funded by taxpayers.

Caruana had tendered to provide legal services to the Qala local council for €3,600 a year. The tender has not been awarded yet, however, as an identical offer was made by rival lawyer Kevin Mompalao.

This is not the first time the Lands Authority hired former Labour MPs kicked out of the Cabinet. Former Parliamentary Secretary Deborah Schembri immediately found herself on the payroll of the Authority soon after losing her parliamentary seat in 2017.  Schembri was also assigned other roles with government agencies, including a lucrative contract at the Office of the Prime Minister, and another with the Planning Authority.

Former Parliamentary Secretary Deborah Schembri and Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis also got awarded contracts with the Lands Authority.

Edward Zammit Lewis, who had also failed in his bid to be elected to parliament and was unable to join former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s second Cabinet, was later rewarded with a number of government contracts, including one by the Lands Authority to perform legal work. These contracts were terminated once Muscat appointed Zammit Lewis to the Cabinet again following a ‘reshuffle’.

The Shift has further learned that the list of legal contractors recruited by Piscopo at the Lands Authority also includes several lawyers connected to the ruling Labour Party.

These include former PN candidate turned Labour apologist Robert Musumeci, as well as Luke Dalli – the son of former Labour Minister and now EU Commissioner Helena Dalli.

A former consultant to Schembri, Vince Galea, who is now also assisting embattled PN leader Adrian Delia, and Alex Scerri Herrera, son of Judge Consuelo Scerri Herrera, were also on the Lands Authority payroll.

They were joined by Cory Greenland, a former GWU senior official, and Joe Cilia, a former Labour parliamentary secretary.

Update:

Scerri Herrera contacted The Shift following the publication of this article to “categorically deny” that he has acted as a lawyer for The Lands Authority.

The Shift informed him that his name was listed on an official document of The Lands Authority obtained in reply to a Freedom of Information request that asked for the list of lawyers contracted by the Authority (the list is being published below).

Scerri Herrera replied: “About two years ago I had engaged into discussions (sic) about potentially taking on some legal work for the Authority, however, such never materialised and once again I reiterate that I never received a single payment from the Lands Authority in relation to any alleged work”.

The list of lawyers provided by the Lands Authority in reply to a Freedom of Information request.

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