The Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) is refusing to disclose details about how much money, in terminal and transitional benefits, has been paid to disgraced former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, from public funds.
Mario Cutajar, the former GWU official turned head of civil service upon Labour’s return to power in 2013, is refusing to divulge information about the benefits provided to Muscat, his former boss, following his forced resignation last January.
According to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, seen by The Shift, Cutajar turned down the request, insisting “no such document exists” in his office.
All payments given to holders of political office are normally handled by the Cabinet Office and the OPM, with Cutajar being the administrative head of both offices.
Cutajar’s office was asked to supply a list of all payments to Muscat and his wife, Michelle, since his stepping down from office last January.
The Shift has learned that, according to regulations on holders of political office introduced in 2008 by the government of Lawrence Gonzi, presidents, prime ministers, ministers, parliamentary secretaries and opposition leaders are entitled to a minimum of six months’ pay following their resignations.
Holders of high political office, such as former prime ministers, are also entitled to other benefits, including publicly funded cars, chauffeurs and personal assistants.
The same applies to politicians who are either not re-elected or even sacked from their posts. Regulations also allow for some former ministers, from both administrations, to be paid these benefits twice, when they are re-appointed to ministerial positions.
A memo with very loose rules and guidelines that are open to interpretation, which set terms for benefits to politicians ending their careers, was approved by the Cabinet in 2008. It was never made public.
The Shift has further learned that the rules might have even been ‘secretly’ changed by Labour in the last seven years, to make them more generous for politicians losing their ministerial appointments.
So far, the government is remaining tight-lipped about the details of these ‘terminal and transitional benefits’.
The OPM is even refusing to state whether the 2008 ‘Gonzi memo’ was changed by Muscat, making himself and other members of his Cabinet among the first beneficiaries of these potentially lucrative changes.
Asked through a separate FOI request for the rules underpinning these benefits approved by various Cabinets, and for a list of payments made in past years according to the same rules, Cutajar again refused to provide any information.
Repeatedly saying “no such document exists”, he later changed his version. He admitted along the way that his office “is in possession of the information” but insisted that it is not “documented in one document” and was too time-consuming to gather the required information.
“It is, indeed, a hard and laborious task to collate all the information requested,” Cutajar insisted.
The Data Commissioner agreed that due to the fact that the information requested goes back a long time and is not organised in an appropriate system, the FOI law allows that the process triggered to collate such data, “would substantially and unreasonably divert the resources of the public authority from its other operations”.
A new FOI request submitted to limit the information requested to the most recent payments made to Muscat during the last six months was still refused by Cutajar who insisted again that he does not have the information.