Joseph Cushieri sure was a big spender. The problem is, it wasn’t his money.
New details have emerged from The Shift’s investigation into Yorgen Fenech’s Vegas buddy, the chief of the Malta Financial Services Association and former chief of the Malta Gaming Authority. And it doesn’t paint a pretty picture.
Some €17,868 for four nights in the Big Apple…
A week in Peru for a bargain €26,959…
London was pricey, at €24,107 for five measly nights. But hey, it’s one of the most expensive cities in Europe. I’m sure it was worth it.
Besides, he saved the country some cash by only spending €20,000 on two separate trips to Australia and the Philippines.
It’s a lonely life, flying all over the world representing one’s country. But you’ll be glad to know Cuschieri didn’t have to endure those overpriced dinners with an industry magazine propped up against a salt shaker for company.
No, his General Counsel was with him every step of the way.
On many of these official jaunts, it was just the two of them representing Malta’s interests abroad, one luxury hotel at a time.
Cuschieri and Edwina Licari were inseparable, racking up air miles and half a million euro in expenses on some 38 trips in six years.
Budgetary oversight was no obstacle for this Financial Dream Team. Cuschieri authorized his own travel and expenses, and to hell with the usual approval process. No one tells the President’s son-in-law what to do.
Their free-for-all with your tax money continued when Cuschieri made a quick lateral shift to the MFSA, taking his closest collaborator with him as General Counsel.
He didn’t waste any time topping up his own pay package behind the back of the MFSA Board of Governors, either. But Cuschieri, the President’s son-in-law, was appointed on the recommendation of the OPM. I’m sure he was well qualified for whatever it was they wanted him to do — even if he did run up a €25 million deficit during his first year in charge.
Licari got her hands on a really nice package, too, netting a €100,000 per year job after enduring a gruelling but brief interview with Cuschieri himself. I guess he’d already seen everything he needed to see to know she could do the jobs he had in mind.
Anyway, don’t worry, its all taken care of and justice will prevail. Cuschieri and Licari have suspended themselves pending an investigation into their code-of-ethics-breaching jaunt to Sin City with Yorgen Fenech, who stands accused of commissioning journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination.
Get your mind out of the gutter! While we don’t know what they got up to on those ‘business’ trips (‘what sort of business? none of yours!’), self-suspension doesn’t always refer to an act of erotic near-asphyxiation.
No, ‘self-suspension’ is a venerable tradition in the annals of Maltese public officials.
Cuschieri joins the ranks of other ‘self-suspended’ pay takers who side-stepped accountability while keeping one foot firmly in their former office, and one hand firmly in the till.
You’ll remember that Chris Cardona suspended himself in November 2019 after being questioned by the police in the Caruana Galizia murder case.
Okay, there wasn’t any legal basis for the former Economy Minister’s decision. He should have either resigned or been removed from office, but he made a show of accountability just the same.
It had the added bonus of removing him from the public eye — and avoiding having to answer any questions — while the heat was on.
This isn’t just a Labour tactic, either.
One of the government’s fiercest critics, Opposition MP Jason Azzopardi, resorted to self-suspension last week when his own bad decision came to light.
The outspoken Nationalist Party MP found himself without accommodation in Tel Aviv, Israel, in 2017, but rather than wander around knocking on hotel reception desks, he called up Ray Fenech for a little help with the Hilton.
Perhaps he was afraid he’d end up stuck in a manger for a night with a virgin?
In any case, dropping hints for a free room from the Fenechs was a really stupid thing to do, and not just because the Electrogas dirt had already begun seeping out.
No, it was a simple question of integrity. As Caruana Galizia wrote when Adrian Delia threw his hat into the ring, “The Leader of the Nationalist Party has to be unimpeachable”. The same applies to the one who is at the forefront of the campaign for justice.
Those opposing Labour’s corruption will always be held to a higher standard.
While Azzopardi’s actions are in no way comparable to those of Sticky Fingers Schembri or Misappropriated Funds Mizzi, he handed his opponents something they could use against him, and he’s paying the political price.
Of course, self-suspension isn’t the only way to deal with a scandal.
There’s also an entire roster of public officials who were suspended on full or partial pay in order to remove them from the public eye.
Take Police Sergeant Ramon Mifsud, suspended on half-pay after he demonstrated how unfit he was for the job by celebrating Caruana Galizia’s assassination in a post on social media.
He’s managed to remain in that grey area for over three years by never showing up to the disciplinary hearings that would rule on his case. Perhaps they should grab him when he collects his paycheque, instead?
It’s a lot like disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat’s strategy of calling for an endless series of magisterial inquiries that never seem to reach a conclusion.
These novel forms of non-punishment allow those who have transgressed the rules to inhabit a sort of public Schrödinger box. They will remain neither guilty nor innocent, as long as no one chooses to lift the lid.