Robert Abela had to bow to intense pressure from his 74-year old Finance Minister and offer him a lucrative financial package before he accepted to make way for the prime minister’s unelected chief of staff, Clyde Caruana, to take over the country’s treasury.
The Shift is informed that Abela had to wait for weeks before the European Central Bank (ECB) gave its nod for Edward Scicluna to become the new Central Bank Governor as the former Minister wanted to secure his new position and financial package before giving up ‘his’ Ministry.
The prime minister had originally planned to announce his Cabinet reshuffle soon after the presentation of the Budget last month. Yet despite his old age, Scicluna insisted on negotiating his exit, making it clear that he was not prepared to resign and retire, if not financially rewarded.
This is in line with Scicluna’s testimony before the public inquiry into journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination, when the former Finance Minister told the Court that he saw no reason to resign over dodgy deals negotiated by others even if he was the one to approve the expenditure.
“I left a €100,000 job as an MEP and my comfort zone,” he told a stunned panel of Judges to justify his lack of political action to stop abuse. “Why should I resign because someone else did wrong?”
Scicluna was true to his word and did not leave his ministerial position before securing that “comfort zone” with a financial package of over €100,000 a year.
Scicluna’s negotiated exit costs taxpayers much more than his salary at the Central Bank. To accommodate Scicluna, the prime minister had to also unseat the current Governor, former Labour Party President Mario Vella, and create a new position for him.
Mario Vella, 67, will now serve as Special Commissioner for Economic, Financial and Trade relations with the UK, a new post which has limited or no significance at all within government structures as these functions are already covered by the Foreign Affairs Ministry. Yet the position allows Vella to keep his hefty ‘CBM Governor’ financial package, for a few more years. His term was supposed to come to an end next July.
Following Malta’s Eurozone membership, the Central Bank has lost much of its clout as all major monetary decisions are taken in Frankfurt, but Central Bank Governors remain among the most highly-paid public officials as the position is still considered prestigious.
Before entering the political fray, first as an MEP in 2009, Scicluna had already served on the Board of Directors of the Central Bank and was earmarked to become its Governor if the Labour Party had won in 2008.
After losing that opportunity following Labour’s wafer-thin defeat, he contested the 2009 MEP election on the Labour ticket, when already at the pensionable age of 63.
While the country’s coffers, boosted by an influx of foreign workers, boomed during Scicluna’s tenure as Finance Minister, he approved expenditure on a number of shady deals including a State guarantee for the gas power station of close to €400 million, a $2 billion concession of three public hospitals to an unknown company, Vitals Global Healthcare, and a €274 million direct order for the running of a new wing at St Vincent De Paul home for the elderly.
Scicluna’s response to these ‘scandals’ was that he was not directly involved in these deals even though they needed the Finance Ministry’s approval to go ahead.
Apart from his new financial package, Scicluna receives three pensions: one as a former MEP, and two from the State’s coffers, one of them as a former Minister. In total, the three pensions amount to over €30,000 a year to top up his salary as CBM Governor.
According to his latest declaration of assets, Scicluna holds over €150,000 in government bonds and has over €700,000 in bank deposits.