Malta’s financial services watchdog, the MFSA, has been found in breach of good governance rules, according to a report by the Auditor General.
An audit, based on a 2019 sample, found that public procurement rules were not followed, while agreements costing taxpayers’ hundreds of thousands were dished out without the necessary approval of the Finance Ministry.
Citing a contract given to auditing firm EY, a former employer of Joseph Cuschieri who was CEO of the MFSA at the time, strategic consultancy procured directly by the regulator was done without approval.
“From inception of the service until mid-July 2020, when the audit was in progress, a total amount of €519, 200 was paid to the service provider.” This was done against the rules, the NAO said in its report.
In relation to another example mentioned in the report, the NAO noted that no agreements were in place to regulate the provision of four separate information technology-related services costing €327, 342 in total.
The MFSA engaged two individuals at managerial level costing taxpayers €5,600 a week, once again on the orders of the former CEO. Although these were to be employed for just six months, they continued to bill the regulator for services beyond the expiry date of the agreement.
According to the NAO, it was only last February that the Direct Orders Office at the Finance Ministry informed the MFSA that it was not in a position to grant direct order approval.
In his two-year stint as Head of the MFSA, Cuschieri signed off on over €10 million in direct orders.
Cuschieri was forced to resign following revelations that while CEO of the financial regulator he travelled to Las Vegas on a trip financed by Yorgen Fenech, who is accused of commissioning the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Cuschieri was accompanied by Edwina Licari, a close collaborator of Cuschieri during his time as Head of the Malta Gaming Authority. Soon after Cuschieri moved to the MFSA, Licari was recruited on a €100,000 financial package.
Licari, who regularly accompanied Cuschieri on business trips around the world over the years, is still General Counsel at the MFSA. Unlike her former boss, she was not asked to resign.