Nigel Vella, a former Labour spokesman who until last week was the Prime Minister’s Deputy Head of Communications resigned following revelations by The Shift.
Last week, The Shift disclosed that Vella held two different positions of trust within the same government, potentially receiving double remuneration for his communications job at the OPM, amounting to some €80,000 from taxpayer funds.
Apart from his position of trust as Deputy Head of Communications at the OPM, a position which is not even permitted according to the government’s manual for the recruitment of private secretariats by Ministers, he was also put on the payroll of the Gozo Ministry as a full time advisor on communications – another position of trust.
Sources close to the government have told The Shift that the Prime Minister was ‘fuming with anger’ over these revelations since his senior officials, including Principal Permanent Secretary Mario Cutajar, had not made him aware of this conflicting and abusive situation.
Both the Prime Minister and Vella had refused to reply to questions by The Shift over the issue despite repeated emails and reminders sent over the last four weeks.
Parliament redacts Vella’s name from list of consultants
The Shift noticed that the names on list of consultants to the Gozo Ministry, which had been tabled in parliament, and which included Vella’s name was later redacted – a move that is unprecedented.
Vella’s name was censored after The Shift sent its questions to the Prime Minister. The Shift can reveal this only thanks to screenshots saved before the redaction.
Asked for an explanation, a spokesman for Speaker Anglu Farrugia said that this was due to “data protection” concerns.
“Parliament is trying not to publish online personal information such as names and identity card numbers. Each redaction is approved by the Speaker. The Office of the Speaker started adopting this position after the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner informed us that when publishing such data online, we would be in breach of Data Protection legislation.”
Yet this was the first time this new ‘policy’ – not found in the Standing Orders – has been used, and its implementation happens to coincide with questions sent by The Shift to the OPM regarding Vella.
Legal experts have expressed doubts about whether the ‘policy’ established by the Speaker has any basis in law: “It is reasonable that personal information such as ID card numbers or addresses are not put online. However, the decision of redacting names of consultants, paid by taxpayers, is not on and is not correct even in view if the same data protection laws.”
It is not yet known whether Vella has also resigned from his Gozo Ministry consultancy, paid at an extra €40,000. Yet he’s expected to take up a position with the OPM’s former Head of Communications, Kurt Farrugia, at Malta Enterprise.
Farrugia too was given a lucrative position at the state agency, without a call and despite his lack of experience in the sector, and put on a remuneration package of €130,000 a year, excluding perks.
Malta Enterprise already employs Anthony David Gatt – another former Labour TV employee – in its communications department.