Economy Minister Silvio Schembri appointed former Labour Party candidate John Vassallo chairman of the Lands Authority without first getting the go-ahead from parliament, in breach of the law enacted by the governing Party in 2018.
According to an amendment in the Public Administration Law, introduced by the Labour government, the appointment of chairpersons of government entities and regulators can only be made following a vote by parliament’s Public Appointments Committee.
The new chairman, who replaced retired Judge Lino Farrugia Sacco, has already started signing executive orders, including for the expropriation of land, and publishing them on the Government Gazette.
The Shift is informed that Minister Schembri has not yet asked the chairman of the Public Appointments Committee, fellow Labour MP Anthony Agius Decelis, of the appointment – a month after making it – and so far no date has been set for Vassallo to face parliament to obtain the necessary approval.
Legal sources told The Shift that since the Economy Minister has not followed procedure, the appointment of Vassallo has no basis and all the executive orders signed during the last month by the new chairman may be challenged in court and declared illegal.
Minister Silvio Schembri did not reply to questions asking him to explain his decision.
Several weeks after Vassallo’s appointment, the Minister seems to have realised the appointment was illegal and a new notice in the Government Gazette was published a few days ago correcting the title of the original appointment to ‘Designate Chairperson’.
Ironically, the same publication includes executive orders signed by the same Vassallo as chairman of the Lands Authority.
For the Opposition, MP Kristy Debono shadows the workings of the Authority but the issue has not been raised.
This is not the first time the government has ignored the same law on public appointments.
Last October, Prime Minister Robert Abela appointed Jesmond Gatt as chairman of the FIAU, without following the correct parliamentary procedure.
Following objections flagged by the PN, the prime minister had revoked the appointment until the standing committee gave its approval.
At the time, the Opposition had criticised the prime minister for showing contempt for the country’s institutions and leading an incompetent government.