Cabinet members have declared over €4.5 million in financial assets and cash stashed in various bank accounts, according to their most recent declaration of assets submitted in parliament.
The financial assets are over and above other assets they hold, including dozens of properties across the country. Present and former Ministers for Gozo top the list in properties owned, with Clint Camilleri and Anton Refalo each declaring ownership of more than 10 properties.
An analysis of the 2020 declarations of assets by The Shift places Social Justice Minister Michael Falzon as Labour’s most cash-rich cabinet member, although this could be the result of other cabinet members under-declaring their assets.
Falzon, who spent most of his working life as a lawyer at Bank of Valletta, declared a €663,000 portfolio of investments and cash deposited in various bank accounts together with his wife.
Falzon, a former Labour deputy leader, was sacked from cabinet following the Gaffarena Old Mint Street scandal where government property changed hands abusively. In the meantime, he received a generous controversial retirement package from the state-controlled Bank of Valletta, worth some €260,000. He returned to cabinet shortly after his re-election to parliament in 2017.
Falzon’s personal wealth is closely followed by Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne – a successful paediatrician before entering politics. Fearne declared owning more than half a million in investments and cash apart from three properties.
Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis declared having €439,000 in investments and bank accounts apart from two properties in Lija. He failed to state whether his back accounts are shared with his wife or whether there are further assets she holds.
Zammit Lewis failed to get re-elected following the last general election despite contesting as an incumbent minister, but he was well compensated in that period as he was showered with government contracts worth tens of thousands of euro. He was later reintegrated into Muscat’s cabinet when former Minister Helena Dalli was posted to Brussels as Equality Commissioner.
The controversial minister handling one of the country’s most expensive portfolios, Transport Minister Ian Borg, claims he is one of the ‘poorest’ members of cabinet when it comes to savings. He declared holding €27,000 in bank accounts.
The latest declarations confirm persistent rumours making the rounds for years that Borg is the owner of a restaurant in Dingli, called Barbajean. He owns the restaurant with his wife Rachelle, whose brother is a chef at the restaurant.
Only 35-years old and with no previous work experience apart from politics, Minister Borg owns two residential properties, two offices and two tumoli of agricultural land.
Gozitan cabinet members earned most in 2020
Education Minister Justyne Caruana, currently embroiled in various controversies following a €5,000 a month direct order given to her boyfriend, footballer Daniel Bogdanovic, was the Minister with the highest declared earnings last year.
She earned €104,000 during the year she was not a member of cabinet after she had to resign following the scandal involving her estranged husband, former Deputy Police Commissioner Silvio Valletta.
Whether this results from any terminal benefits she received after she resigned from her ministerial role, thanks to prime minister Joseph Muscat changing the formula, has yet to be confirmed. Prime Minister Robert Abela is refusing to reply to questions on the subject and The Shift has filed a Freedom of Information request.
Caruana’s earnings were closely followed by her two political rivals on the Gozo district.
Clint Camilleri, 33, and the youngest member of cabinet, earned €92,000 last year, topping his €65,000 salary with income from the rental of various properties he owns, mostly through inheritance.
The Gozo Minister failed to list the number of properties he owns, instead stating “as per last year” in his declaration. Camilleri has more than 15 properties in his personal portfolio.
Gozitan veteran MP and Agriculture Minister Anton Refalo declared he owned 17 properties as well as his €91,000 in earnings last year. He also declared the largest outstanding amount of loans among all his cabinet colleagues – €420,000. Yet his property portfolio makes Refalo the wealthiest member of cabinet, overall.
Prime Minister Robert Abela covers his assets
While a prime minister, the first among equals in a functioning democracy, is normally associated with setting the example for all his colleagues, the same cannot be said for Robert Abela who has followed in the footsteps of his predecessor in lack of transparency in his declaration of assets.
He promised “continuity” and, like Joseph Muscat before him, was the only member of his cabinet who failed to declare his income for 2020.
Instead, Abela noted that his income was “as declared in his tax return”, without giving a breakdown of his earnings as well as his wife’s. Abela’s tax return is not a public document.
This was not the only red flag in the prime minister’s declaration, which is now supposed to be scrutinised by the Standards Commissioner to ascertain its veracity.
Though still 41, Abela declared he owns three properties. While stating that his property in Marsascala is an apartment and a garage, he failed to mention the type of properties and the addresses of his Zejtun and Gozo properties.
This does not provide a clear picture of the value and type of wealth the prime minister has managed to accumulate.
Previous reports by The Shift had revealed that Abela is also the owner of a luxury yacht, an Azimut, which costs some €300,000 apart from related costs to run, maintain and berth at a VIP area at the Ragusa marina.
The rules for ministerial declarations of assets do not require politicians to declare their possessions such as boats, cars or works of art.