The government agency responsible for the upkeep and administration of museums and national heritage sites suffered record losses in 2020 to the point where its finances had to be shored up by some €12 million from taxes to be able to remain afloat, an analysis of Heritage Malta’s accounts for 2020 shows.
Yet instead of restraining its spending and minimising costs, at a time when its sites were closed for months due to the pandemic, the agency under the political direction of Minister Jose’ Herrera still, inexplicably, recruited more staff and doubled its remuneration to government-appointed directors, led by Mario Cutajar, the Principal Permanent Secretary.
According to Heritage Malta’s audited accounts, paid admissions to the various museums administered by the agency suffered an expected blow, decreasing by some 83% over the preceding year, resulting in a drop in revenue of some €8 million.
This situation, a consequence of the pandemic and the closure of most museums, meant the agency could not even cover its ordinary staff costs and pay its employees were it not for the direct intervention of the government pumping in the extra revenue shortfall from public coffers to keep the agency from declaring bankruptcy.
Despite the dire financial situation and lack of work due to the closure of heritage sites for months, the agency somehow ‘managed’ to find work for more staff, recruiting 25 more employees during the pandemic year and increasing its staff headcount to 328, or almost 10%.
Sources close to the agency told The Shift that most of the newly hired staff, which have cost the agency an additional €500,000 in wages, resided in localities in the first electoral district that elects Minister Herrera.
The agency’s accounts also show that while the agency’s revenue was in free fall, the government-appointed members of the board increased costs on their compensation from €91,000 to €168,000, almost doubling their income. It is not known whether this increase is attributed to a larger honorarium given to every board member or to costs related to one of the directors who was also given a ‘special’ executive role.
Apart from having Anthony Scicluna as its chairman and a full time CEO, the government decided to appoint the Principal Permanent Secretary on the board of the agency and to declare him an Executive Director so that he can get an extra €19,000 a year over and above his hefty government salary as chief civil servant and cabinet secretary.
Cutajar a former deputy secretary-general of the GWU, handpicked by disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat to become principal permanent secretary on the same day Labour was elected to power, used to work at the agency as a manager before he was transferred as he fell out with the then administration of the agency.
His roles as both PPS and executive director of a government agency raise questions on a conflict of interest. Heritage Malta falls under the guidance of a different permanent secretary, a subordinate of the same Cutajar.
Sources at the agency told The Shift that Cutajar’s position, unprecedented in any other government board, is creating tension as the CEO and the chairman are not effectively at liberty to make their own decisions without having the ‘blessing’ of Cutajar.
“Mario also has an axe to grind against those at the agency who he considers as ‘enemies’ during the time when he was sidelined by the agency’s administration at the time,” they said.
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