Joseph Muscat is the national curse that keeps on costing.
The disgraced former prime minister changed the policy on terminal benefits right before he was run out of office. His successor won’t say how he amended it in 2018 and again in 2019, or what magic formula Muscat used to pay himself three times more than the average of €37,000 in terminal benefits paid to other departing ministers.
All we know is that he slithered off with €120,000.
Rumour has it you’re still paying for the former prime minister’s security, too. When asked if the Muscats are still soaking the public for benefits like cars, offices or consulting contracts through any ministry since Abela took over, the Principal Permanent Secretary’s Office didn’t say yes or no. It said the office “does not hold such a document in its general records”.
Unfortunately, Muscat’s generous payment to himself sets a money-grabbing precedent that his successor could be expected to follow. And he’s not alone.
What’s good enough for the Kink is good enough for the Clowns.
You’re also forking out generous terminal benefits packages for those forced to resign in disgrace. Far from being punished, incompetence is rewarded — and some of them may be able to double-dip. Until the government comes clean on exactly how they calculate these benefits, that remains a lucrative possibility.
Remember when then-Tourism Minister Edward Zammit Lewis announced Etihad would buy a “substantial stake” in Air Malta — and Etihad issued a press release hours later saying such rumours were “categorically false”? Then it was Alitalia who would fork over the funds, which it would somehow find under a mattress while going through its own restructuring for bankruptcy.
It was a shining display of incompetence even by the standards of a cabinet of unqualified cronies. Zammit Lewis didn’t just lose his ministerial title for his bungling; he failed to squeeze out enough votes to get re-elected to parliament. I guess he should have spent more on gift baskets.
But don’t worry. No travel buddy of the disgraced former prime minister was going to starve — not even with a measly €27,339 in terminal benefits.
The man who took over the Tourism portfolio, Konrad Mizzi, gave his predecessor a €600 per month direct order, presumably for his expert advice. He was also scraping €200 per month from the Malta Film Commission, €400 per month from the Malta Film Fund, another €13,600 per year to provide “legal assistance on Identity Malta’s reform”, and €4,300 per month to act as legal advisor to Joe Mizzi’s Water and Energy Ministry.
If that wouldn’t be enough to see him through, the astonishingly busy Zammit Lewis’s law firm was also on the payroll of the National Development and Social Fund at €90 per hour (or a minimum of €45,000 per year), and appeared on the list of lawyers for the Lands Authority.
Thanks to a little help from his friends, Zammit Lewis managed to scrape by until Helena Dalli’s promotion to Europe allowed him to be wedged back into cabinet.
When he finally loses the Justice portfolio — and how could he keep it, given his desperate fawning messages to the man being tried for Malta’s most heinous political execution? — he’ll walk away with another terminal benefits package.
Of course, there’s nothing “terminal” about it. Zammit Lewis could continue riding the merry-go-round of incompetence, getting appointed and dismissed from cabinet over and over, until he’s racked up enough terminal benefits to see him through a long economic downturn.
I hope Justyne Caruana is paying attention. No doubt she’s a romantic scandal away from yet another stretch in the wilderness. But don’t worry. She survived her last 11-month ordeal on the backbenches with a €28,539 terminal benefit, plus a €48,000 direct order from the Lands Authority, and another €10,000 from the Water Services Corporation. She’ll get a terminal benefits package when she leaves this cabinet, too.
Speaking of romantic scandals, former parliamentary secretary Rosianne Cutajar is likely to cost you around €30,000 in terminal benefits after she grudgingly resigned following revelations about her ‘dealings’ with Yorgen Fenech.
As for Helena Dalli, the minister who vacated her seat so Edward Zammit Lewis could slump into it collected €29,305 in terminal benefits when she was bumped upstairs to her current appointment at the European Commission, where she rakes in a six-figure salary.
These people don’t even have to warm their seat for very long in order to cash in. Remember Toni Abela? He got a terminal benefit of €19,322 in 2008 after serving as a parliamentary secretary in Alfred Sant’s short-lived government.
Abela missed his chance to be bumped upstairs when his nomination to the European Court of Auditors was rejected, after a hearing that spawned such memorable lines as, “How are we expected to believe what you tell us is true?” But the problem solver who knew how to deal with a ‘blokka bajda’ is now sorting the innocent from the criminals as a fully-fledged judge.
Even former opposition leader Adrian Delia got €24,463 in taxpayer-funded terminal benefits when he was replaced by Bernard Grech.
It sure adds up to a big pile of money.
You’ve dished out €1.4 million in payments to politicians who end their political career — voluntarily or involuntarily.
They also have a much better old age plan than the rest of you. When an ex-minister hits 65, they get a special pension that amounts to two-thirds of the salary of their last position right up until the day they die — even if they barely warmed their ministerial chair.
The eldest among them — Evarist Bartolo, Michael Farrugia and Edward Scicluna — are collecting that full ministerial pension right now while drawing another government salary.
Your obligation doesn’t end when they shuffle off this mortal coil, either. That special pension will be inherited by their spouse. That means you could be supporting Michelle Muscat and Sai Mizzi for a very long time, should they outlive their husbands.
And we haven’t even started tallying up the millions of euros these ministers are spending on hundreds of ‘persons of trust’ and direct orders to friends of friends.
The ship of state is sinking, and not even paid reports from Moody’s will deny the fact that failure to clean up the wholesale theft, graft, corruption and mismanagement exposed over and over again — most recently by the public inquiry — is punching even more holes below the waterline.
Moody’s negative rating is a sign of things to come.
The government will need all the tax revenue it can get when the EU finally puts a stop to passport peddling. The dire situation with US dollar correspondent banks and the country’s increasingly sordid reputation won’t fill the gap by luring new business to the previously lucrative finance sector.
To make matters worse, the coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating impact on tourism, and the government’s botched handling of reopening (“120 Children Kidnapped!”) isn’t encouraging anyone to Visit Malta. Who would spend their hard-earned money and long-awaited annual vacation sitting in an overbuilt construction site?
No, that old standby isn’t going to stand by much longer, either.
In a situation like this, you’d think the government would be working frantically to make a new budget and set aside some cash, but you would be wrong.
The echoes of the FATF grey list announcement hadn’t even stopped ringing when Finance Minister Clyde Caruana took to the podium to say he wasn’t revising anything. No need to crunch any numbers to come to that decision. He would just pretend it away.
Far from saving money for the approaching years of rainy days, these guys are spending it on themselves. I guess they’ll have a nest egg to weather the storm even if you’re destined to go down with the ship.