The government is refusing to explain why former PL spokesman and OPM staffer Nigel Vella, now employed in a ‘position of trust’ at the home affairs ministry, is being paid an additional €10,000 a year on top of his already generous salary in the form of an ‘expertise allowance’ – something usually only awarded in ‘exceptional circumstances’.
The home affairs ministry has rejected a Freedom of Information request to explain why Vella qualifies for this extra expertise allowance and to produce the letter of approval which the prime minister is required to sign according to established procedures.
The ministry claimed it was refusing to give The Shift this information as “there is good reason to withhold the document requested”. The ministry offered no explanation about what that ‘good reason’ might be.
A request for a re-consideration according to the law has already been filed by The Shift.
Vella – formerly a member of disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat’s ‘team’ – was recruited as a consultant by Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri last year to advise on disciplinary forces, including the police and the army.
Vella, who has never served with the police or with the army and does not hold any sort of qualifications in either area, was given an ‘expertise allowance’ of €10,000 a year to boost his financial package to some €55,000 a year.
Although Vella’s allowance “might be abusive and unjustified”, according to sources, the government is refusing to divulge any information on Vella’s expertise.
Vella’s case is “just the tip of the iceberg” as the government has been approving “allowances” to many of its consultant cronies without any justification or supporting documents.
The sources pointed towards the responsibility of the Principal Permanent Secretary Mario Cutajar, part of whose role is to act as a watchdog against such abuses.
“The watchdog is also on the take and cannot really exert any control. He was given a second job as director of Heritage Malta, to pocket some €20,000 extra. How can he tell others not to abuse?” a senior government official told The Shift.
The Nigel Vella affair
Although just one among many, Vella’s story is an example of the culture of nepotism and abuse of taxpayer funds that’s become rampant under the Labour Party in government.
A PL spokesman up to 2017, Vella was employed within Muscat’s private secretariat soon after the latter’s second win at the polls.
A few months after joining the OPM, Vella was promoted to deputy government spokesman, despite this contravening the Ministerial Code of Ethics published by Mario Cutajar in 2015. Vella was given a significant increase in his pay package.
Shortly after Muscat’s forced exit from politics, Malta Enterprise – under Kurt Farrugia, Vella’s former boss at the OPM – issued a low-key call for the recruitment of a manager.
Vella applied for the job, despite the lack of publicity given to the call, and was selected, and immediately hired on a permanent contract paying him a salary of €40,000 – essentially guaranteeing him a job for life at taxpayers’ expense.
On his very first day at Malta Enterprise, however, his boss, Kurt Farrugia, signed a letter giving Vella permission to take unpaid leave.
A few weeks later, Vella was hired as policy consultant at the home affairs ministry on a financial package worth €55,000, which included the questionable ‘expertise allowance’.
When The Shift asked Kurt Farrugia why Malta Enterprise decided to employ a manager who was then given unpaid leave on the very same day he was hired, the CEO of the State entity did not reply.
Joseph Muscat’s former spokesman was handpicked to become Malta Enterprise CEO in 2019 by the disgraced ex-premier and his then chief of staff Keith Schembri.
Farrugia, who also has no experience in the sector, was given a nine-year contract, on a salary of €180,000 a year.
It is yet not known how many of the government’s ‘persons of trust’ are also being paid an expertise allowance, which can reach the sum of €20,000 a year, over and above their salary.