Despite the changing of the guard in 2020, Prime Minister Robert Abela continues his predecessor’s strategy of using public funds to feed his own supporters, apologists and various suppliers of services to his Party, an analysis by The Shift shows.
In 2020, Robert Abela’s office issued 38 direct orders. While these are supposed to be restricted to ‘emergency’ situations, suppliers of the Labour Party’s machine got the bulk of the funds.
Ikona Artworks – a small advertising company managed by Joel Saliba and Margaret Pace – former Labour Party functionaries who have dominated the handling of almost all government advertising contracts since 2013 – continued to be served with direct orders by Robert Abela.
The OPM gave Ikona three different contracts, worth tens of thousands to handle various propaganda campaigns paid through taxes, including those related to the annual presentation of the budget. Even an exercise boosting an economic plan during the Covid-19 crisis was given to Ikona, which was tasked with spending €30,000 to promote the vague dossier to the media.
Webee Ltd, the company responsible for the design of various websites used by Labour during electoral campaigns and which was responsible for the Lands data leak – continued to be used by Abela, giving them a further €24,000.
Sharp Shoot media, a company owned by the brother of the former communications head at Castille under Muscat, was given €17,500 for filming and editing of the national budget material.
G Media, a company set up by Labour Party cameraman Gareth Degiorgio, was given a €21,000 contract for the “provision of videography”. The same Degiorgio was also assigned parts of the production of programmes on both One TV and PBS.
The Labour Party’s main contractors for mass events continued to be on the OPM’s direct orders list. They include Carmel Magro’s companies, such as TEC Ltd. After receiving hundreds of thousands in contracts, Abela’s office continued to give Magro more ‘work’ with IStage Ltd being paid €12,500 just for the rental of a platform for a press conference held by the prime minister. Nexos Lighting was paid €30,000 to provide projections boosting the government’s ‘positive’ messages.
Ishmael Psaila – a newly graduated lawyer and a PL activist, currently defending Keith Schembri following his arraignment on money laundering charges – was paid €18,000 for unspecified “assistance on legal matters”.
In April 2020, Kirsten Cutajar Miller was put on a €25,000 direct order at the OPM to provide consultancy. Up to a month before that, Cutajar Miller was serving Brian Tonna’s Nexia BT as their finance executive . She was also engaged by disgraced Minister Konrad Mizzi during the evaluation process of the Electrogas power station project. After the disbandment of Nexia BT, Cutajar Miller became a freelance consultant commissioned by various government organisations.
During his first year, Robert Abela also supplied former Labour MP and Sports Malta Chairman Luciano Busuttil – his canvasser during the leadership race – with a fresh direct order. He was paid almost €22,000 for “legal service to the MCESD”.
Busuttil, who lost his seat in parliament in the 2017 elections, appears regularly on the government’s appointments list with the latest being his role as an ‘umpire’ at the family ministry – receiving more government payments for his work.
A lawyer colleague, Noel Cutajar, was also compensated for losing his seat on the electoral Commission by being appointed as an ‘umpire’ with Busuttil.
More sweeteners for the boys in red
While Robert Abela assigned Minister Edward Zammit Lewis as being responsible for good governance, under his direction more and more Party loyalists are being appointed to chair government institutions or given appointments aimed at boosting their income.
Architect and chief Labour apologist Robert Musumeci was given a new €30,000 direct order – this time by Sport Malta for the preparation of unspecified tender documents and designs. He continues to be paid handsomely as a consultant to various ministries and for the Lands Authority where he is on two different direct orders – one of them together with the CEO of the Malta Developers Association, former parliamentary secretary Deborah Schembri.
Joseph Chetcuti, a switcher and presenter of various entertainment programmes on One TV, was given the role as president of the pharmacy council for three years, while lawyer and Labour candidate Andy Ellul has been given the task to preside over the council for nurses and midwives together with former Labour MP Rita Law.
Ellul’s wife, Claudia Cuschieri, a former Labour ‘journalist’ who also regularly presents programmes on Labour’s TV, has been put on a lucrative government salary since 2013 as a spokesperson for various ministers.
Young lawyer Paula Cauchi – another One TV presenter – was appointed by Chris Fearne to serve on the health council. The daughter of former Labour MP and Labour Party CEO Gino Cauchi, she served as Fearne’s spokesperson during his failed bid to become Labour Party leader.
Despite her limited experience, Cauchi is also the beneficiary of other government income, including thousands from the MFSA where she was given a contract by former disgraced CEO Joseph Cuschieri.
Ryan Ellul, another young lawyer and Fgura Labour local councillor, was given a €10,000 direct order contract to supply “legal services to the Local Enforcement System Agency”. This agency forms part of Minister Byron Camilleri’s portfolio. The minister was a colleague of Ellul when he was Major of Fgura.
Minister Jose Herrera’s young daughter, Martina, is also the beneficiary of government appointments. Her father’s colleague in the cabinet, the justice minister, has recently approved her third two-year term as Commissioner for Justice – boosting the young lawyer’s income while serving at her father’s law firm by another €12,000 a year.
Her father’s other colleague, Finance Minister Clyde Caruana, also appointed the minister’s daughter to serve as a director of Air Malta Aviation Services – the government’s ground handling services agency at the airport. She is also remunerated for this role.