An investigation by The Shift has found that Marouska Debono, a lawyer who used to work in a private law firm associated with Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis, has been appointed to at least seven paid positions on government boards, as well as being appointed Justice Commissioner.
Besides receiving salaries from each of these posts – she chairs three of these boards and occupies other positions on the other four – Debono also pocketed a total of at least €54,300 in direct orders since April of last year. Four of the appointments were made through the Justice Ministry, both during the tenure of former Justice Minister Owen Bonnici and current Minister Zammit Lewis.
Debono’s eight different job positions mean the 37-year-old lawyer is, at least on paper, involved in decisions related to film reviews, employment, justice, workplace health and safety, policy work related to cases of physical violence and a small claims tribunal in the Housing Authority which was set up to adjudicate minor housing-related disputes.
Debono chairs the Film Review Board with OPM spokesperson Matthew Carbone listed as the only additional board member, the National Employment Authority, and formerly served as the Chair of the Industrial Tribunal. The Film Review Board falls under the remit of the Ministry for Heritage, the Arts and Local Government, while the National Employment Authority falls under the remit of the Ministry for Education.
Additionally, the Industrial Tribunal falls under the remit of the Justice Ministry, a position that Debono has held since January 2019 and is set to remain in up to 2024.
In 2020, Debono was appointed Justice Commissioner, one of a list of 21 people in total. According to the Ministry of Justice, the Commissioners are expected to provide adjudication over cases presented by the police, local councils and any other relevant authorities.
Besides chairing these three boards, Debono also serves as the secretary of the board of the Occupational Health and Safety Authority and the Commission for Gender-Based and Domestic Violence. She is also one of the board members of the Board of Petitions and is an adjudicator on the Small Claims Tribunal. In at least one case seen by The Shift, Debono was also acting as one of the legal representatives for the Ministry for Energy and Waste Management.
As for direct orders, Debono was paid €7,900 to do minor clerical work for Transport Malta in April of last year via a direct order. She also received €10,000 in November 2020 to provide legal services to Heritage Malta. The largest direct order Debono received was through the Ministry for Education and Employment: an agreement for legal services signed by Debono cost taxpayers €36,400 and was extended at least once, according to Government Gazette records.
The Shift was alerted to the raft of appointments Debono has received over the last few years through a reader’s tip-off about the lawyer’s multiple appointments to government boards.
You scratch my back, I scratch yours
Debono is linked to Zammit Lewis through the same law firms owned by him and Veronique Dalli, another lawyer and the sister of Energy Minister Miriam Dalli. The Shift’s investigation into Debono’s multiple roles is not the first time Zammit Lewis or his associates have been linked with direct orders and generous job offerings.
In June 2017, when Zammit Lewis lost his Cabinet seat after failing to be re-elected, news reports exposed the fact that the now-Justice Minister’s legal firms were given a €45,000 direct order through a government consultancy job given to him by disgraced former prime minister, Joseph Muscat.
The direct order was given to Zammit Lewis’ firm to provide legal services for the passports fund agency, one of two such firms providing this service.
Throughout that year, Zammit Lewis was also being paid €100 an hour through consultancy services offered to Identity Malta and €4,333 a month for acting as legal advisor to the Ministry for Water and Energy. Prior to his spell as a backbencher and advisor-for-hire and his eventual re-appointment to Cabinet, Zammit Lewis served as Tourism Minister.
Calls for resignation
Calls for the beleaguered Justice Minister’s resignation have been constant throughout this year, in particular over Zammit Lewis’ close friendship with the alleged mastermind behind Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination, Yorgen Fenech.
These calls escalated after former book council chairman Mark Camilleri published a long list of messages detailing Zammit Lewis’ stream of gushing text messages to Fenech, asking how he was, and requesting a meeting at the latter’s ‘ranch’ in Żebbuġ. Most of these messages went unanswered, as Fenech rarely bothered to reply.
Another one of The Shift’s recent investigations features Zammit Lewis’ name as one of many high-ranking government officials who, over the years, provided at least €1 million in direct orders to Malta Today co-owner Saviour Balzan.
In particular, Zammit Lewis, along with Transport Minister Ian Borg and Education Minister Justyne Caruana, employed Balzan’s services as personal advisor, with Zammit Lewis appearing on Balzan’s TV programme while the latter was coaching the former through another contract in which he acted as the Minister’s communications strategist.