Updated to add UK approval of Manuel Mallia as Malta’s next High Commissioner.
For the past five months, the Mtarfa local council has been managed from some 3,000 kilometres away, in London, after the locality’s mayor – Labour’s Daniel Attard – was appointed Malta’s Deputy High Commissioner to the UK, despite having no diplomatic experience.
Attard moved to London to take up his position in July. He announced that he would resign his mayorship of Mtarfa but, to date, he has failed to step down. Instead, he still leads his local council meetings, online, from his office at Malta’s High Commission in London.
Attard, who is still in his 20s, is currently acting as Malta’s number one diplomat in the UK because his designated boss, former Minister Manuel Mallia, has not yet been approved by the UK government and is, therefore, unable to take up his position in London as Malta’s High Commissioner.
The delay holding up Mallia’s move to London has intensified the pressure on the inexperienced deputy, as he’s been required to step into the High Commissioner’s shoes despite never having held any significant diplomatic post before.
Still, in between meetings, summits and invitations from Buckingham Palace, Attard continues to manage Mtarfa through his mobile phone and online conversations, while receiving his mayor’s honoraria alongside his lucrative financial package in London.
Contacted by The Shift, Attard confirmed that he is still the mayor of Mtarfa, though he’s been living in London for the past five months. He insisted, however, that he did plan to resign.
“During the last council meeting, I formally notified the council that I will be resigning from my role as mayor,” he said.
Attard did not specify whether he will also resign as councillor or if he would continue to work from his office in Piccadilly Circus.
Attard also declined to confirm whether his wife, Annalise, has joined him in London. Diplomats are paid more if they declare that they are married and that their partner is living with them.
Wife joins Deputy High Commission but remains on government’s payroll
Investigations by The Shift show that Attard’s partner, Annalise Attard, a pharmacist and a director at the Malta Medicines Authority (MMA), has indeed joined him. At the same time, she was granted special working conditions to allow her to join her husband in the UK’s Capital.
Sources told The Shift that Attard’s employer, the MMA, has given her permission to work remotely from London, for an extended period, thus retaining her post at the Medicines Authority.
Asked to confirm this information and to state whether other employees at the MMA have also benefitted from similar opportunities, the Authority’s chairman, Professor Anthony Serracino Inglott, confirmed that Attard is still on the State agency’s books.
“Dr Attard is an employee of the Malta Medicines Authority working on a reduced hours basis performing duties related to European pharmaceutical scientific affairs,” Serrachino Inglott said.
“She has been a member of the Permanent Secretariat of the Heads of Medicines Agencies since October 2019, a position which she still holds, representing the Malta Medicines Authority,” Serrachini Inglott, who was Attard’s thesis sponsor at the University, said.
The Permanent Secretariat of the Authority cited by the MMA chairman is based in Germany and its members, like Attard, hold their meetings from their respective agency’s offices – in Msida, in the MMA’s case.
Manuel Mallia still waiting
While Daniel Attard, a former One TV employee who later graduated as a lawyer, is managing one of Malta’s busiest diplomatic missions overseas, Manuel Mallia, nominated Malta’s High Commissioner to the UK by Prime Minister Robert Abela last summer, is still waiting for his nomination to be approved by the British government.
As reported by The Shift, Mallia needs the UK’s government agrément – the term used for the approval of a diplomatic representative by the State to which he or she is to be accredited.
This has not yet been granted, reportedly because the UK authorities are still drawing up due diligence reports on Mallia which have raised some concerns.
Mallia, a former Minister who was sacked by disgraced ex-prime minister Joseph Muscat after he was involved in a ‘cover up’ of a shooting incident involving his driver, resigned this seat in parliament after agreeing to a deal with Abela in which he would swap his seat with a diplomatic post in London.
However, Mallia – the wealthiest member of Labour’s administration, with millions of euros in assets – is still under the scrutiny of the UK government.
In 2013, when he became Minister, he declared he had some half a million euros in cash stashed at his home. Mallia had failed to give a clear explanation about the source of this money.
Recently, he was also accused by former senior Labour activist Mark Camilleri, of being part of the Maltese underworld, including involvement in illegal fuel trafficking. Mallia has denied the claims.
Manuel Mallia was finally granted UK approval of his nomination as Malta’s High Commissioner to the UK on 12 November, after he underwent what media reports, citing unidentified government sources, described as a “rigorous” but “routine” vetting process by the UK authorities.
Featured photo: Malta’s Deputy High Commissioner to the UK and Mtarfa Mayor, Daniel Attard, in a selfie taken with Prime Minister Robert Abela in London and shared on Attard’s social media.