It is most unfair. Konrad Mizzi throws a long shadow over the current cabinet of ministers, obscuring their own achievements.
Mizzi was proclaimed a ‘doer’ by Joseph Muscat, as though his former colleagues and successors aren’t capable of matching his administration of public funds — given the chance.
Alas, voters these days just don’t seem to appreciate who they’re dealing with. In the spirit of that old Italian expression — ‘conoscere i propri polli’, or, know your chickens — here’s a regrettably brief summary to help The Shift readers savour the quality of the cabinet that, Robert Abela assures us, is precisely the one we’d want to entrust with our economy and health.
First in line is the deputy prime minister, Chris Fearne, in charge of health. In the first half of this year, his ministry spent €60 million in direct orders. In a time of pandemic, I suppose, no time could be wasted in pedantic procedures and rules of governance that just slow down the process of getting the funds to those who need it most.
Over a third of the money — €23.3 million — went to friends and political helpers of the minister. Oh, and party donors. Knowing them well, the ministry knew they could be relied on to deliver what the country needed.
The Auditor General’s report on the Foundation for Medical Services (FMS), run by Fearne’s political campaign manager, gives us a better appreciation of the minister’s energy and discernment.
Standard procedures of recruitment are bypassed to ensure top quality personnel. Ninety persons of trust are given generous salaries that befit their qualifications. To retain the talent, indefinite contracts are given in patriotic defiance of public service regulations.
The talent is so good that it’s thoughtfully shared around other branches of government. Some FMS employees have never worked at the foundation.
But enough about Fearne. One shouldn’t obscure the glory owed to others.
Do not judge Ian Borg hastily on the basis of the mere €1 million in direct orders issued by his ministry — although even here we can see judicious spending on sheer raw talent (Jason Micallef), vision (a €70,000 report on the future of the aviation industry), and a fervent commitment against corruption (€25,000 on fumigation of his offices).
Transport Malta falls beneath Borg’s purview. It spent €60 million in direct orders from 2018-2020. Fear not, it hasn’t slacked this year. In the first half, it spent €5.2 million in direct orders alone.
Likewise, Infrastructure Malta, also under Borg, spent €34.5 million in direct orders between 2018-2020. It’s doing even better this year: €10.5 million in the first half.
Spreading the wealth has been raised to an art form by José Herrera. No wonder he’s arts minister. It helps, of course, that he is a practising entrepreneur. He was an investor in at least two development projects while an environment minister: gutting old houses in Cottonera, building flats and adding storeys.
The storeys may have been new but the story is old: a public-spirited citizen injecting life and creativity into society. Two-thirds of national feast funds have been spent on towns in Herrera’s district. The minister knows his chickens.
More talent sharing: A post worth €55,000 a year was given to a canvasser of his — a top executive post at the Manoel Theatre. An executive post at the Arts Council for another former aide, Charlon Gouder — a man so swift in zipping from one task to another that he’s virtually invisible and so unassuming that no one can describe what he does.
Labour Party friends helped themselves to €2.2 million in direct orders in the first half of 2020 — just to make sure the real artists didn’t suffer as the pandemic shut everything down. The direct orders were published on Christmas Eve — a very unabashed “Merry Christmas” to admirers and friends because our minister isn’t afraid to celebrate his Christian identity.
I cannot here do full justice to the economy minister, Silvio Schembri. He is often underestimated — perhaps because of the errors on his parliamentary declaration of income (for 2017) and when informing parliament about the direct orders awarded by the Malta Gaming Authority. Genuine errors, all of them — even the Speaker has said so.
But is Schembri being given all the credit he deserves for signing a rental agreement to lease quarters for the Malta Business Registry? He insists it’s costing less than half a million euros a year, while the Auditor General insists it’s prohibitive and amounts to €26 million for a 15-year contract (plus €5 million in additional expenses). Another miracle of loaves and fishes.
If Schembri can create such wealth for a single entrepreneur, imagine what he can do for all the others.
The Auditor General has never created wealth for others, protected anyone’s health, let off a single petard or attracted a single tourist to the island (rather, he keeps them away with his negativity). Who is he to slam all this economic energy as highly irregular?
Really? I call it keeping your eye on the ball.