Warren Buffett, the world’s most successful investor, has his principles of investment. Our Labour government, the best in Europe, has its secret recipe for recruiting talent.
The talent isn’t only in the Cabinet. Even the likes of Justyne Caruana, Julia Farrugia Portelli and Edward Zammit Lewis depend on others. Our finance minister, Clyde Caruana — so ambitious in his vision that, like Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos, he can casually overlook €1.08 billion in overspending — likewise relies on judicious recruitment policies to make sure the government and State entities remain well-staffed.
Thanks to The Shift’s investigations, we are in a position to reveal the human resources management secrets of the Labour government. These secrets are many and subtle. In this article we only have space to focus on three key hiring principles.
The first principle: do not discriminate — especially against family members.
If a family is so talented as already to be at the top of the Labour heap, it makes no sense to keep the rest from offering their contribution.
Being the prime minister’s sister-in-law is a poor excuse to keep someone from serving as deputy chair of Infrastructure Malta. It is more important to say a firm ‘NO’ to ageism and hire a septuagenarian as a junior lawyer — than to get hung up on the fact that he is the father of the chair of the Authority.
Believe in youth and do not punish them for accidents of birth. Martina Herrera is a minister’s daughter — but that’s not why she is a board director for Air Malta Aviation Services or a Commissioner for Justice. Paula Cauchi is the daughter of Gino Cauchi — former MP and Labour CEO — but that’s not why Chris Fearne put her on the health council.
Fleur Abela is the daughter of former Labour deputy leader and current judge, Toni Abela, but that’s not why the justice ministry has put her on the payroll — earning more than twice what her fellow 2018 law graduates would earn if they got a government job.
Adreana Zammit is the daughter of Ian Borg’s key aide, Jesmond Zammit — but that’s not why, in 2020, Transport Malta tripled her pay after only eight months, giving the new law graduate a salary of some €73,000 a year. She later resigned after a public fuss kicked up by ‘the politics of envy’ — and the Transport Authority’s chair continues to pay the consequences of losing the benefits of her advice, even though other lawyers had been already engaged to furnish it.
The second principle: always look for people who were mentored by a master — say, the former European Commissioner John Dalli or the former Labour minister, Konrad Mizzi. If someone could pass the rigorous demands of men like Dalli and Mizzi, then surely there’s a place for their talents in Abela’s government.
Hence, Ronald Mizzi, apprentice to Konrad in every stroke of genius — from the sale of the ITS site in Pembroke to the 30-year hospitals’ concession to the new gas-powered plant — is still serving the government, no doubt as faithfully as he always has.
Lionel Gerada, Mizzi’s right-hand man at the Malta Tourist Authority, is still at the MTA, using his trained eye to dish out millions to entrepreneurs he knows can deliver. Having ‘Spoke to Lionel’ at the top of your application for an MTA sponsorship is as coveted as a reference letter from Bill Gates.
John Dalli’s former associates, Paul Debattista, Mark Sammut and Saviour Balzan are similarly indispensable. Debattista has been invaluable in the education sector, as we have recently discovered. Sammut has proven to be a reliable consultant to various Labour ministries, with his IT business receiving massive direct orders.
As for Balzan, he has been willing to transfer his expertise in running Dalli’s PN leadership campaign and the spring hunting referendum. He has served as personal communications adviser to ministers Edward Zammit Lewis, Ian Borg and Justyne Caruana, among others — and who can deny the impact on their reputations? Or begrudge over €1 million in direct orders (between 2015-2020) for his business consultancy? Or query the five TV programmes he produces for PBS?
Third principle: trust in the rule of law — or, to be more precise, the rule of law firms.
One advantage of having the crème de la crème in your Cabinet and parliamentary group is that you can make continual use of their talents. Since 2017, some €426,000 in legal fees have been paid to former and current Labour MPs, the bulk going to former ministers Manuel Mallia and Deborah Schembri (whose expertise on matters to do with the Land Authority, for which she was responsible as junior minister, has been rewarded by hefty direct orders from that authority).
There’s Zammit Lewis himself — once an ex-minister until his eventual reappointment. After failing to be re-elected in 2017, he was free to enrich several ministries and agencies with his expertise; for example, billing ID Malta €100 per hour and €4,333 per month for legal advice to the ministry responsible for water and energy.
A lawyer in his private firm, Marouska Debono, has been found to be so gifted and generous with her time that she sits on seven government boards while also serving as one of 21 justice commissioners. Amid all that, last year alone she found time for odds and ends like minor clerical work for Transport Malta (€7,900 in a direct order) and legal services to Heritage Malta (€10,000) and the education and employment ministry (€36,400).
She also sits on the small claims tribunal as well as the board of petitions. Frankly, I can’t wait to see her sit on a future equality tribunal — another Zammit Lewis project — judging businesses for employment discrimination.
The bench of talent is deep if you know where to look for it. A former employee of Robert Abela’s firm, Ryan Pace, graduated in 2018. Yet, he already chairs the Malta Gaming Authority and is board secretary to Mediterranean Offshore Bunkering Limited (MOBC) and Engineering Resources. He is also the Data Protection Supervisor to the Malta Tourism Authority and sits on the boards of ARMS Ltd, Gozo Heliport Ltd and Malta Government Investments Ltd.
With talent like this, guiding our government on its policies, we can be sure we’re getting value for money. The finance minister can sleep at night. The future is secure. But you knew that already.