Cabinet Secretary Mario Cutajar has refused to disclose whether shamed former Education Minister Justyne Caruana will be paid another €30,000 golden handshake from the state’s coffers after her second forced resignation in less than two years.
Sources close to the Office of the Prime Minister told The Shift News that the OPM has already started the necessary arrangements for Caruana to be paid a second terminal benefit, according to a covert scheme introduced in 2008 – although she was already given a similar payment of over €28,000 after her resignation in 2020.
When asked directly whether the OPM will approve the payment of a second golden handshake to Caruana, Mario Cutajar, who is responsible for disbursements related to this scheme, refused to reply. Payments under this scheme usually require the approval of the cabinet secretary.
Cutajar himself is paid two separate salaries from state coffers – apart from being principal permanent secretary, he is also the executive director of Heritage Malta, which boosts his income by an additional €20,000 a year.
The Shift revealed in August that politicians from both sides of the political divide have been paid some €1.4 million under the terminal and transition benefit scheme introduced in 2008. The arrangement is reserved exclusively for members of cabinet who either lose their jobs after an election or as the result of a cabinet reshuffle, or who resign following a scandal.
According to the terms of this scheme, which were changed twice by disgraced former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to his own benefit, departing members of cabinet become entitled to a cash payment equivalent to either one-twelfth of their pay for every year they serve, or a minimum of six months’ salary.
No ministry but more money
After her resignation as Gozo minister in January 2020, following the exposure of connections between her former husband, then Deputy Police Commissioner Silvio Valletta, and the accused mastermind of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination, Caruana was immediately issued a treasury cheque of €28,589 as a terminal benefit.
As a backbench government MP, the former minister received the usual salary for that function, while she was also appointed to the chairmanship of two parliamentary committees, the fees from which amounted to a further €20,000. She was also indirectly put on the government’s payroll through a direct order of a €48,000 one-year contract to provide legal services to the Lands Authority, and had a similar deal with the Water Services Corporation for another €10,000.
During her short stint on the backbench, Caruana registered a substantial increase in her income and was actually receiving much higher government remuneration than when she occupied the post of minister.
After just a few months, Robert Abela, who had originally asked her to resign, reinstated her into his cabinet as education minister. However, this didn’t last long either, as Caruana was forced to resign yet again after she was exposed as having given a €15,000 direct order to her boyfriend.
Despite the fact that Caruana has set an unprecedented record – being forced to resign twice during the same legislature – Prime Minister Robert Abela is now contemplating giving her a second terminal benefit less than two years after she received her first.
Under normal rules, citizens are not allowed to benefit twice from the same state benefit.
Obfuscated scheme leading to abuse
While the terms of the privileged scheme for members of cabinet, including prime ministers and presidents of Malta, remain largely shrouded in mystery, the government insists on giving no explanations.
The Shift has revealed in June that disgraced former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was paid €120,000 in terminal benefits under this scheme, when according to publicly available data he should only have received half the allocated payment.
His predecessor, former PN Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi received a far lower amount than Muscat, even though he spent a much longer time in politics, including in the prime minister’s office, than Muscat.
The Shift has made numerous requests for information about the scheme, including through FOI requests, however the government, and Robert Abela in particular, has consistently refused to give an explanation to taxpayers. All attempts to uncover the details have been stonewalled with the claim that cabinet papers are top-secret and can’t be published.
Featured photo: Cabinet Secretary Mario Cutajar with disgraced former Education Minister Justyne Caruana