Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne has confirmed he has appointed his campaign manager Carmen Ciantar as his Chief of Staff at his ministry, on top of her appointment to head the Foundation for Medical Services that will see her earn €700,000 from State coffers in salaries and allowances over a five-year period.
Replying to questions by The Shift during an online press conference this afternoon, Fearne confirmed he has appointed Ciantar to head his ministry, but said that she is not being paid extra for this role.
In an exclusive report, The Shift revealed on Wednesday how Fearne’s top personal political campaign manager was appointed to head the Foundation for Medical Services on a public contract worth €163,000 a year – a contract the National Audit Office said was “irregular”.
Fearne insisted that her appointment was made in the same way as her predecessors, despite being pressed on her role in his political campaign and the fact that she is earning double the salary of her predecessor, Brian St John, who had a financial package of €80,000.
The Deputy Prime Minister refused to state whether he would cancel Ciantar’s “irregular” contract, instead turning on the journalist to state that The Shift was focused on her “Labour militancy”. The health ministry’s communications staff muted further questions and objections from The Shift to allow the minister to defend the lucrative contract given to his campaign manager by hitting out at the report as “partisan”.
Fearne refused to acknowledge the fact that Ciantar is his closest political canvasser and has managed his personal electoral campaigns to become a member of parliament in 2017, and later his bid for Labour’s deputy leader. Ciantar was also involved in his campaign for Labour Leader and Prime Minister, which Fearne lost.
The Shift has asked Fearne to publish the second contract with Ciantar as his chief of staff, but the request has been ignored.
Fearne also declined to reply to questions about whether the Office of the Prime Minister has approved the €163,000 contract he gave to his close collaborator, and if Robert Abela has also approved the engagement of Ciantar as his chief of staff. The Finance Minister has already distanced himself from the decision.
Addressing journalists on Thursday, Fearne said an “agreement” had been reached with the NAO that once existing agreements on persons of trust expire, the process will be revised.
Yet, in the case of Ciantar, this will only be possible in 2024 when her extraordinary contract expires.
Ciantar was put on the public payroll in 2013 as CEO of ARMS Ltd by disgraced former Minister Konrad Mizzi.
She later joined Fearne’s political campaign when the Deputy Prime Minister employed her as his person of trust at the FMS.
The NAO also highlighted irregularities in the approval of thousands paid in performance bonuses. While the contract states this was to be approved by the FMS Board and the minister himself, the NAO found no documentation to back the payments.