Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne in breach of governance rules implemented by his own Party

The decision by Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne to place his campaign manager Carmen Ciantar as his chief of staff, on top of her role at the Foundation for Medical Services (FMS) at a salary of €13,500 a month, goes against the ministerial code of ethics implemented by the Labour Party in government.

Fearne, who is also Health Minister, defended his decision by saying Ciantar was not being paid an additional salary as his chief of staff. Yet according to the code of ethics in place since 2014, Ciantar cannot be a member of Fearne’s private secretariat while also keeping her job at the FMS.

The Shift revealed last week that Ciantar, who has managed several campaigns for Fearne, had been given a five-year contract at the FMS worth €700,000.

The code of ethics, which should be supervised by the head of the civil service and Cabinet secretary Mario Cutajar, states that once appointed to Fearne’s private secretariat Ciantar is not permitted to continue receiving her astronomical salary from the FMS.

Questions sent to the head of the civil service remained unanswered.

Ciantar getting the pay of four chiefs of staff

As chief of staff, Ciantar is entitled to receive a salary pegged to Scale 3 of the civil service structure, which this year stands at almost €41,000 a year.

Yet Fearne’s canvasser is getting paid four times the permitted salary of a chief of staff while sharing her top job as the minister’s closest aide with that of CEO of a public sector organisation – two very demanding full time jobs.

According to the same code of ethics, Fearne and Ciantar needed the approval of Prime Minister Robert Abela. The Shift is informed that Abela gave his consent in April 2021.

Through an agreement that the government has kept under wraps, despite a Freedom of Information request, Ciantar was given two separate contracts by Fearne at the FMS.

Engaged as CEO in 2016 as a person of trust, Ciantar was initially given a three-year contract and put on a salary of about €80,000 a year.

Following Ciantar’s management of Fearne’s campaign to become Labour Deputy Leader in 2017, an unusual amendment was made to Ciantar’s first contract, with Fearne approving an increase of some €20,000 a year to his chief canvasser.

At the end of Ciantar’s first contract, in mid-2019, Fearne gave his closest aide a second contract – this time for five years – seeing her pocketing some €13,500 a month by the time it comes to an end in 2024.

By also placing her at the helm of his private secretariat, Fearne also gave Ciantar total control over the running of his health ministry.

While the FMS contract has already been declared as “irregular” by the NAO, Prime Minister Robert Abela has not taken any action despite declaring that “no episode of bad governance has ever happened on his watch”.

Abela’s only reaction so far was that he “has the word” of Fearne that Ciantar’s contract will be revised at the end of its term – that’s 2024.  By then, Ciantar would have received some €700,000 from State coffers.

What does the Code of Ethics state?

According to Annex IV of the Cabinet Procedures Manual, which defines how ministers are to engage their staff for private secretariats, “individuals cannot be recruited from public sector organisations on a secondment basis” and “officers selected from such organisations – such as the FMS – must avail themselves of unpaid leave in order to take on a secretariat position.”

Unlike Ciantar, who was put on a €163,000 a year contract, the code states that “for the duration of their employment in the secretariat, these officers will be paid the salary attached to the secretariat position they are being appointed to.”

The code also deals specifically with situations such as Ciantar’s. It states: “Officers from the public sector who are originally employed on a definite contract are to have their definite contract suspended upon engagement with a private secretariat. The contract is to be resumed upon the person’s return to the original employing entity once the contract with the respective private secretariat ceases to have effect”.

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3 months ago

Good governance ?
It always depends on how high the bar is set.
With PM Robert Abela, obviously: Above me the basement floor.

Patrick Sciberras
Patrick Sciberras
3 months ago

Possibly these extravagant salaries are a way of siphoning monies by the ministers without having their names on record

3 months ago

Perhaps her bank accounts should be investigated to see whether she’s ‘sharing’ part of her pay with her partner.

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