OPM rejects FOI requests, insists that it has ‘nothing’ on Joseph Muscat’s severance package

OPM's refusal to divulge information is 'very sinister,' senior government officials say

 

The Office of the Prime Minister has stonewalled The Shift’s official requests for information about the substantial golden handshake awarded to disgraced former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, claiming it has no records of any correspondence, emails or agreements, including informal ones, about the ‘entitlements’ awarded to Muscat as part of his controversial severance package.

For two years, the OPM has consistently refused to answer questions or disclose what type of benefits were conceded to Muscat during the last cabinet meeting he presided over before being forced to step down. And now, the shamed former premier’s successor Robert Abela has turned down two separate Freedom of Information requests filed by The Shift.

After the OPM declared that it holds no formal agreements over this matter of public interest, The Shift submitted formal FOI requests for a copy of all correspondence held by the government related to any type of entitlement given to Joseph Muscat, including email correspondence, formal and informal, between OPM officials, the Treasury and other government departments that may have been involved in the arrangements to give the former prime minister a terminal benefit payment of €120,000 among others.

However, the OPM has once again blocked access to any information, insisting that “it is not in possession of any such documents in its general records”.

Senior government officials told The Shift that the OPM’s blanket refusal to hand over these documents is “very sinister,” as no such payments can be approved by the Treasury or any other government department without any form of approval or backing in writing by the authorities.

The Shift has now called upon the Data Protection Commissioner to investigate the matter, including the OPM’s repeated refusals to provide the relevant information.

Muscat’s ‘severance package’ was first revealed by The Shift when it found that, using a scheme introduced in 2008 known as the Terminal Benefits and Transitional Allowances Scheme reserved for retiring members of Cabinet, Muscat was somehow paid twice the sum he was entitled to.

Prime Minister Robert Abela, has adamantly refused to explain the amount of Muscat’s payment, even after facing questions in parliament.

The Shift later revealed that before leaving office, Muscat had twice changed the rules of the scheme for his own benefit. However, these changes were kept secret and Abela continued to insist that Cabinet decisions cannot be divulged.

It was also reported more recently that Abela made arrangements for Muscat to be given, illegally, the free use of government property at Sa Maison, although the disgraced former prime minister holds no public office. 

When questioned, Abela insisted that Muscat holds no title to the property and was simply making use of this office. However, he was unable to explain the legal provisions permitting Muscat to make use of public buildings to conduct his personal private business.

In addition, Muscat has also retained his official car, bought with  taxpayer funds, and has been given a full time driver, a personal assistant and a number of security personnel, all funded by the public purse. His wife Michelle is also benefitting from the deal her husband negotiated with Robert Abela and is regularly seen being driven by a personal driver.

                           
                               
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