Prime Minister Robert Abela’s large team of communications officials are mostly homegrown party loyalists carried over from the former administration, six of whom have benefited from their contributions to the Labour Party since they first joined Pulse, the student organisation at university closely linked with the ruling party.
Some of these officials also hold separate roles within government, including disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat’s head of communications –Kurt Farrugia – who was made CEO of Malta Enterprise in August 2019 with an astronomical starting salary of €130,000 per year.
Farrugia’s LinkedIn profile still states he acts as a Head of Communications for OPM, and his prominence at the prime minister’s side (see featured pic) reinforces that, even though the agency he runs is meant to be independent.
Matthew Carbone, another spokesperson for OPM, is another Muscat loyalist who has held his post as a communications official at the office of the prime minister (OPM) since the Muscat era. Carbone formerly worked as a journalist with ONE News.
Feel the Pulse
Six former members of Pulse now form part of Abela’s communications team, namely; Wayne Sammut, Darryl Farrugia, Glenn Micallef, Ryan Pace, Claire Azzopardi Zerafa and Owen Grech.
Sammut, ONE TV’s breakfast show presenter who was also tasked with handling PL’s live coverage of electoral results during the 2022 general elections, holds the position of communications coordinator at OPM. Sammut, who was the president of Pulse from 2014 to 2016, is also the Malta Film Commission’s project planning senior executive. Micallef also served at the helm of Pulse as president in 2010.
Farrugia, who formerly worked with Sammut as a marketing executive at the Malta Film Commission, is listed as marketing coordinator for OPM.
Pace, is another member of the communications team, and has past links with Abela through his work at Abela Advocates – the prime minister’s legal firm. Additionally, Pace is also the chairman of the Malta Gaming Authority.
Azzopardi Zerafa, married to Rodrick Azzopardi Zerafa (who served in the transport ministry under Ian Borg), is a former ONE News journalist turned communications advisor for the OPM. She previously militated in the party’s youth wing, having served in a few other communications roles for other ministries before being promoted to the OPM. Both the Azzopardi Zerafas share former ties with the student organisation.
Meanwhile, OPM legal advisor Ian Borg was mentioned in a report published by The Shift last year following a parliamentary question which revealed that he had been hired in January 2020 on a €40,967 salary.
The OPM is set for a €9.3 million increase in its annual operational budget for 2022 when compared to 2021 figures, amounting to a total budget of almost €130 million.