Outgoing Principal Permanent Secretary Mario Cutajar used taxpayer funds to employ a ‘Director of Communications’ to improve his own image, even though the Office of the Prime Minister employs an army of communications staff, as well as the Department of Information.
The Shift is informed that back in 2020, just a few weeks after the forced resignation of disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat, Cutajar issued a tailor-made call to employ a ‘Director of Communications’ in his office, pegged to a Scale 4 financial package.
Instead of filling the new post through an internal call, by redeploying an existing public servant and saving tens of thousands, the Principal Permanent Secretary went on to give the position to James Piscopo Bonnici – at the time the politically appointed spokesperson of Qormi Minister Roderick Galdes.
Piscopo Bonnici, still in his early 30s, was put on the same salary level as that of an Assistant Police Commissioner, with his job description that of boosting the image of the public service and, most importantly, of Mario Cutajar.
Sources close to the OPM told The Shift that at the time of the appointment, Cutajar was under pressure to resign as the new prime minister wanted him replaced, particularly due to his proximity to the former administration.
“The recruitment of someone to boost his image and depict him as some kind of ‘mover and shaker’ was Cutajar’s response to the prime minister’s demand to make way,” a senior public servant told The Shift.
“However, despite the PR blitz, including that of last week’s ‘public service week’, the prime minister had it his own way as he is getting rid of Cutajar soon. In the meantime, this unnecessary recruitment will keep costing the government some €40,000 a year as Piscopo Bonnici, also a former aide to Miriam Dalli, will now remain on the government’s books.”
The government is already spending millions in salaries for its public relations.
While the government is employing some 27 political appointees to act as spokespersons in every ministry, dozens are employed at the Department of Information, which falls under the direct command of the Principal Permanent Secretary.
Announcing his own departure last Friday, Cutajar made it a point to emphasise that his retirement decision was taken of his own free will and with the approval of the PM.
However, senior government sources said that this could not be further from the truth.
“Cutajar will be retiring upon reaching pensionable age as the prime minister did not give him an extension as others before him were given,” the sources said, adding that Cutajar and Abela were never on good terms.
During his stint as Deputy General Secretary of the GWU, Cutajar had fallen out with George Abela, the prime minister’s father, who at the time served as the union’s chief lawyer.
While Abela was in favour of Malta’s EU membership, despite this being the PN’s mission, Cutajar militated against it, working hand in hand with the opposition Labour Party (then in opposition) against membership.
As a result of this conflict, Abela was ousted from the GWU.
It is not yet known whether, following his retirement, Abela will keep Cutajar serving as executive director of Heritage Malta, pocketing some €20,000 extra a year to top up his pension.