Finance Minister Clyde Caruana would do well to watch the 1993 fantasy comedy Groundhog Day, in which the protagonist finds himself trapped in a small town, reliving the same day, over and over again, in order to get a sense of what it feels like to be an ordinary Maltese citizen trying to make sense of the madness surrounding them.
Last week we urged our intrepid finance minister, who was brave enough to take on the job of trying to sort out the fiscal catastrophe his colleagues have created of the nation’s finances, to start looking at a number of glaringly obvious instant fixes.
This week alone has proven that unless he begins to crack the whip, the Maltese population will be condemned, like the bemused and befuddled Phil in the film, to relive the same things over and over, until somehow, we eventually get it right.
On Caruana’s shoulders lies the arduous task of attempting to get it right on our behalf.
Progress so far is discouraging. This week alone, we learned that far from acting against excessive spending on politically-appointed CEOs and other high-ranking officials, sourced from the personal pages of the address books of Prime Minister Robert Abela and his ministers, yet another prime ministerial favourite has been blessed with a job posting about which he knows nothing, and at a salary that’s at least five times what many people in Malta earn.
He’s also been allowed to twist the rules to keep his name on the books of his former employer, in order to make him eligible for a pension anyone else would have had to forfeit.
Clyde, this individual isn’t new to the scandal pages, as you no doubt already know. Colonel Mark Mallia, known to be a close chum of disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat and his wife Michelle, was christened as one of the chosen few immediately after Labour was elected in 2013.
Indeed, so favoured was he that he set a new record for army promotions. Together with the current Brigadier Jeffrey Curmi, Mallia was rewarded with four consecutive promotions in a few weeks, catapulting him into the second-highest rank in the army.
The Ombudsman, who investigated the ‘accelerated promotions’, concluded it was “outright illegal” and described the exercise as “the result of a tailor-made process to achieve a pre-ordained result”.
As if that wasn’t enough in the very week after Caruana issued dire warnings of belt-tightening and impending austerity, we learned, through a Freedom of Information request, that yet another pet protegee of the PL government has been awarded a top post at a monthly salary only slightly lower than many people’s annual income,
Claude Mallia, a 47-year-old architect from Marsaskala, formerly chairman of one of the Planning Authority’s Commissions, was suddenly and inexplicably catapulted to the post of CEO at the government’s air traffic control company. His salary has been contracted at around €12,000 a month, plus an extraordinary array of perks and benefits.
Caruana’s job is an enormous one, but unless he wants to be remembered by history as an integral and enabling part of the corrupt criminal gang squatting in Castille from 2013, he’s going to need to get moving.
Here are some names for Caruana to start with, after he’s dealt with Colonel Mark Mallia and architect Claude Mallia.
First, maybe take a look at the hundreds of ‘persons of trust’ and ‘consultants’ employed by the Labour government since it came into power in 2013. In 2018, the Malta Independent reported that there were as many as 700 of these nebulous figures on the books of the various ministries – and that number is expected to have expanded significantly in the years since.
One example that highlights the ludicrous nature of these appointments is that of former PL spokesman and OPM staffer Nigel Vella. The Shift reported in August 2021 that Vella was employed in a ‘position of trust’ at the home affairs ministry, and was paid an additional €10,000 a year on top of his already generous salary in the form of an ‘expertise allowance’ – something usually only awarded in ‘exceptional circumstances’.
The home ministry rejected The Shift’s Freedom of Information request for details about the appointment with no credible explanation.
In the meantime, countless others continue to milk the generous system the PL government has created. Health Minister Chris Fearne’s chief canvasser, Carmen Ciantar, for example, is being paid a whopping €163,000 a year. In an exclusive report, The Shift revealed that 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”. She was later also appointed chief of staff at the health ministry.
Kurt Farrugia, the former spokesman of disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat, is being paid as much as €180,000 as CEO at Malta Enterprise.
Former prisons CEO Alex Dalli, now being paid €103,000, who was forced to resign after his regime produced a raft of scandals, including 13 prisoner deaths, was posted overseas, as a government envoy in Libya, to “coordinate with the Libyan authorities on issues related to illegal migration”, according to a bilateral agreement signed between the two countries in 2020.
Central Bank Governor Edward Scicluna gets a salary of €120,000 which he himself as finance minister bumped up just before he took the post. He also receives two pension payments, one from the European Parliament and the other as a former minister, as well as having pocketed the infamous “termination benefit” that former MPs receive to help ease them back into private life.
Edwina Licari, employed on a salary of €100,000 by former MFSA CEO Joseph Cuschieri, with whom she’d formerly worked at the Malta Gaming Authority, and with whom she became involved in discreditable connections with licence holders, was allowed to keep her job – and her phenomenal salary.
Malta’s finances are in dire straits. No surprise there, we’ve been warning of this for years. But it is within Clyde Caruana’s power to take some action, at least, that doesn’t penalise the hard-working innocents that keep his colleagues’ wallets so fat. Get cracking, minister. Before the crisis turns into an unmitigated calamity.