New civil service head appointment mired in political controversy

The prime minister’s choice of Tony Sultana as the new Principal Permanent Secretary to replace Mario Cutajar, who has held the position since 2013, has raised eyebrows among people in political circles, because Sultana served as an IT delegate for the Labour Party in the last general elections.

Senior civil servants are precluded from participating in politics. Yet Sultana, 59, from Fgura, was chairman of government IT agency MITA, at the time.

Sultana has spent most of his career in the public service, first at the computer centre and then at MITA, however, he’s also concurrently been active in the Labour Party for years, having been involved with the IT infrastructure and, controversially, data collection of the PL – while in the position of handling government data.

In 2013, Sultana was handpicked by disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat to become the executive chair of MITA, which controls very sensitive information vis direct access to all the data which passes through the government’s IT systems, including e-mails and digital files.

Government sources told The Shift that Sultana’s political appointment, rubber-stamped by the supposedly-independent Public Service Commission, is “another slap in the face” of experienced civil servants trying to do their job without any political affiliation.

“Sultana was handpicked for the role by the prime minister in what can be described as a thank you for helping out the Labour Party,” a senior government official said.

“Sultana’s selection is a guarantee of partisan continuity as we have come to experience since 2013 under the guidance of Labour militant Mario Cutajar,” another official said.

Sultana was recruited into the public service in 1986, just a year before the then crucial general elections won by the Nationalist Party. He was then sent to study IT abroad, including in Japan.

According to the Public Service Management Code, officials from scale 5 upwards cannot participate in politics. Yet the rule seems to have gone out the window when Sultana was somehow allowed to represent the Labour Party in the general elections last March, while acting as Executive Chair of MITA.

“Apart from the sensitivity and clear conflict of interest between his post as head of the government IT infrastructure and Labour’s IT systems, he was in a grade precluded from active politics,” sources added.

“Instead of being disciplined for blatantly breaching the rules, he was promoted by Robert Abela.”

Meanwhile, outgoing Principal Permanent Secretary Mario Cutajar is attempting to apply pressure to be given a more high profile position at Heritage Malta, where he has already occupied the post of executive board member pocketing a further €20,000 a year on top of his government salary.

Cutajar, it seems, wants the position of chairman of the national heritage organisation after Prime Minister Robert Abela refused to extend his term as Principal Permanent Secretary.

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