Anthony Serracino Inglott, the 78-year-old pharmacy professor who has led the Medicines Authority since 2013, is resisting letting go and has manoeuvred, behind Prime Minister Robert Abela’s back, to force the government’s hand and ensure he remains in charge for a further three years.
Investigations by The Shift show that although his latest employment contract, signed in 2019, comes to an end this month, Serracino Inglott signed a new three-year contract just weeks before the last elections, to ensure he didn’t risk being replaced by a new administration.
The Shift has also established that to carry out this potentially illegal manoeuvre, Serracino Ingott roped in two senior government officials, former Parliamentary Secretary Deo Debattista and Permanent Secretary Ronald Mizzi, the latter notorious for his connections with disgraced former Minister Konrad Mizzi.
The Shift has been told that both Debattista and Mizzi acted without the prime minister’s knowledge and have signed the new contract without the OPM’s clearance. According to law, it is the prime minister who must appoint the CEO of the Medicines Authority.
The issue, which is becoming highly embarrassing for the prime minister who is struggling with lack of authority, has now been handed over to Jo Etienne Abela, the minister responsible for the Medicines Authority, to “solve it”.
Government sources described the situation as “unprecedented” and said it humiliates the government and erodes its power.
“While it is clear that Serracino Inglott, together with his political accomplices, pulled a fast one on Robert Abela, it is now becoming clear that he is not welcome any longer at the helm of the Medicines Authority,” OPM sources said.
“Still, since he has a ‘legal’ contract, his sacking is not straightforward. Also, the fact that Serracino Inglott employed so many well-connected Labour employees bought him support among some cabinet members”.
Serracino Inglott, who reportedly runs the government regulator as some kind of personal fiefdom, has in recent years employed and promoted the son of Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne, the daughter of former Parliamentary Secretary Antony Agius Decelis and the wife of the Mtarfa Labour mayor, among others, as well as the sister of his partner, Lilian Azzopardi.
The Shift has also established that while Serracino Inglott’s contract was meant to end this month (June 2022), a new contract, in complete contravention of protocol, was signed on 9 February, just a few weeks before the elections, giving the MMA chief a further three years as CEO of the Authority. He will be 82 years old when the new contract ends.
To ensure a new government would have no wiggle room to replace him, his new contract names him the Authority’s CEO and not executive chairperson – a purely political appointment – as his previous contracts did.
“It would have been easier to replace the executive chairperson as that is a political appointment. However, as CEO, it’s more of an executive position even though, even in this case, it was a political appointment,” legal sources argued.
They said that “now it all depends on the government’s will. Legally, there are still possibilities the government can use to get rid of Serracino Inglott. It’s a test of who is the real boss, either Robert Abela or Serracino Inglott,” the sources said.
According to his latest contract, Serracino Inglott will be eligible to receive a financial package of over €62,000 a year, over and above his state pension and other roles in government employment.
Despite his advanced age, he is still lecturing at University, where the pharmacy faculty is run by his partner.