One of the first decisions made by Labour’s newest minister, consultant surgeon Jo Etienne Abela, was to give a job to his brother’s wife by appointing her as his private secretary.
Minister Abela was sworn in on 30 March and made responsible for active ageing. His brother’s wife, Mariella Abela, was given a contract as the minister’s private secretary on 1 April, fewer than 48 hours after her brother-in-law’s appointment.
“We just couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw the first contract the minister passed on for signing was to engage his private secretariat staff,” a senior government official told The Shift on condition of anonymity.
“The first name he presented to us was that of his brother’s wife, Mariella, who, until becoming his private secretary, was a facilitator in a government school,” the official said.
According to the Ministerial Code of Ethics, cabinet members cannot employ relatives within their private secretariats. They are also barred from giving them public appointments.
Yet, these rules have been easily bypassed as ministers started employing the wives of their relatives instead of their ‘banned’ parents, siblings, or children.
Another method being used by ministers is to ask their colleagues to put their relatives on the government payroll in their secretariats. Minister Clayton Bartolo was exposed by The Shift as having his girlfriend, Amanda Muscat, employed through the secretariat of his friend, Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri. Muscat never turned up at the Gozo ministry and instead assisted her boyfriend at the tourism ministry.
Government boards are also inundated with relatives, including the children of sitting ministers. Minister Chris Fearne’s son, Julian, is a case in point, among others.
As a result of Minister Jo Etienne Abela’s move, his brother’s family will now earn €46,000 a year through the employment of Mariella Abela.
The minister’s brother and Mariella’s husband, Christian, an employee of Gozo Channel, has reportedly already been giving instructions at his brother’s ministry even though he has no official role.
This situation had led the minister’s former chief of staff, Alex Vella Muscat, to resign three weeks into the job, as he soon realised that he was not the one calling the shots at Minister Abela’s secretariat.
The minister’s brother is known to have helped significantly during his brother’s electoral campaign. In the past, Christian Abela had also been a canvasser for Gozo’s first Labour minister, Anton Refalo.