Revolving doors: public officials who went on to serve big business

Following the move of the finance ministry's permanent secretary to the Corinthia Group, The Shift takes a look at other recent high profile cases of revolving doors

 

In a move that has raised eyebrows, former finance ministry permanent secretary Alfred Camilleri will be taking on the role of non-executive director of two Corinthia Group companies, CPHCL Finance plc and Mediterranean Investments Holdings plc.

The former permanent secretary joins a long list of individuals who formerly held influential government positions and then joined forces with prominent businessmen, a practice which is, to a very limited extent, regulated by the Public Administration Act.

The Act prohibits former public sector employees who held roles as either regulators or inspectors from taking up work with companies they have directly dealt with during the last five years of their time in the public service.

Despite the tighter rules around the practice, the fact is that there are no specific legislative prohibitions for officials who formerly held executive public sector roles, leaving the door wide open for potential abuse.

Camilleri, who held the top position at the finance ministry for 16 years during both Nationalist and Labour administrations before his resignation, assumed his new role on 4 August.

He will be working within the same group of companies that this year also appointed Richard Cachia Caruana – Eddie Fenech Adami’s chief-of-staff, Malta’s EU accession negotiator and former ambassador to the European Union – as an independent director. Unlike Camilleri, Cachia Caruana has not occupied a public role since 2012.

The Shift’s investigations had shown that Corinthia Group’s acquisition of Ħal Ferħ, a rural area that was once the site of a low-lying tourism complex, cost the group just €1.3 million, a far cry from the government’s claim that the land was sold off for €10.3 million. The Group demolished the complex before a planning permit had even been issued.

At least four other high-profile government officials have also recently joined the private sector right after resigning from their public posts.

In April, Fredrick Azzopardi resigned from his position as CEO of Infrastructure Malta, the agency responsible for the country’s infrastructural projects.

A few days after his resignation was announced, Azzopardi had refused to confirm or deny reports that he had been hired as the CEO of James Caterers. The Shift’s sources have since confirmed the appointment.

James Caterers Ltd falls under the umbrella of JCL Holdings Ltd, which is solely owned by James Barbara. Besides being one of the major food manufacturers on the island, the company also holds interests in the construction and healthcare sectors.

Former economy, investment and small business minister Chris Cardona, who resigned from his role as deputy leader of the Labour Party in 2019, joined luxury credit card company Insignia right after quitting politics.

Insignia,  a membership-only credit card services provider for high net worth individuals, was fined €373,670 by the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU) in 2020 over anti-money laundering failures.

The former CEO of the Labour Party and of the Lands Authority, James Piscopo, meanwhile, joined the Fortina Group, which owns Captain Morgan and holds the exclusive public concession for the Grand Harbour ferry transport service, shortly after he had resigned from the public sector.

Prior to his stint as the Lands Authority CEO, Piscopo was also the CEO of Transport Malta. Today, he serves as the Fortina Group’s advisor, a position the group of companies had also refused to confirm or deny.

During Piscopo’s time at the Lands Authority, the group had haggled extensively with the authority over its request to lift restrictions on the site limiting it to tourism purposes. It is to now be redeveloped as a real estate project after parliament cleared the way for the development and lifted the restriction against an €8.1 million payment.

Piscopo had resigned following allegations made by Joseph Muscat’s disgraced former chief of staff, Keith Schembri. Schembri had claimed that Piscopo was taking kickbacks for roadworks projects.

Another example is lawyer Charlon Gouder, who also serves as the CEO of the Maltese Federation of Aquaculture Producers. Gouder is a former Labour Party journalist and serves as advisor and consultant to various ministries. He is also one of the government lawyers who is being paid, from taxpayer money, to file more than 40 lawsuits against The Shift News in an ongoing battle against this portal’s right to access information in the public interest.

Gouder joined the aquaculture lobby shortly after tendering his resignation from his role as policy advisor to then-environment minister Jose’ Herrera. At the time, the fisheries sector was entirely regulated by the environment ministry.

                           
                               
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Matthias Wille
Matthias Wille
1 month ago

Despite the tighter rules around the practice, the fact is that there are no specific legislative prohibitions for officials who formerly held executive public sector roles, leaving the door wide open for potential abuse.

“potential” abuse?

Like ex PM Joseph Muscat taking consultancy jobs from Vitals via a specifically constructed set of off-shore companies? Nothing potential here, it is very very real, and there is no door, it is gate large enough to let a containership (full of money) path right through it.

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