Jeffrey Curmi, the former brigadier now CEO at Transport Malta on a package of €115,000, knows how to milk the system; but he’s decreed TM’s 1000+ employees should get no more free milk with their tea and coffee.
It’s all about socially responsible savings, you know. With public debt about to surpass the €9 billion mark, the finance minister needs to cut expenditure by €200 million.
Clyde Caruana says he still needs to identify where €100 million are to come from. Even a few hundred euros a year, which is what the milk costs, will make a difference. Yes, right.
You’d think they’d begin with the Cream Team and the Gravy Train, not the milk.
Among the crème de la crème of Tagħna Lkoll are 14 CEOs earning over €100,000. They include Kurt Farrugia, running Malta Enterprise, on a package of €180,000 and who, last year, issued direct orders totalling €1 million.
There’s Jonathan Cardona (€146,000), who’s following the smashing success he made of the cash-for-passports scheme with a fantastic job at Enemalta, which hasn’t published its accounts in four years and is said to be hiding losses of tens of millions of euros.
Will Enemalta be asking for the money it lost in the Montenegro wind farm scam? Or for the €5 million bill it “absorbed”, which should have been paid by the Electrogas consortium? Will it continue to have Konrad Mizzi’s childhood friend, David Galea, on its consultants’ list? In Mizzi’s time, Galea was on a €12,000 monthly retainer.
The Cream Team includes Carmen Ciantar (€163,000), the health minister’s lead canvasser who also heads the Foundation for Medical Services. By 2024, Ciantar will have pocketed €700,000 of taxpayer money. The Auditor General found her contract “irregular” — will the finance minister be revisiting its terms?
Don’t hold your breath. The public debt didn’t begin to soar to dangerous levels yesterday. Up to a few months ago, the government was issuing cheques to everyone and making promises to Air Malta employees that, it now says, will not be honoured.
Caruana is still making exceptions for the passengers on the gravy train. Ian Borg has his own personal photographer, hired at three times the normal rate, on a full-time basis — an unprecedented arrangement signed off by the foreign ministry’s permanent secretary.
Last year, when rumblings about the public debt were already loud, the Labour operative Nigel Vella was recruited by Malta Enterprise, on a package of €55,000, but he’s never worked a day there. He promptly went on leave, with the right to return under any government. It’s good to know that Kurt Farrugia’s €180,000 package is giving us value for money.
Since the general elections, Air Malta employees have been uncertain about their future, even though they have indefinite contracts and a signed assurance from the government that they could retain their pay packages elsewhere in public service.
Labour propagandist Karl Stagno Navarra, however, is secure. He was rarely seen around the office; his definite contract ended this summer. But he’s been transferred to the OHSA. The only question is whether he’s retained his package of €45,000.
I wouldn’t wager that Caruana’s savings will come from cutting any gravy train allowances, which so far have routinely been approved without too many questions asked.
Expect the cuts to come from elsewhere. The University of Malta has had €1.1 million cut from its budget. Given its fixed costs, that cut is likely to bite into research money.
To give some sense of proportion, in 2020, the then education minister, Owen Bonnici, made a PR meal of the news that UM was getting an extra €600,000 for research.
And so he should have. The research had direct benefits for the economy, energy and welfare: robots to help the elderly, storage devices for offshore wind farms, a cure for motor neurone disease and early detection of regional earthquakes.
When money is cut from such research, it’s not just the researchers who suffer. It’s the reputation of the university and the CV of the students who attend it. It’s your life in old age, it’s jobs and the environment.
The cuts are double the size of the funds that Bonnici boasted of in 2020. Knowing this was on the horizon, the government still spent at least €1.3 million on Film Week (the actual cost is still secret), whose Film Awards were boycotted by leading players in the industry.
Oh, but what’s €1.3 million? The Film Commissioner Johann Grech blew off €600,000 on travel and accommodation alone.
Labour’s electoral programme makes over a dozen promises to fund research, including commitments to attract researchers from abroad. We’ll see how many of those promises to fund multiple new centres will be kept.
Hopefully, it won’t just be the research mentioned in Pledge 366 — “research” on turtle-dove bird routes that draws on hunters’ participation. Or the kind of “research” funded by Heritage Malta — when it authorised a restaurant on a prime site in Mdina, in peak season, at the bargain basement rate of €50 per day — in the name of “market research”.
Back to the finance minister’s missing €100 million. Where can he get them from?
If only Caruana could travel back in time. There’s the €40 million in excise tax that the Electrogas consortium was told it didn’t have to pay — coincidentally, 11 days after Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination.
Maybe Caruana can renege — as he’s done with Air Malta employees — on another agreement with Electrogas: that the €84 million payout (after the gas pipeline comes into effect) will be tax-free. And that the €30 million to be paid to acquire the concern will not, after all, be VAT-free tax deductible.
He could insist Steward Health Care pay the €37 million owed in VAT as well as the millions owed in social security contributions. And maybe he could stop paying hand over fist for a contract that has not been honoured. By the end of 2021, we had already paid €230 million — all the budget cuts needed and then some.
Will Caruana do any of this? He can’t. The interests of the gang in government are in conflict with the national interest. So far, it looks like he first looks after the gang.
Until that changes, it’s cream for them. The rest of us get creamed.