The prospect that the Foreign Affairs Ministry will decrease its spending and cut extravagance as part of an ongoing government effort to stem the spiralling of national debt appears to be slim as direct orders have increased exponentially with the arrival of Ian Borg at Palazzo Parisio.
The latest information on direct orders dished out by the Foreign Affairs Ministry during the first six months of the year shows hundreds of thousands spent on direct orders, with a few suppliers and ministry officials benefitting from taxpayer handouts, luxury travel and five-star overseas accommodation.
The direct orders listed in the Government Gazette show the Foreign Affairs Ministry indulged in a €26,000 direct order to purchase ‘themed’ men’s ties, women’s scarves and bags to use as merchandise for Malta’s – uncontested – UN candidacy. Malta was the only country vying for the seat.
The order went to designers Charles & Ron, known to be close to the Labour Party, particularly the wife of disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat.
Yet what the ministry spent on scarves and ties pales in comparison to the amount spent on travel arrangements for the minister and his delegation for the occasion.
While other governments, including some in the EU, such as Ireland, are implementing cost-cutting measures in preparation for an expected recession and making it a point to fly their politicians economy class rather than business or first class, Ian Borg’s secretariat does not seem too preoccupied with such issues.
Before flying to New York to attend Malta’s ceremonial UN election, Ian Borg, accompanied by Ray Attard, his personal photographer employed through another direct order, flew via Brazil to look at Malta’s new embassy in South America.
One-way business class travel for Borg’s delegation cost taxpayers almost €23,000, while another €32,000 were spent on flights from Brazil to New York and back to Malta, totalling €55,000. These exclude thousands spent in five-star hotels and other related expenses.
A few months earlier, the Foreign Ministry decided to fly a handful of Maltese diplomats posted in Australia in business class to cast their vote in last general elections held in Malta in March.
Taxpayers had to fork out a staggering €32,000 for flight tickets for Malta’s High Commissioner in Canberra, former Labour candidate Mario Borg, and the island’s consul generals in Melbourne and Sydney.
Some decided to make a holiday out of it, with the Melbourne consul flying back only on 19 April, a full month after he arrived in Malta to cast his vote.
Other lavish direct orders issued by Ian Borg just a few weeks after becoming Foreign Affairs Minister include the hiring of his new ministerial car through a lease agreement with Gauci Automobiles of Birkirkara.
The car will cost €64,000 for five years, or more than €1,000 monthly.
Ian Borg also had no issue renewing an €18,200 contract given to Alex Sciberras Trigona to serve as Malta’s ‘Thematic Ambassador’ to the World Trade Organization.
This post for the 72-year-old notary, Foreign Affairs Minister in the Dom Mintoff era, was given to Sciberras Trigona by disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat.
Sciberras Trigona already receives a state pension reserved for former members of Cabinet and MPs.