Tista’ taqra dan l-artiklu bil-Malti
A Housing Authority scheme created to help disadvantaged families deal with rent law changes has turned into another opportunity for the government to fork out hundreds of thousands of euros in extra income for relatives of cabinet members, friends and canvassers.
The main point of distribution of the new taxpayer-funded honeypot is Minister Roderick Galdes, who is responsible for the Housing Authority and has ensured that some of his closest ‘canvassers’ got the chance to receive an extra €10,000 a year for being legal service providers for the Authority.
An analysis of a list of direct orders awarded by the Housing Authority over the first half of the year shows that a total of 24 lawyers, mostly young and inexperienced, have been put on the so-called ‘pre-95 list’.
The Housing Authority’s ‘legal aid’ service was introduced so families renting out properties and facing legal challenges from their tenants over the amount of the lease to be paid are provided with free-of-charge legal assistance.
Sources at the Authority told The Shift that although officially, a public call was made for lawyers to provide the service, in almost 80% of the cases the final selection was made after recommendations were received ‘from above’.
Apart from the lawyer-relatives of various ministers, including the prime minister himself, the list also contains dual roles for some lawyers.
In most cases, the lawyers selected for the scheme by the Housing Authority are already receiving other remunerations through appointments and government jobs given to them over the past years.
At least three of the lawyers selected are direct relatives of cabinet members.
The Prime Minister Robert Abela’s brother-in-law, Albert Zerafa, for example, was one of the first selected for the €10,000 bonanza. This comes in addition to his other taxpayer-funded role as Board Secretary of Malta Government Technology Investments Ltd, which also falls within the Office of the Prime Minister’s remit.
Charlene Grima, Education Minister Clifton Grima’s sister, also earns a double whammy from the Authority. Apart from being included in the ‘lawyers’ list’, she was also awarded an additional €10,000 during the same semester for acting as secretary to the Board of the Private Residential Leases Act.
Grima was also appointed by another ministry to serve on the national cyber security steering committee, where she is earning yet another salary.
Alexia Farrugia Zrinzo, the sister of Public Works Minister Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi, is also ‘serving’ the Housing Authority for a €10,000 annual pay package. The minister’s sister has received various government handouts over the past years, including those dished out by her brother when he was parliamentary secretary within the Office of the Prime Minister.
The same legal firm where Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi was a partner also receives direct orders from the Malta Gaming Authority and was mentioned in court various times in ongoing cases connected to the C-Planet data breach and the illegal release of personal details of thousands of people on the Electoral Register. The data was allegedly ‘leaked’ from the Labour Party during Zrinzo Azzopardi’s time as the party’s president.
A junior lawyer employed by Farrugia Zrinzo’s law firm, Leon Camilleri, was also on the list of those selected to provide the legal service for the Authority.
In a clear case of direct conflict of interest, young Qormi lawyer Alicia Borg, the Housing Authority’s board secretary, was also included on the ‘Pre-95’ lawyers list despite her other role at the Authority.
Borg, a known canvasser of Minister Galdes, spent the last elections boosting the minister’s public profile with social media posts. Galdes also selected her to act as secretary to the Authority’s board.
Other lawyers selected to provide the services to the Housing Authority include Yanica Barbara Sant and her husband Thomas, both from Qormi. Barbara made headlines a few years ago when she was given a lawyer’s warrant despite having a criminal record.
The host of lawyers also includes Dianne Galea, from Qormi, who also represents the Labour Party on the Electoral Commission; Joey Reno Vella, a member of the JobsPlus board; Elaine De Giorgio, a government employee Labour Party activist from Paola; Ingrid Zammit Young, who following the government’s failed attempts to make her a magistrate was employed at the Health Ministry; and Rachel Powell, a ‘canvasser’ of Minister Ian Borg who was recruited at Infrastructure Malta.
In total, the legal service will be costing taxpayers some €240,000 a year.