Malta’s part-time prime minister is on holiday again. Not on his yacht, but your dime. Get ready, New York — Bobby’s in town.
The EU’s smallest country is well known for punching above its weight. Ok, yes, that’s for political corruption, but Malta also has the EU’s largest parliament per 100,000 inhabitants, backed by an army of hand-picked expert persons of trust.
How could you expect a nation of this stature to attend the UN General Assembly with anything less than an entourage?
According to The Times of Malta, Robert Abela is painting the town dollar-green with 30 of his most important staffers, family members and a three-person film crew.
And that’s just the lot who flew over from Malta. He’s also got six locally-based Maltese officials to draw on — six people whose salaries and expenses you’re already paying for full-time in New York.
Putting everyone up in five-star hotels is a bold statement of confidence in the Maltese economy when the rest of the EU is free-falling into recession, and German industrial giants are filing for bankruptcy. I guess the Finance Minister’s order to find €200 million in cost cuts doesn’t apply to the OPM.
Why do they need a three-person film crew when they’re already bringing an OPM videographer and Abela’s personal photographer?
That’s a good question. Ayrton Bonnici’s crew is specifically tasked with gathering materials to commemorate Malta’s uncontested ‘election’ to a rotating two-year seat on the Security Council.
Foreign Minister Ian Borg interpreted the 97.3% vote margin as “a strong mandate” for Malta. Two seats were allocated to Europe with two countries competing for them, and the only choice on the ballot was ‘yes’ or ‘abstain’. There isn’t an option for voting ‘no’.
But let’s cut Borg some slack. He has difficulty telling a hole from a hole and tends to dig himself into them with great regularity.
Anyway, I’m sure Ayrton Bonnici will make them all look really really important. The media agency owned by the 25-year-old Labour Party activist paid for 44% of Finance Minister Clyde Caruana’s electoral campaign.
Perhaps the group’s boring old Information Office photographer who also went along can act as his tripod sherpa.
According to the official schedule, Robert Abela would speak before the General Assembly on Thursday.
Another task on his list was to address the Transforming Education Summit. He strode to the podium and made a three-minute speech, at the end of which he assured his fellow delegates that “as an elected and proud member of the Security Council”, Malta would prioritise literacy.
He might want to begin a little closer to home. According to the European Commission’s 2022 country report on Malta, its percentage of underachieving pupils is “above the EU average across the entire socio-economic distribution” in an “education and training system [that] struggles with ensuring quality of education and effectiveness of spending.”
The Prime Minister also met with the LGBTI Core Group, where he “reaffirmed that Malta will be hosting next year’s EuroPride from 7 – 17 September, ” which I’m sure he could have told them by email.
When he’s not discussing crucial “bilateral and multilateral ties” with the president of Yemen, he’ll take time out for a meet and greet with New York’s Maltese community, alongside Chris Fearne “and delegation”.
Lucky them. There are lots of Canadians living in Berlin, but we’re never invited for free Timmie’s and butter tarts when the prime minister comes to town, despite being eligible to vote.
In other important diplomatic news, Ian Borg shook a lot of hands with the heads of small countries and reassured the People’s Republic of China that “Malta firmly adheres to the one-China policy and believes that Taiwan is part of China.” With any luck, his brown-nosing will get you some ‘free’ Belt and Road funding.
And even if not, he did get a lot of photos for Twitter. In addition to a press assistant, chief of staff and another unspecified “officer”, Borg travels with his own personal photographer.
Malta’s other VIP delegates were equally determined to put your tax money to work.
Health Minister Chris Fearne was scheduled to attend a one-hour meeting on antimicrobial resistance, backed by his own two-person entourage.
And the First Lady of Abelastan attended a fashion event hosted by Fashion 4 Development, where she “spoke during an interview in Park Avenue in New York” on the themes of “the social and environment”.
This was, in actual fact, a 30-second corner of the room comment filmed by TVM, Malta’s taxpayer-funded public broadcaster, who sent a crew to New York to follow “a number of activities”.
Mrs Abela also attended a brunch hosted by the wife of Ukraine’s president, who spoke about the Russian invasion. “I could better experience the suffering that the people of Ukraine are passing through,” she said, “and I was truly left speechless.” She could have heard much more harrowing stories by meeting with Ukrainian refugees in Malta, but that wouldn’t involve a trip to New York.
Finally, no one’s quite sure why backbench MP Michael Farrugia went along for the ride. He posted a vague statement on Facebook saying, “a busy day for me with active participation in several meetings outside the plenary, apart from attending the plenary as part of the delegation led by the prime minister”.
The accompanying photos show him gazing wistfully at Robert Abela as they take a walk along the East River.
But you can rest assured all was not empty speeches and self-promoting glamour shots. Who’d spend so much public money on that?