Prime Minister Robert Abela’s Cabinet is being far less transparent and accountable than disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat’s when it comes to declaring their earnings and assets, research conducted by The Shift shows.
Abela also allowed his new justice minister, former Labour ONE News reporter Jonathan Attard, a lawyer who was already a member of parliament before he became justice minister in the new Cabinet, to breach the ministerial code of ethics.
Following the late publication of the ministerial declarations of assets for 2021 on Monday, just before the budget speech, The Shift reported that all new cabinet members omitted crucial information on their earnings, in a coordinated way, before joining the executive.
When the declarations were published, however, the mainstream media accepted the government line that the omissions were acceptable to the Office of the Prime Minister because of a “manual” they were given instructing them that they did not need to declare their assets in their first year in parliament. Yet this manual is only an annex to the original code of ethics.
That loophole allows new cabinet members who were not MPs before their appointments not to be obliged to declare their previous year’s income.
Justice minister in serious breach
Jonathan Attard, who Abela made justice minister last March, was already a member of parliament before his appointment, and as such, the OPM’s apparent waiver, even if accepted, did not apply to him. Attard became an MP in July 2021 during the previous legislature.
Yet he joined newcomers in hiding his previous income. This means the media and the public it serves will have no way of comparing his future declarations to the assets and income he had before becoming justice minister – throughout his tenure.
The prime minister and his spokesman Edward Montebello, another former reporter for the Labour Party’s propaganda TV outlet, declined to reply to questions asked by The Shift.
A look at the first declarations of assets presented to parliament by Joseph Muscat in 2013, when elected to power, shows all his cabinet members who had not been MPs before their appointments had declared their total annual income, even for the period in which they were not in politics.
These include former ministers Louis Grech, Manuel Mallia, Edward Scicluna, Konrad Mizzi, Godfrey Farrugia, Edward Zammit Lewis and Franco Mercieca.
Ministers Ian Borg and Chris Fearne, at the time parliamentary secretaries, also declared their total previous incomes even though they were appointed to cabinet after having been elected for the first time.
This latest frivolous treatment of transparency and accountability on the part of Abela’s new cabinet members follows the Prime Minister’s example.
Last year, when presenting his first declaration of assets as a member of Cabinet, Abela omitted income from the previous year, when he was already an MP, stating that certain earnings were “according to his tax declaration”, which is not easily available.
This year, when his income as prime minister was made public, he still hid additional income, which, it transpired, was about rental payments from two Russian passport buyers who were ‘living’ in his uninhabited ODZ farmhouse in Zejtun.
Instead of declaring that income, Abela merely wrote in his declaration form that it was “according to the T24 form”, which is used by every landlord to pay their 15% tax on rental income, and which is not publicly available.
According to the Constitution, the prime minister is responsible for all the actions of his Cabinet members, including the observance of rules and discipline.