Economy Minister Silvio Schembri has taken full control of the Lands Authority despite the fact that the authority is meant to be managed at arm’s length from the government.
In a move that Lands Authority officials told The Shift was unprecedented, Schembri has installed his own Chief of Staff, Roberta Albanese Dalli, as the LA’s Board Secretary.
“This means that the minister, through his most trusted person at the ministry, has now acquired full and direct control over the Authority’s functions including the setting of the Board’s agenda and direct access to the authority’s databases, negotiations and contracts,” LA officials told The Shift.
They added that this is in addition to the minister’s direct interventions with Board Chairman John Vassallo and CEO Robert Vella when it comes to the recruitment of personnel by the authority, which has been filled to the brim with constituents from Schembri’s electoral districts.
Roberta Albanese Dalli, a 34-year-old from Zurrieq, has been working for Schembri for several years, since he was a parliamentary secretary. Last February she was promoted to Chief of Staff, the most trusted person in a minister’s secretariat.
Over and above her salary, which reaches some €50,000 per annum for what is supposed to be an around-the-clock job for the ministry, an unspecified €2,000 “additional allowance” is also included. Albanese Dalli has meanwhile also been appointed as a member of the Malta Space Task Force Board, an appointment that was followed by this most recent LA appointment.
Albanese Dalli had already made headlines a few months back when The Shift reported how she recruited her brother’s girlfriend, Yanika Abela, for a Lands Authority senior management position.
Abela, who is still in her 20s, graduated just a few weeks before her recruitment to the LA. Her father, Jesmond Abela, known as Il-Hutch, is a staunch Labour canvasser and had been given a job at another government entity, Projects Malta – now renamed to Malta Strategic Partnership Projects Ltd – but he is rarely seen at his place of work.
When asked about this gross conflict of interest, Silvio Schembri defended his Chief of Staff, stating that the LA conducts its business “independently” from the ministry.
The LA is considered to be one the most graft-ridden government authorities with a total lack of transparency and accountability. It administers government land and is regularly involved in multi-million-euro deals with the private sector and individuals.
Some of its staff members, recruited by Labour ministers, have been involved in various scandals, including Clint Scerri, Matthew Zammit and, more recently, Kurt Buhagiar – the driver of CEO Robert Vella who has been implicated in the latest building collapse in Kordin, which claimed the life of a 20-year-old employee.