Parliamentary Secretary for European Funds Chris Bonett, who The Shift recently exposed as having taken a family holiday to Sicily with his government-paid vehicle, is refusing to provide evidence that he paid for any of the trip’s costs.
Bonett this week refused to answer The Shift’s request for copies of invoices pertaining to the holiday’s catamaran trip and fuel consumption.
This is the second round of questions from The Shift that Bonett has not answered, the first having been a set of questions sent to him before the publication of The Shift’s first story.
In the wake of that story, the junior minister responsible for EU funds attempted to ridicule the media, as well as independent politician Arnold Cassola, who asked the Standards Commissioner to open an investigation by telling them to “check the rules”.
Speaking to the media earlier this week, Bonett admitted, as reported by The Shift, that he used his official car to take a family holiday abroad – an unprecedented occurrence – but insisted he had done nothing wrong.
“I look forward to the Standards Commissioner’s investigation (a position the Prime Minister is currently keeping vacant) as I’ve done nothing wrong,” he told journalists.
Taking a sarcastic dig at The Shift for exposing his actions, Bonett answered journalists’ questions put to him at a press event by inviting them to “check the rules, the code of ethics and manuals before writing.”
The Shift did check all the rules, codes and manuals before the publication of the story – facts that other media outlets should have checked before running a story allowing the parliamentary secretary to claim headlines dismissing the abuse without a clear explanation.
The ‘Manual on the Transport and Travel Procedures’ issued by the Office of the Prime Minister for the public service at large precludes the use of official cars when not on official business.
The manual also obliges ministers and parliamentary secretaries to obtain approval through the Cabinet office in the case of overseas travel. The Shift is informed that Bonett had no such authorisation.
Research also shows that apart from the basic ethics all politicians are obliged to follow without the need for manuals – including not using public funds for personal enjoyment or gain – Bonett appears to be in breach of the ministerial code of ethics on several counts.
The code states that parliamentary secretaries “shall act and behave according to standards of the highest level both on a personal basis and in the performance of their constitutional duties.”
It also states that members of Cabinet “shall ensure that there is no conflict of interest between their public duties and personal interests”, “should not be motivated by a spirit of gain for himself, his family and friends”, “shall exercise the highest level of diligence including in the expenditure of public funds” and “shall be transparent in their operations and open to the necessary scrutiny”.
The parliamentary secretary has been in office only a few months, but he has already made a name for himself for the wrong reasons.
In 2017, when he was employed as a person of trust with then-Parliamentary Secretary (now Minister) Clifton Grima, Bonett broke procurement rules when, as acting SportMalta CEO, he approved some €14 million in direct orders for the construction of a new shooting range in Ta’ Kandja.
The National Audit Office condemned his actions. The list of direct order beneficiaries included the Bonnici Group, a client of the private legal office of Prime Minister Robert Abela and his wife.
Sometime later, Clifton Grima terminated Bonett’s ministry consultancy contract. Prime Minister Robert Abela, however, intervened and placed Bonett on the payroll of then Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia and backed him to contest the general election in the Fourth District in a direct challenge to Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne.