It seems Prime Minister Robert Abela did not lie in Parliament when he recently said his predecessor Joseph Muscat’s severance package did not include the two state-funded drivers that his wife Michelle still uses to this very day.
But he was, perhaps, more than a little economical with the truth.
That is because, according to statements made by an anonymous whistleblower complaint currently being treated by the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, the arrangement was made by Muscat himself back when he was in office.
According to new details of the complaint seen by The Shift, the two drivers are government-salaried employees who were seconded from the public service to the Marigold Foundation, which is chaired by Michelle Muscat.
The Shift is also informed the complaint alleges that the deployment of the two workers as Michelle Muscat’s chauffeurs – a 60-year-old father of a high-ranking aide of a minister and a 55-year-old from Fgura – was orchestrated by high-ups within the Cleansing and Maintenance Division, which is still paying their salaries, overtime and allowances included.
It is the same government department that Minister Owen Bonnici would send on a nightly basis to clear the memorial in Valletta’s Great Siege Square of tributes, flowers and candles placed by well-wishers for slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia until the practice was stopped by a court ruling.
The Shift is withholding the publication of the drivers’ names and the individuals at the Cleansing and Maintenance Division who orchestrated and continue to support the abuse of public funds with a view to allowing the institutions to do their work.
According to documents seen by The Shift, the arrangements were made after the 2013 general elections that swept Labour to a landslide electoral victory and during Joseph Muscat’s time at the country’s helm.
As such, Michelle Muscat’s state-funded chauffeurs do not form part of the generous severance package her husband negotiated when he stepped down in January 2020, but, rather, a vestige from his time in power that the state has no business funding.
At the end of April, independent politician Arnold Cassola requested Standards Commissioner Joseph Azzopardi to investigate the matter of the drivers’ employment.
The Marigold Foundation was established in February 2014 as ‘The Marigold Foundation – BOV in the Community’. BOV says she was involved as the charity’s co-founder since its inception.
But in 2019, Michelle Muscat was effectively handed control of the Foundation through an amendment to the deed setting up BOV’s foundation worth €700,000 in net assets, according to the organisation’s accounts.
The Shift revealed that she took control of the Foundation for the token sum of €100, and amendments to the founding deed have provided that, as chairperson, she needs to agree on her own removal.
The Foundation’s most recent accounts show it spent half of its donations on events and adverts.
Abela playing with words in parliament
Prime Minister Abela told Parliament that, as part of his predecessor’s severance package, the Muscats were also given the use of a second car but that the services of a driver were not included.
That point has been disputed since, but according to the whistleblower’s information, the drivers had been seconded to the Marigold Foundation years before Muscat stepped down in January 2020.
After resisting for months, Abela gave details of Muscat’s severance package to Parliament, which showed he has been afforded the service of a public official and has retained his diplomatic passport as part of his severance package following his resignation in January 2020.
The package, approved in December 2019 at the height of public protests against his administration, includes unspecified “other protocol facilities” with the diplomatic passport.
Muscat also enjoys the use of a paid car and driver – which The Shift recently revealed costs the taxpayer €75,000 for its five-year lease – and the “use of a second car”, which is presumably that of his wife Michelle.
The disgraced former prime minister is also provided with two landlines and an internet connection, a computer with a printer and scanner and his mobile phone expenses are covered up to a maximum of € 2,330 per year.
The scheme pays former cabinet members a terminal benefit equivalent to either a month’s salary for each year they served in cabinet or a minimum of a six-month salary.
It has been changed twice since it was introduced by a Nationalist government in 2012 and secretly once again by Muscat before he resigned and for his imminent personal gain.