Prime Minister Robert Abela is yet to pronounce himself on the glaring conflict of interest with his lands minister’s wife opening a property development business, and his office is ignoring questions on the state of affairs recently revealed by The Shift.
This newsroom is informed that Lands Minister Silvio Schembri did not even inform Abela about his wife’s new property business as required by the ministerial code of ethics. The Prime Minister learned of it only when the minister submitted his declaration of assets.
According to the ministerial code of ethics, Cabinet ministers are to avoid any business related to their ministerial portfolio that would present a potential conflict of interest. This also applies to the minister’s family.
The code also states that if there is any doubt about whether their private interests constitute a potential conflict, ministers are to consult the Prime Minister, whose decision is final.
The minister did not reply to questions on whether he had consulted the Prime Minster about his wife’s new property development business.
On his part, the Prime Minister refuses to comment on the evolving story, first revealed by The Shift, and questions sent to his spokesperson Edward Montebello have not been answered.
The Shift revealed how the Lands Minister’s wife, Deandra Schembri, last year set up a property development business – DZF Ltd dealing in property speculation, including the acquisition of plots and their excavation and development. Deandra is also the chief legal officer at the Malta Business Registry, which is also part of her husband’s portfolio.
The new business venture was formed while her husband was politically responsible for both the Lands Authority, which administers all government property, and INDIS Malta, which is responsible for government industrial property.
These authorities deal with property developers and contractors who seek to acquire the use of government property for private development at the most advantageous prices and conditions possible.
Schembri has already been involved in government property scandals.
Among the most controversial recent decisions was the sale of a massive plot of public land in Mellieħa to Paul Attard, known for his involvement in GAP Holdings, as well as the sale of a public alley in St George’s Bay to Anton Camilleri, known as tal-Franċiz.
Also controversial was the allocation of a large industrial plot meant for manufacturing to JS Dimech to turn it into space to be rented to third parties.
In the case of Attard and Camilleri, The Shift has revealed that Minister Schembri is occupying properties built by the developers as his constituency offices respectively, in Luqa and Siġġiewi.
Following The Shift’s revelations, Schembri told The Times last April that he pays rent for the offices and would present documents to prove it. But the minister has not responded to The Shift’s requests for such documentation.