Commissioner for Standards in Public Life Joe Azzopardi will not divulge the names of other public officials who, according to him, are using their official publicly paid vehicles for holidays abroad.
In his report on Parliamentary Secretary Chris Bonnet who The Shift revealed, took a family holiday to Sicily in his official ministerial car last year, the Standards Commissioner noted that while Bonnet’s action was not a good practice and may not be ethical despite the absence of rules, he stated that others are doing the same.
“It is a known fact that there are other officials that have used their official cars to go abroad,” Commissioner Azzopardi wrote.
So far, it is only Chris Bonnet who has been exposed for using his ministerial car for personal overseas trips and The Shift is not informed that any other of his cabinet colleagues have done the same.
Asked to specify to whom he was referring and to name other ministers or public officials who have also made abusive use of their official vehicles, the Commissioner refrained from naming and shaming.
“The Commissioner has nothing to add to his report,” his spokesperson told The Shift.
“However, he would like to emphasise the need for guidelines on the use of official cars for private purposes and the need for these guidelines to be made public,” the spokesman said.
The Finance Ministry, which is meant to ensure that public funds are being put to good use, admitted that although rules have been introduced on the use of official cars, these exclude their use abroad.
According to Finance Ministry Permanent Secretary Paul Zahra, “The Ministry never issued any instructions on the use of official cars abroad.”
Who gets a vehicle like Bonnet?
Ministers and parliamentary secretaries are given a fully expensed car and a driver to use for official business. Unlike cars given to other government officials such as top civil servants, ministers and parliamentary secretaries do not have their monthly fuel usage capped and have all expenses paid including insurance, service, and maintenance.
The rules were written assuming that such official cars are to be used in Malta.
Up to 2013, ministerial cars were only to be used for ministerial duties but that rule was regularly broken by some, who would be seen being driven around to party activities or for constituency work.
Ministers were also given a second car for their personal use.
The latter practice was revamped as soon as disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat took office. The second car was removed and ministers were allowed to use their official vehicles for their personal requirements. This was done for Muscat’s cabinet members to be able to pocket the second car allowance.
Making ethics even looser, Muscat also rented his own car to the government and earned thousands of euros a year for using his personal Alfa Romeo as the Prime Minister’s official vehicle.
But none of Muscat’s ministers had ever been reported for using their ministerial vehicles for holidays abroad.
Who paid for Bonnet’s fuel?
The Shift reported how last November, after barely a few months of being in office, Bonnet took his family to Sicily with his official ministerial BMW.
Instead of hiring a car to tour Sicily like other holidaymakers, Bonnet spent three days driving around the island in his official state-provided vehicle.
Bonnet, however, has so far refused to provide proof that he footed the holiday’s fuel cost.
Asked once again to explain whether he paid for the holiday’s fuel costs or if the cost was footed by taxpayers, the Parliamentary Secretary did not reply.