The high cost of keeping government MPs happy

With Labour enjoying an unprecedented majority in Parliament, the taxpayer is footing a hefty bill to keep government MPs happy 

jurgen
Jurgen Balzan
28 October 2014, 7:30am
The 39 Labour MPs are costing the taxpayer more than €1.6 million a year, a substantial increase of €472,439 when compared to the previous Nationalist parliamentary group in 2012.
The 39 Labour MPs are costing the taxpayer more than €1.6 million a year, a substantial increase of €472,439 when compared to the previous Nationalist parliamentary group in 2012.
*Debono Grech was previously recruited as a consultant with the Gozo ministry with a salary of just under €12,000, however he has recently relinquished the position.

The 39 Labour MPs are costing the taxpayer more than €1.6 million a year, a substantial increase of €472,439 when compared to the previous Nationalist parliamentary group in 2012.

A MaltaToday comparison of salaries paid in 2012 and those that are expected to be paid in 2014, shows that the Labour parliamentary group is 30% costlier than the previous government MPs.

The 35 Nationalist MPs in the last full calendar year of the Gonzi administration earned €1,135,710 between them, which worked out at €32,450 per head.

This year, the Labour MPs will each be earning an average €8,778 more than their predecessors on the government benches, apart from different perks which go with the job, such as a car, or car and chauffeur, or/and free internet and telephone services.

This week’s confirmation that Labour MP Carmelo Abela is earning a €30,000 salary for his role as “government spokesperson”, over and above his €30,906 parliamentary honorarium reignited criticism of costly government appointments.

This year, MPs will receive a salary of €20,604 for their part-time Parliamentary work – 50% of the 2014 Scale 1 annual salary – however an unprecedented number of backbenchers have been given political appointments and a hefty wage increase.

Backbenchers are not normally given political appointments; however, during the turbulent years which bedevilled the previous Nationalist administration, former Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi had appointed nine parliamentary assistants in a bid to appease the rebels within his party.

This move had come at the height of internal strife within the PN which threatened Gonzi’s razor-thin one-seat majority and the then Labour opposition had lambasted the appointments which cost the taxpayer €175,119 in 2012 alone.

Former MP Franco Debono was among the nine parliamentary assistants who accepted a promotion in March 2010, while fellow PN rebel MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando was appointed chairman of the Malta Council for Science and Technology.

Debono, who brought the Gonzi administration down in December 2012 and under Labour now serves as chairman of the Law Commission, received €6,600 for his then job as chairman of the House Committee for the Consolidation and Recodification of Laws, over and above the €25,017 parliamentary assistant salary he earned.

On his part, Pullicino Orlando, received €13,000 a year as chairman of the Malta Council for Science and Technology, a role which he still occupies today.

However, not all PN backbenchers were appointed as parliamentary assistants and a number of MPs chose to keep their chairmanship of parliamentary committees, a role which, according to Parliamentary rules, must be occupied by government MPs.

Moreover, Joe Falzon, the government’s representative on the Malta Environment and Planning Authority board, had also retained his role at the authority.

Lawrence Gonzi had gone to great lengths to defend his decision and argued that by assigning MPs to ministries the government became more “efficient” and MPs gave a bigger contribution.

Moving MPs closer to the people

Despite all the criticism of Gonzi’s decision to appoint parliamentary assistants and increase the ministerial honoraria at the height of the global economic crisis in May 2008, upon becoming Prime Minister Joseph Muscat went one step further and currently all but four of government MPs receive a remuneration over and above their MP’s salary.

Following last year’s general election, Muscat had described the appointment of parliamentary assistants by his predecessor as a “waste of time” and defended the appointment of MPs to government boards as a move to “bring Parliament closer to the people.”

While the ministerial code of ethics stipulates that Cabinet members must stop practising their private professions, many Labour backbenchers have ended in a better financial position than ministers and parliamentary secretaries because they can still practise their profession while earning two or three extra salaries.

With an unprecedented majority of nine seats, Muscat went on to appoint a large Cabinet, with the executive currently consisting of 14 ministers and eight parliamentary secretaries.

Furthermore, nine backbenchers were appointed to government boards or as consultants, with at least two of them being better paid than Muscat himself.

The Prime Minister’s salary is based on 125% of Salary Scale 1 and adding the €7,000 car allowance Muscat receives, his wage packet amounts to around €58,500.

Ministers have their salary set at 110% of Salary Scale 1 (€45,329) while parliamentary secretaries get €43,269.

But two Labour MPs – Silvio Schembri and Carmelo Abela – outdo Muscat and the rest of the ministers in monetary terms.

29-year-old Schembri is the government’s youngest MP and highest earner, with his wage packet hovering around the €65,000 mark thanks to his role as consultant to economy minister Chris Cardona and chair of the Parliamentary Economic and Financial Affairs committee.

Abela comes in second, thanks to the €30,000 salary for his role as “government spokesperson”, over and above his €30,906 parliamentary honorarium as government whip.

Other high earners on the government backbenches are former minister Charles Buhagiar and Mosta MP Anthony Agius Decelis.

Buhagiar, who served as Infrastructure Minister in Alfred Sant’s administration, earns more than current ministers despite being excluded from the Cabinet. Apart from managing a private architecture firm, the MP serves as chairman of the Building Industry Consultative Council, for which he earns €29,100. Moreover, Muscat has appointed Buhagiar as his consultant on large projects.

Buhagiar’s earnings reach at least €49,705 but his wage packet has never been determined since the Office of the Prime Minister has never divulged his salary as consultant, despite repeated questions by the opposition and the media.

Agius Decelis, an electrocardiographer by profession, is another backbencher who earns more than government ministers after being appointed as Commissioner against Bureaucracy, a full-time post previously occupied by parliamentary secretary Michal Falzon, earning an extra €30,000 a year over and above his MP and parliamentary committee chairman salary.

MP self-declared philanthropist Silvio Parnis’ salary is a mere €1,000 less than that of a parliamentary secretary since he is paid an extra €15,000 for chairing a council for the South of Malta and the Parliamentary Bills Committee.

Former Hamrun mayor Luciano Busuttil earns a handsome €44,880 for his role as MP, chairman of the European Affairs committee and his extra-parliamentary job as head of the Malta Sports Council.

Family doctor Deo Debattista also earns an extra €13,761 for his role as Occupational Health and Safety Authority chairman over and above his salary as MP and chairman of the European Cultural Capital parliamentary committee.

75-year-old Joe Debono Grech, who is the longest-serving MP in the current legislature, was previously recruited as a consultant with the Gozo ministry with a salary of just under €12,000, however he has recently relinquished the position.

Three other backbenchers, Etienne Grech, Marlene Farrugia and Deborah Schembri, serve as chairpersons of parliamentary committees, a role which is stipulated by parliamentary rules.

Apart from his MP salary, backbencher Joe Sammut receives a €2,577 remuneration for representing the government on the Malta Environment and Planning Authority.

Only four backbenchers do not have an extra-parliamentary role, including newly-elected European Commissioner Karmenu Vella, who has yet to give up his seat in parliament. The others are former Enemalta chairman Charles Mangion, who was only elected in April to replace Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca when she became Malta’s head of state, and former Cabinet members Godfrey Farrugia and Franco Mercieca who returned to the backbench and their medical professions after stepping down from the cabinet.

jurgen
Jurgen Balzan joined MaltaToday in 2011, specialising in politics, foreig...