Deborah Schembri passes through revolving door at Lands Authority

Former lands minister and consultant who led Lands Authority reform, are now working as lawyers for the regulator

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Matthew Vella
2 October 2017, 12:31pm
Robert Musumeci (left) and Deborah Schembri during the start of the public consultation on the Lands Authority reform
Robert Musumeci (left) and Deborah Schembri during the start of the public consultation on the Lands Authority reform
The former minister responsible for lands has been granted the faculty of passing through the revolving door of government.

Deborah Schembri, who was not re-elected to the House of Representatives in the last elections, was until June the parliamentary secretary responsible for lands.

But now, the new Lands Authority – which she helped form from the ashes of the discredited government property division – has employed her, its former political master, as a legal consultant.

The LA also appointed the government consultant who actually led the authority’s reform, architect and lawyer Robert Musumeci, as a lawyer to assist Schembri.

Both Schembri and Musumeci appeared for the Lands Authority earlier this week for a marathon session of some 47 cases before the Lands Arbitration Board.

The LAB is a tribunal for cases that deal with the expropriation of private land and property, to decide on the compensation for such expropriations by the State.

MaltaToday also confirmed that the Lands Authority was recently struck by the resignation of its full-time staff of four lawyers, en masse.

The Lands Authority confirmed that it had employed Deborah Schembri and Robert Musumeci, but refused to divulge how much the former minister and the government consultant are being paid.

“The Lands Authority chose competent and honest lawyers well versed in government lands-related legislation to continue working in the best interest of the authority,” CEO Carlo Mifsud told MaltaToday.

“The chosen advocates more than fulfil the criteria required to carry out the job entrusted to them and given their competences they are held to be assets for the authority. They will be remunerated according to tariffs established by law. The authority holds that there is no conflict of interest in the appointments.”

When asked whether Schembri is taking cognisance of LAB cases where expropriations took place during her tenure, Mifsud said no recent cases were involved.

“Dr Schembri is taking cognisance of LAB cases which have the Commissioner of Lands as either plaintiff or defendant… Issues of present cases concern decisions taken prior to her tenure.

“As in any other instance when it comes to advocacy, if there is any case which she would have a conflict of interest dealing with, she will not take up the case and the case would be passed on to her colleague.

“However given the type of cases that are under the jurisdiction of the LAB, these, if any at all, will be few and far between. Cases usually concern expropriation of land that has taken place a few good legislatures back,” Mifsud said.

Robert Musumeci, who pens a planning column for this newspaper, has already served the Labour government on two important reforms: the demerger of the Planning Authority, and the creation of the Lands Authority in the wake of the Old Mint Street expropriation scandal that led to the resignation of minister Michael Falzon.

His appointment was in fact made by then parliamentary secretary Deborah Schembri, who had stated back then that she had “full confidence in Mr Musumeci even though he was a consultant to her predecessor and had defended his handling of the Gaffarena case.”

Musumeci is a former Nationalist mayor for Siggiewi who openly switched support to the Labour Party.

 

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Matthew Vella is executive editor at MaltaToday.