A revolving door that needs to be shut

It is clear that Abela is already reaping part of the whirlwind he had sown, when publicly embracing Konrad Mizzi at his inauguration ceremony as newly elected Labour Party leader

Revelations that former tourism minister Konrad Mizzi was given a lucrative consultancy with the Malta Tourism Authority, only weeks after resigning from office in disgrace, speaks volumes about the uncomfortable situation Prime Minister Robert Abela has inherited from the preceding administration.

It is clear that Abela is already reaping part of the whirlwind he had sown, when publicly embracing Konrad Mizzi at his inauguration ceremony as newly elected Labour Party leader.

Though his first few actions as prime minister suggested that Abela would be distancing himself from the architects of the political crisis that brought about Joseph Muscat’s downfall, the reality is that Robert Abela has to also accommodate a large swathe of his own party supporters who still openly support Konrad Mizzi, and everything he still represents.

This week’s events prove that Abela cannot so easily rid himself of the continued presence of Mizzi in Parliament, and his enduring popularity among the party grassroots.

Apart from the consultancy at MTA, Mizzi was also nominated to head a delegation, representing the Maltese government, to the Organisation for Security and  Co-operation in Europe (OSCE): an unusual and provocative choice, given that Mizzi has been the focus of so much international criticism – not least, from European institutions – over Malta’s rule of law issues.

In both cases, the decision to ‘reward’ Mizzi can be seen to have backfired. Government was forced to rescind the OSCE nomination; and similarly, Tourism Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli instructed the MTA to, with immediate effect, terminate and annul the three-year contract, which would have seen former minister Mizzi pocket €80,000 a year.

Perhaps the most shocking aspect of the Konrad Mizzi consultancy, however, is how blithely the entire affair seems to have been carried out at a time of crisis in Maltese governaFreshly resigned as minister, it would seem Mizzi ‘requested’ (or was kindly obliged by) the MTA chief executive officer Johann Buttigieg - who until a few months ago was head of the maligned PA - to be given an €80,000 consultancy.

It is one thing to pass through the revolving door from a government job into the private sector. But it is quite another to immediately secure your employment with a higher salary than your ministerial package, with the same agency that fell under your purview a few weeks before.

Clearly, this is a revolving door that needs to be shut.

Nonetheless, the problem of inadequate remuneration for MPs remains… If nothing else, because it leads to the creation of ad-hoc ‘arrangements’ such as this.

Once again, this case highlights the clear absence of rules when it comes to MPs being given government jobs and similar contracts: a legacy of the Muscat administration, and one which Robert Abela should be addressing, together with a reformed salary package for MPs and ministers.

This reform should be high on the government’s agenda, also because the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life has issued a report calling for an end to the practice of giving backbench members of Parliament jobs or consultancies with the government. The report describes the practice as “fundamentally wrong”.

The Commissioner also noted that giving backbench MPs jobs with government is widely perceived as a means of appeasing those who are not appointed as ministers or parliamentary secretaries, or as a means of compensating them for their low salaries as MPs. (Both these considerations are applicable to Konrad Mizzi’s case.)

Lastly, he called upon Parliament to address the issue of low remuneration of MPs: a point made separately by this newspaper on numerous occasions.

MPs should not be allowed to partake of government largesse, but neither should they be denied a reasonable salary for their job. Ideally, Malta’s members of parliament should be given proper remuneration so that they pursue full-time jobs as MPs, without the need for supplementary income.

This view may not be popular, as it implies that more taxpayers’ money being diverted into MPs’ pockets… evoking memories of the disastrous attempts to raise MPs’ remuneration under preceding administrations.

But such is the ‘sacrifice’ that has to be made, in return for a more dedicated Parliament at the full-time service of the people.

More in Editorial