What’s good for the goose: Rosianne Cutajar and ITS CEO must leave

This country must have an honest discussion on how to significantly improve the pay packet of MPs within a context that also considers the full-time option

Rosianne Cutajar was quick to claim satisfaction when the Standards Commissioner last week ‘cleared’ her of wrongdoing over her employment with the Institute for Tourism Studies.

The truth was slightly different from how she publicly tried to portray it. The Standards Commissioner did not clear her but simply dropped the investigation because it was time-barred at law.

It did not take long to burst Cutajar’s bubble. On Tuesday, the National Audit Office quickly put a damper on her euphoria with a damning report that probed her employment as consultant to the ITS CEO in 2019.

The NAO report uses tough language to describe this consultancy contract: “Illegitimate, irregular and in breach of regulations.”

The report leaves no doubt that Cutajar’s employment in May 2019 on a three-year contract with a remuneration set at €27,000 annually was crafted specifically for her and not because the ITS CEO required some form of assistance to discharge his duties.

Cutajar was handpicked for the job by the chief of staff at the tourism ministry, then headed by Konrad Mizzi, at a time when she was a sulking backbench MP earning a healthy remuneration from public funds as anti-bureaucracy czar.

In Cutajar’s own words, she wanted to pig out from the trough just like many others who were feeding off public funds.

Unfortunately, the political masters also found a willing CEO at ITS who played ball without even having the decency of informing the school’s board of governors. Not even when the CEO presented a human resources plan did Cutajar’s job crop up for discussion.

What is worse, the NAO found scant proof of the work Cutajar was supposed to have done during her eight-month stint and also questioned her competence in relation to the job description included with the contract of employment.

Cutajar cannot rebut the criticism with the poor excuse that competent Labourites should not be excluded from public sector jobs simply because they are Labourites. For starters, she is not just a simple Labourite but an MP and in this case, the NAO is justifiably questioning her competence to fulfil certain jobs outlined in the contract of service.

Additionally, the NAO found that Cutajar also under-declared her earnings by around €14,000 in the submission made with the Cabinet secretary.

It was already bad when the WhatsApp exchanges between Cutajar and Yorgen Fenech were published to see how the MP described her colleagues as pigs feeding at the trough. She felt left out and justified her new job as consultant to the ITS CEO on the basis that everyone else was on multiple public sector payrolls. Voters deserve better.

In view of the NAO’s damning findings, Cutajar’s position as MP is no longer tenable. She should choose the honourable way out and resign.

However, likewise, Pierre Fenech’s position as CEO at ITS is no longer tenable.

Former education permanent secretary Frank Fabri was made to resign because he aided and abetted his then minister Justyne Caruana to employ a close friend for a job he was not competent for.

Similarly, Fenech aided and abetted the tourism ministry to employ Cutajar in a job that was not needed and for which she was not competent enough.

Fenech is tasked to ensure public funds entrusted to the institution he continues to lead, are well-spent and provide value for money. He failed in this aspect as he acquiesced to the whims of the political masters. For this, Fenech must be removed from his post.

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

But this incident also highlights the importance of having MPs that are properly remunerated.

It is clear that these odd government jobs are being utilised to improve the compensation package for backbench MPs, while at the same time keeping them on board. This weakens democracy. It weakens the proper functioning of parliament as a place where the executive is held to task, even by MPs from its own side.

This country must have an honest discussion on how to significantly improve the pay packet of MPs within a context that also considers the full-time option.