Robert Abela honours pledge to renounce Planning Authority caseload

The Prime Minister’s law firm informed the Planning Authority that it terminated its legal services as from 13 January

Abela Advocates, which belonged to Robert Abela and his wife Lydia, has given up its legal brief with the Planning Authority
Abela Advocates, which belonged to Robert Abela and his wife Lydia, has given up its legal brief with the Planning Authority

Prime Minister Robert Abela’s law firm, Abela Advocates, have renounced the Planning Authority’s caseload, MaltaToday has learnt.

The law firm informed the PA that it terminated its legal services with the authority as from 13 January 2020, the day Abela was sworn in as Prime Minister.

A public tender for legal services is being drawn up and will be published in the coming weeks. The pending caseload is being handled internally and in cases where legal assistance is needed in court, proceedings are being deferred.

The lucrative contract was assigned to Robert Abela’s father, George Abela, when he was a partner with Ian Stafrace, who was later appointed to the PA as chief executive under a Nationalist administration.

During the leadership campaign Abela had backtracked on his initial declaration to MaltaToday that his wife and the family firm should not be denied the opportunity to bid for government work.

Subsequently, Abela said he will aspire for higher ethical standards and insisted his wife Lydia Abela, a partner in the family legal firm, will not be bidding for work in the public sector.

In 2017, Abela Advocates received €110,000 for legal services offered to the Planning Authority. The law firm received €168,000 in 2016, €110,000 in 2015 and €88,000 in 2014 in retainers from the PA, awarded by direct order.

It was originally contracted to the PA in 2001, to take over the bulk of legal work when the PA’s own head of legal services Anthony De Gaetano, accused the authority of mishandling a domestic planning matter concerning his property, due to alleged political influence.

The PA paid the firm, then known as Abela, Stafrace & Associates, a total of €1.23 million up until 2011 for handling its caseload. The firm was selected through an expression of interest.

The contract was extended into 2013, and then renewed again for the fee of €107,263 annually and €54.99 for each hour of “additional work”.

Abela also earned a total of €32,774 from the Tourism Ministry in exchange for consultancy services between 2014 and 2016.

MaltaToday is also informed that following the appointment of the new Prime Minister and according to standard procedure, the authority has been requested by its ministry to inform all planning board and commission members and the members of its executive committee to offer their resignation. This has been communicated to all members.