Newcomers make up for lost ministers in Cabinet rich list

Following the March reshuffle, the Cabinet net worth dropped by around €35,000, however it is still worth at least €5.3 million

Clockwise from left: Karmenu Vella, Chris Cardona, Chris Fearne, Manuel Mallia and Anton Refalo
Clockwise from left: Karmenu Vella, Chris Cardona, Chris Fearne, Manuel Mallia and Anton Refalo

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s first Cabinet last year could well claim the title as the richest Cabinet in Maltese history.

This year, following the March reshuffle, the Cabinet net worth dropped by around €35,000, however it is still worth at least €5.3 million, with newcomers Chris Fearne and Michael Falzon making up for the loss of last year’s second richest Cabinet member, Franco Mercieca.

Manuel Mallia, Edward Scicluna, Louis Grech and George Vella fill in the five top positions together with Fearne. However, the real value of the Cabinet members is higher since all ministers failed to include the value of their properties, shareholdings and investments.

Home Affairs Minister Manuel Mallia retained the first position in the government’s rich list, adding a hefty €55,000 to his previous declaration of assets.

Mallia is by far the wealthiest minister in the current Cabinet, according to the declarations tabled in Parliament earlier this week, with almost €2.1 million in investments and bank deposits to his name.

Apart from revealing who is, at least on paper, the richest and poorest within the Cabinet, once again the documents showed that a number of ministers in Joseph Muscat’s team have a penchant for owning large quantities of immovable property.

This year’s list includes former ministers who were removed in the March reshuffle, including President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca and Karmenu Vella – the latter is set to be nominated EU Commissioner in October.

Also included are the four new members of the Cabinet: Chris Agius, Justyne Caruana, Michael Falzon and Chris Fearne.

The Cabinet’s code of ethics does not bind ministers to declare the value of their properties and their investments, making it nigh on impossible to accurately calculate their net worth. In fact, none of them listed the value of their properties, and only a few gave a monetary value to their investments.

Moreover, the code does not oblige ministers to reveal other assets such as cars, yachts and other personal effects of significant value, as is required in other EU and non-European countries.

Ministers’ estimated value was therefore calculated based on the money deposited in banks – Minister Mallia’s case, in cash – and investments, which were given a monetary value.

Although Article 48 of the Code of Ethics for Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries says that the declarations should also include the property of spouses if it forms part of the community of acquests, only a minority of the 23 Cabinet members pointed out their spouses’ property and investments.

Also, despite the code’s condition that ministers should avoid speculative investments “about which they have or may be thought to have by virtue of their ministerial office, early or confidential information likely to affect the price of those investments,” a significant number of present and past ministers hold investments in locally based companies, some of which are listed on the stock exchange.

Movers and shakers

Manuel Mallia’s net worth hovers around the €2.1 million mark, up by €55,000 from last year.

Last year, Mallia had declared €500,000 in cash, however it seems that he has now deposited the money in a bank account since his bank deposits have increased by almost €600,000.

Moreover, Mallia earns 25% of an inheritance from his parents, consisting of rents, ground rents and properties. He owns properties in Valletta, Msida, Gozo, Burmarrad and Romania, to which the criminal lawyer-turned-politician did not attribute a value.

The title of the biggest climber in the Cabinet goes to former tourism minister Karmenu Vella whose deposits went up from €140,000 to €665,000.

Vella, who is set to be appointed as Malta’s EU Commissioner later this year, declared that the substantial increase in his deposits came from the sale of a property in Marsascala.

Vella also owns a number of apartments in Birzebbugia and St Paul’s Bay and three pieces of land in Zurrieq, Qrendi and Zejtun. He also owns a portion of three other pieces of land and declared 50% shareholding in Micallef, Vella and Associates.

However Vella, an architect by profession, did not quantify the value of these assets and shareholdings.

Another former minister, Godfrey Farrugia also declared a hefty increase in his assets. Last year, the former health minister had declared a number of investments without attributing their value.

But in this year’s declaration, Farrugia noted down the value of a number of investments in Malta and abroad, which total to around €130,000. Added up to his bank deposits, the dentist is worth around €150,000, however this does not include three properties in Zebbug.

Finance Minister Edward Scicluna also saw an upward shift in his fortunes, with a €50,000 increase in his bank deposits.

Other ministers who registered a substantial increase are deputy prime minister Louis Grech, former parliamentary secretary Franco Mercieca, new tourism minister Edward Zammit Lewis, foreign affairs minister George Vella and junior minister Stefan Buontempo.

At the other end of the balance sheet, the biggest losers are energy and health minister Konrad Mizzi, who suffered an €87,000 dent to his bank account, Gozo Minister Anton Refalo, who despite his impressive portfolio of properties lost €24,000, and new Tourism Minister Edward Zammit Lewis, who lost around €20,000.

Economy Minister Chris Cardona gained €12,000, however unlike last year, his declarations for 2014 include €468,000 in bank deposits belonging to his wife. These deposits also include bank accounts in US dollars and Ukrainian Hryvnia.

Moreover, Cardona’s wife also owns various properties in Ukraine and Bulgaria, which have not been valued.

From the newcomers, junior minister Chris Fearne is the heavyweight, with deposits and investments amounting to over €420,000. The paediatric surgeon also owns two properties and a garage in Tarxien and Bir id-Deheb.

The junior minister responsible for planning, Michael Falzon, declared €175,000 in bank deposits apart from his residence in Iklin and a 2,000 square metres parcel of land in Bahrija.

MaltaToday quantified the declared deposits and investment holdings as claimed by government ministers. Company holdings are not quantified, and earnings for 2012 have not been included in the final figure since these could have been reinvested or deposited in bank accounts; properties have not been quantified either.