[WATCH] Judge's attributes 'outweigh impeachment history', junior minister insists

Retired judge Lino Farrugia Sacco officially named chair of Lands Authority, Opposition leader refuses to nominate MP to board

From left: retired judge Lino Farrugia Sacco, parliamentary secretary Deborah Schembri and consultant Robert Musumeci (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
From left: retired judge Lino Farrugia Sacco, parliamentary secretary Deborah Schembri and consultant Robert Musumeci (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
Deborah Schembri says Lino Farrugia Sacco 'is man for the job'

Parliamentary secretary for planning Deborah Schembri vigorously defended the choice of retired judge Lino Farrugia Sacco as chairperson of the new Lands Authority, describing him as a “man of integrity” with vast legal experience. 

Responding to questions by MaltaToday at the end of a press conference, Schembri said that Farrugia Sacco’s experience outweighed the fact that he was twice recommended for impeachment after the Commission for the Administration of Justice found him guilty of gross misconduct while president of the Malta Olympic Committee.

Farrugia Sacco, father of Labour candidate David Farrugia Sacco, only escaped impeachment because he reached retirement age before parliamentary proceedings could begin and after the Labour government did not present a new impeachment motion.

“I know Lino Farrugia Sacco from my days as a lawyer, and I remember him as one of the most efficient judges around, who provided some of the most articulate court sentences, and was an expert on court procedures,” Schembri said.

“I won’t get into the [Malta Olympics Committee] case because it doesn’t interest me. His positive attributes outweigh anything he might have done that could have led to impeachment.”

She admitted that the former judge’s appointment was a controversial one, but said that she never shies away from controversy if it is for a good cause – citing her involvement in the pro-divorce movement a few years back. 

In a brief address, Farrugia Sacco said that there will be several checks and balances at the Lands Authority and urged the authority’s workers to pull the same rope for the good of the public.

“It will be a tough task and there’s a lot of work to do, so we cannot expect miracles overnight. Yet we are all determined to see this through.”

Former PL candidate and Malta Gaming Authority chief financial officer Carlo Mifsud was also appointed chief executive of the Lands Authority, yet Schembri insisted that his appointment had nothing to do with his political allegiance.

“Carlo Mifsud is specialized in finance, banking and business management and holds several degrees. We didn’t want to appoint a person who was only expert in one field, as the job requires a person with a spectrum of competences. He was selected by an independent board of experts and I agreed with their choice; I have absolutely no interest in his political background.”

In his speech, Mifsud said that the Lands Authority will be “built on the foundations of honesty, integrity, professionalism and courage”.

“I have always embraced these values and I am sure the Lands workers will to. We need the courage to change the way we work – we shouldn’t fear change but view it as a challenge that must be overcome.”

Elsewhere, John Vassallo was appointed vice-chairperson, and Labour MP Clifton Grima was appointed as the government’s parliamentary representative. Opposition leader Simon Busuttil was asked to appoint one of his MPs to the board but refused to do so.

William Wait, the chief executive of Projects Malta and Malta Enterprise, was also named as one of the board members, as was Environment and Resources Authority CEO Ruben Abela. 

The other members are Maria Cardona, Odette Lewis, Joe Scalpello, and Ivan Grixti.

PN refuses to nominate board member

In her press conference, Deborah Schembri repeatedly urged Opposition leader Simon Busuttil to accept her request to nominate a PN MP to the board.

“The reason we want an Opposition MP on the board is to ensure transparency as much as possible. The MP will be present for all meetings and will be able to tell the Opposition leader of any problems that might be encountered. I am perplexed as to why the Opposition leader has not seized this opportunity.”

However, in a statement, the Nationalist Party said that nominating one of its MP to the board would mean that it would be giving its blessing to the Lands Authority.

“Requesting a PN MP to form part of the board is nothing but a smokescreen, as the government will still get to nominate the remaining eight members – proof that Castille will be pulling the strings of the Lands Authority,” MPs Marthese Portelli and Ryan Callus said in a joint statement.

“Let us not forget that there was no actual need for the Lands Authority, and that it was only set up by Joseph Muscat to try and cover up the abuse registered at the Lands Department under this administration,” they said. “If Muscat thinks that the Opposition will approve this falsely independent Authority, then he is gravely mistaken.”

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