PN-era direct orders reveal Labour’s ‘PAC man’ among its beneficiaries

A PQ revealing €27 million in direct orders under the PN administration also includes Robert Abela – one of the Labour MPs leading the skewering on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC)

Robert Abela
Robert Abela

The past week pitted Labour and the Nationalist parties in a battle over which administration was the most brazen in superfluous overspending on direct orders.

But the race triggered in both media and parliament to dig up the most dirt on who spent the most has also revealed the tenacious survival of the political class’s favourite profession: lawyers.

For it turns out that in a parliamentary question revealing €27 million in direct orders by the transport ministry under the PN administration of 2008-2013, one of that era’s beneficiaries was Robert Abela – one of the Labour MPs leading the skewering on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), on the direct orders fracas.

Abela, who has already come under fire by the PN for consultancy fees he gets for legal services under the present administration, received over €400,000 in direct orders between 2008 and 2013 as data tabled by Transport Minister Ian Borg in response to a PQ by Labour Whip Byron Camilleri.

The direct orders came as a result of a decision by the Planning Authority to outsource its legal caseload to the firm Abela Stafrace Associates, founded by Abela’s father and President emeritus George Abela – and
erstwhile rival to Joseph Muscat in the 2008 Labour leadership race.

The firm was originally contracted by the PA in 2001 when its head of legal services Anthony De Gaetano accused the authority of abusive practices in his regard when he raised a planning complaint against the PA itself. In the ensuring decade, Abela Strafrace was paid some €1.23 million for legal services up until 2011.

The new PQ data lists payments from 2008, when the firm was paid €92,000 in direct orders; €65,000 in 2009, €126,000 in 2010, €74,000 in 2011, and €70,000 in 2012.

Today Abela Associates, as the firm is now known, is run by Robert and his wife Lydia, the Labour Party’s executive’s secretary. Robert Abela, well-liked by Labour voters and also viewed as possible leadership material, is also a legal consultant to the Prime Minister.

His PA legal contract was renewed again after 2013, also by direct order.

The firm continued to provide legal services to the PA under the Labour administration, as a PQ raised in Parliament by Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi in October of last year revealed that Abela Advocates was paid €110,000 in legal services by the PA in 2017 to date; €168,000 in 2016, €110,000 in 2015, and €88,000 in 2014.

All this of course takes place in the context of other PQs revealing €11 million in direct orders issued by national waste agency Wasteserv, and some 223 direct orders issued by the culture ministry for “urgent” and “unforeseeable” projects such as V18 – which saw the V18 press officer being paid €41,000 and the cultural project manager being granted €126,000.

The data provided by the transport minister this week highlighted his PN forerunners’ spend in the transport and resources ministries of over €27 million in procurement in the form of direct orders – requiring no formal call for public tender.

While the data seems to be incomplete, it appears that the direct orders issued by the former PN transport ministry for each year were as follows: 2008; €1.37 million, 2009: €4.56 million, 2010; €6.47 million, 2011; €7.49 million, 2012; €6.34 million, 2013; €1.15 million.