A Labour backbencher has been appointed chairperson of SportMalta.

Omar Farrugia will fill the post Andrew Decelis vacated in September, a government statement issued on Friday indicated.

The 28-year-old, who previously served as mayor of Mqabba, was elected to parliament for the first time in 2022. He worked at a local bank but has since left this role. 

Public records show that he has asked 11 parliamentary questions since being elected, on topics ranging from crime statistics to road works in his hometown. None of the questions concern sport-related matters.

His predecessor as SportMalta chair, Decelis, is an associate professor at the University of Malta, where he lectures on sports and physical education-related topics, including sports management. He quit as SportMalta chair one year into his three-year contract. 

Farrugia was appointed by Sports Minister Clifton Grima, who wished him well and said SportMalta was crucial for ensuring a “culture of sporting excellence” in Malta and to boost sport participation rates.

The statement, which did not state how much SportMalta's chairperson is paid, noted that the agency thanked its previous chair, Decelis, for his work.

Farrugia also announced his appointment on social media. 

The minister's decision to appoint an MP to the chairmanship runs contrary to recommendations provided by the Organisation for Economic and Social Development just last month, which said backbench MPs should be barred from holding government posts.

Parliament's standards commissioner has also, repeatedly, made that point. 

As Malta’s state-run sports agency, SportMalta manages and operates public facilities that include various sports complexes, national shooting ranges and the national pool, as well as sports academies.

Shadow sports minister Graham Bencini said the appointment was nothing more than the government "facilitating its inner circle" and only added to the list of MPs who have another salary from the taxpayer, in addition to their salary as an MP.

He asked how it was possible that the prime minister and sports minister could not find a person "more familiar with sport" to chair the entity. 

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