Abuses of public funds such as the decision to grant a top health official a €163,000-a-year contract would be a crime punishable by jail under the PN, MP Jason Azzopardi said on Saturday.

The Nationalist Party MP cited the contract, given to Foundation for Medical Services CEO Carmen Ciantar, as an example of wastefulness that a PN legislative proposal would stamp out.  

Health Minister Chris Fearne is currently under the spotlight over the contract given to Ciantar, who formerly served as his campaign manager, and which the National Audit Office said was "irregular".  

The minister has insisted that the process “followed procedures” and said that NAO recommendations will be adopted going forward. 

Ciantar, who has served in that role since 2016, has denied any impropriety and said she wants parliament’s standards commissioner to look into the matter. Ciantar is not a member of parliament. 

Speaking on Saturday, Azzopardi said that the contract would be an offence under proposals first presented by his party one week ago. 

Those proposals combine 12 different bills and would introduce new crimes and new obligations on the government, as well as unexplained wealth orders. 

Among those new crimes proposed is making abuse of public authority a criminal offence.

Under the PN proposal, even an abuse of authority caused by negligence alone will be liable for a jail term ranging from two to five years.  

The PN proposal was based on similar crimes that were codified in French law, Azzopardi said, and would “end scandals like this one once and for all”. 

On Saturday, Labour stalwart and Valletta Cultural Agency chief Jason Micallef joined voices of disapproval about Ciantar's contract, saying the scandal "embarrassed" the government. 

Azzopardi was speaking during a radio debate on Radio 103 with Labour MP Jonathan Attard, who argued that the Labour government's decision to appoint agency CEOs ensured such appointees did not have conflicts of interest, as happened under previous PN administrations. 

Stalling on parliamentary debate

Azzopardi accused the government of stalling the PN proposals by refusing to allow a first reading of them in parliament next week. 

Attard rebutted by saying that the government was willing to discuss “any proposal that strengthens the rule of law” and that the PN bill would be debated following parliamentary procedure. 

PN whip Robert Cutajar told Times of Malta the party's request had been blocked by the government.  

During the radio debate, Azzopardi and Attard also sparred over an announcement made earlier this week that a “committee of experts” has been given two months to provide feedback on legislative proposals to strengthen the protection of the media. 

Attard described the legislative proposals as “concrete” and highlighted plans to introduce legal amendments to protect journalists from SLAPP cases. But Azzopardi mocked the terms of reference, saying the committee was being asked to “rubber stamp” government proposals. 

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us