Economy Minister Chris Cardona defended the frequent solo trips he has been on since assuming office by insisting that taking officials with him would be a “waste of money”.
Dr Cardona has been on 20 unaccompanied trips in the past four years, with one three-day visit to Monaco costing taxpayers €10,951.
Insisting that most of these solo trips involved negotiations that had “commercial sensitivity”, the minister said that investors were often reluctant to announce the investment before it materialised.
When the Times of Malta pointed out that officials could still accompany him but not attend those specific parts of the meetings where he believed the subject matter to be of commercial sensitivity, the minister said that he believed this to be waste of money.
On the costs of the trips, Dr Cardona defended them, saying the costs of the Labour government were much lower than those incurred by previous administrations.
“We really care about this [not wasting money] as far our expense is concerned. You can see that it contrasts sharply with that of the previous, Nationalist governments, before the 2013 election. The expenses were much larger than those of the current government with no results at all,” he argued.
Very few details about the solo trips have been divulged, with the only reason given in Parliament to justify them being the minister went abroad to attend “business meetings”.
The trips, usually short, have taken the minister all over the world, including to Russia, Ukraine, Dubai and Monaco. Previous attempts by the Times of Malta to obtain a breakdown of the meetings during the trips, as well as requests for information on whom he met and whether a public official from an overseas Maltese embassy accompanied him during the meetings were futile, with the minister not replying to e-mailed questions.
Ministers who travel abroad are usually accompanied by at least one official from their private secretariat or a public officer, and in many cases ministerial delegations are made up of more than two people.
Apart from the issue of the minister travelling alone being described by observers as “very abnormal”, eyebrows have been raised at the costs of the trips, most notably the one to Monaco, at almost €11,000.
Asked about this, the minister insisted that the issue was not flagged by anyone but the media, who he said brought the issue to the attention of the public.
“There is nothing whatsoever that goes against the work ethic. This is not only done by Maltese politicians but by every politician who tries and strives to secure foreign direct investment,” Dr Cardona insisted.
According to the Ministerial Code of Ethics, ministers must seek the Prime Minister’s permission before going abroad on official duties and must send a report of meetings to the Cabinet Office after each and every visit.
Asked about this, Dr Cardona said that he had the Cabinet’s go-ahead for every single solo trip he had gone on in recent years.