All the members of former home affairs minister Manuel Mallia’s private secretariat have been retained on the government payroll, albeit in different roles, the Times of Malta has learned.
According to ‘Engagement of staff for ministers’ secretariats’, issued by the Office of the Prime Minister in March 2013, members of private secretariats who are not civil servants should not continue to serve in government when their minister goes. However, all the 19 individuals employed by Dr Mallia from outside the public service are still receiving a government salary more than a year after he was fired after a controversy involving one of his drivers.
Cabinet secretary Mario Cutajar, who is also Principal Permanent Secretary, was asked by this newspaper for details on Dr Mallia’s former personnel and to say why they were retained on the State payroll despite the March 2013 rules. However, no replies were forthcoming at the time of writing.
Mr Scerri is not a public officer, therefore this office is not in a position to provide further details
According to sources in the government, Dr Mallia’s former chief of staff, Silvio Scerri, is employed in the private secretariat of Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela and is performing specific duties in Gozo.
Former private secretary Quinton Scerri was working at PBS and the former communications coordinator, Ramona Attard, had a consultancy contract within the communications office of the Prime Minister, the sources said.
Dr Mallia’s ex-driver and a very close aide, former top footballer Joe Galea, known as l-Olandiż, was also retained and now works as an ambulance driver on a position of trust basis.
The March 2013 rules, which form part of the new code of ethics for Cabinet members, state that those employed from outside the public service have to resign when their minister no longer forms part of the government. They are given a maximum of six months’ salary as termination benefits.
The rules also lay down that “all appointments to all secretariat positions require the approval of the Prime Minister and requests are to be addressed to the Prime Minister’s chief of staff and copied to the Cabinet secretary”.
When asked to confirm that Mr Scerri was still in the government’s employ, since he formed part of Mr Abela’s private secretariat, Mr Cutajar insisted he did not know. “Mr Scerri is not a public officer, therefore this office is not in a position to provide further details,” was his curt reply.
Questions sent to the Office of the Prime Minister on why Dr Mallia’s former private secretariat staff were retained on the public payroll remained unanswered at the time of writing. Mr Abela also failed to say whether or not Mr Scerri was part of his secretariat.
Dr Mallia was dismissed by the Prime Minister in December 2014 following a shooting incident in Gżira involving one of his drivers (not Mr Galea). Although the Prime Minster had asked Dr Mallia to resign following a report by an independent inquiry, Dr Mallia refused to step down.
Since Labour returned to power, the number of people employed in the public service surged significantly, but the government has always insisted that the increase was due to necessary additional staff in the education and health sectors and not for political expediency.