The junior minister responsible for the financial services sector failed to register his entire income in a ministerial asset declaration during the year when he was first appointed to Cabinet in 2017.

In his asset filing, Silvio Schembri, Parliamentary Secretary for Financial Services and the Digital Economy, declared an income of €33,894 during his first year in government. A copy of his tax return for 2017 obtained by Times of Malta from Parliament, shows Mr Schembri’s actual income that year was almost double.

When contacted about the discrepancy, Mr Schembri said he had somehow not listed income from his previous employment as a ministry adviser.

“This is obviously a genuine mistake given that this employment was already public knowledge through PN billboards and as reported by Times of Malta and other media several times,” Mr Schembri said.

Mr Schembri added that the Cabinet Secretary had been informed about the error and the asset filing updated. “Needless to say all relevant taxes on this income were paid,” he said.

The junior minister's tax return for 2017 shows that apart from his salary as a cabinet member, Mr Schembri also pocketed €23,536 as a ministry adviser and just under €300 from a dividend. 

Mr Schembri was not the only Cabinet member who under-reported his 2017 income in his asset filings. Fellow parliamentary secretary Deo Debattista’s tax return shows a discrepancy of €16,000 between his actual income and that declared to Cabinet.

In a one-line reply, Dr Debattista, Parliamentary Secretary for Consumer Protection, said “all income is taxed as per law” when the discrepancy was pointed out to him.

The Shift News first noted how the two government officials’ income had seemingly doubled based on their asset declarations.

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Mr Schembri declared an income of €33,894 in 2017 and €60,795 in 2018. Similarly, Dr Debattista’s declared income shot up from €33,910 to €60,796 in a single year. This increase in declared income, brought about by the omissions made by the two government officials in 2017 led to claims that parliamentary secretaries had been given a secret pay rise.  An investigation by the Standards Commissioner ruled out the doubling of income claim made by Opposition MP Jason Azzopardi.

Commissioner George Hyzler found that a government statement saying ministers’ salaries had remained unchanged since 2013 was also incorrect.

Dr Hyzler put the erroneous statement down to “inattention” rather than a deliberate attempt to deceive by the government. He said public service salaries increased “substantially” thanks to a collective agreement signed in 2017.

“As a result all salaries linked to the highest salary scale also increased. The collective agreement was given considerable publicity when it was signed, so it cannot be said that increases were given surreptitiously,” Dr Hyzler said.

The asset declarations made by ministers are given considerable weight by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

Dr Muscat had justified his lack of action against Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi because the minister had declared ownership of a secret Panama company hidden behind nominees in his 2016 asset declaration.

Asset declaration in 2017 Actual income in 2017 
Silvio Schembri – €33,894 €62,838 (excluding spouse)
Deo Debattista – €33,910 €50,769 (excluding spouse)