The eight newly-appointed parliamentary assistants will not be given government cars or staff and will simply have a yearly allowance, according to the government.

One parliamentary assistant who preferred to remain unnamed said: "There will be no perks. This will be a loss-making job."

The General Workers' Union's Sunday newspaper It-TorÄ‹a reported that the assistants would have an allowance of about €10,000 a year. However, it seems the figure is more likely to be under €7,000.

The government has not yet announced the actual allowance to be granted but in an interview with The Sunday Times, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi said parliamentary assistants would have an allowance that would bring their salaries in line with those of chairmen of parliamentary committees.

MPs have a remuneration of about €11,500 per year and chairmen of select committees get an extra €550 per month. This means that, with the added allowance, the salary of parliamentary assistants would increase to just over €18,000.

Parliamentary assistants will be bound by a code of ethics that restricts their freedom to criticise.

MP Jean-Pierre Farrugia, who did not accept to be part of the new team of assistants, said he wanted to offer loyal criticism of the government. In a comment posted on timesofmalta.com he had quoted the code of ethics that was circulated to those nominated to be assistants. The code was transcribed almost word for word from the one used in the UK's House of Commons.

A draft copy of Malta's code of ethics, seen by The Times, says the assistants should not make statements on matters affecting the ministry to which they are connected.

"(They) should avoid associating themselves with recommendations critical of or embarrassing to the government. They should also exercise discretion in any speeches or broadcasts outside Parliament," the code of ethics reads.

When asked whether this effectively meant silencing the backbenchers, the Office of the Prime Minister reiterated Dr Gonzi's claim that the assistants "have full liberty to criticise any issue, just as long as it does not concern the ministry they are working with".

This, the OPM said, was in line with British tradition.

A spokesman for the OPM said the article which spoke about assistants associating themselves with critical or embarrassing recommendations, "has not been interpreted as stopping parliamentary assistants from putting forward fair and constructive criticism, which is always extremely useful for any government".

However, the assistants are expected to have "a higher level of responsibility" towards their ministries, the OPM stressed.

The eight new parliamentary assistants are Franco Debono, Frederick Azzopardi, Charlò Bonnici, Philip Mifsud, Stephen Spiteri, Peter Micallef, Robert Arrigo and Beppe Fenech Adami.

Jeffery Pullicino Orlando has been assigned to the Malta Council for Science and Technology and whip David Agius, who will be coordinating the group, will be assigned to the Foreign Ministry.

cperegin@timesofmalta.com

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