The 29-year-old Labour mayor of Mqabba, a former One TV reporter, has been appointed as the Lands Authority’s ‘independent’ internal auditor, The Sunday Times of Malta has confirmed.

Charlene Muscat, a law graduate with no particular experience in audit, was engaged directly by the Lands Authority without applying for the post.

A source close to the authority pointed out that Dr Muscat was also an elected politician.

“How can anyone define our auditor as independent when the selected person is a politician? This must be a bad joke,” a top Lands Authority official told the Times of Malta.

Asked to explain how the Labour mayor was selected for such a sensitive post, a spokesman admitted that Dr Muscat did not apply for the job but had been identified as a potential candidate.

The spokesman refused to state who at the authority had identified Dr Muscat but said it did try to have a competitive selection process. However, the vacancy, published in newspapers, did not attract any applicants.

The post of chief internal auditor carries a financial package of close to €50,000 a year. The source said Dr Muscat had worked at Identity Malta since 2015, where she was recruited on a position-of-trust basis.

How can anyone define our auditor as independent when the selected person is a politician? This must be a bad joke

During the board meeting that rubber-stamped the Labour mayor’s appointment, it was only Opposition spokesman Ryan Callus who objected. He confirmed that he had voted against this appointment, arguing that such a post should not be held by an elected politician if the authority wanted to appear sincere.

According to the law, the chief internal auditor – who in order to protect the independence of the office can only be removed by Parliament – serves “as    an    independent    and    objective    person, monitoring  the  internal  financial  control  function  of the authority and safeguarding  the  continued  independence  of  the  board and the officers of the authority”.

A spokesman for the authority dismissed the suggestion that a clear conflict of interest existed between the role of Dr Muscat as an independent watchdog and her role as an elected politician from the party in government.

“The Board of Governors who approved her appointment never felt that there was a conflict of interest between her roles in the authority and that of mayor of the locality she represents,” he said.

“Just like any other official within the authority, the chief audit officer is expected to abstain should a clear conflict of interest arise in any of the cases being reviewed.”

As part of the reform at the then Lands Department, which the government was constrained to carry out in 2016 after the Gaffarena public land-grab scandal, the creation of an independent internal auditor at the Lands Authority was hailed as a guarantee that such scandals would not be repeated.

Transport Minister Ian Borg is currently responsible for the authority.  

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