Updated with Labour Party reaction below.
A number of Opposition MPs who seldom show up for work at the State entity where they are employed are being called in and told to start reporting for duty or be shown the door.
Government insiders said the relevant MPs had been identified by the government and were being approached and asked for an explanation.
“This was the political direction given to us from the Office of the Prime Minister to address a long-standing issue of MPs who have government jobs, take home a good salary but never really show up,” a civil service source said.
Times of Malta is informed that Opposition MP Kristy Debono was last week told she should start reporting for work at the Malta Gaming Authority after years of “irregular” attendance.
MGA chief executive Heathcliff Farrugia said when contacted he had met with Ms Debono on Wednesday morning to discuss her situation. During the meeting, Ms Debono was told she would have to start showing up for work regularly. This was also done in writing as previous face-to-face meetings had been unsuccessful.
Sources at the MGA said that, over the past four years, Ms Debono had shown up for work about a dozen times and they were not sure what it was she did there. Her official title is head of information analysis.
When contacted, Ms Debono conceded she had not been very regular in her attendance at work but said she had gone in a lot more than was being alleged.
She added that her poor attendance was mostly because she was never assigned any work to do.
“They don’t trust me there because I am a member of the Opposition, so they don’t give me any work to do. I don’t even have an office; my desk is in a corridor next to the maids’ lockers,” she said.
Ms Debono said that, in recent months, she had become more regular in her attendance and that she had taken it upon herself to take six months of unpaid leave during the 2017 election campaign.
She pointed out that MPs were afforded leniency when it came to attendance at the workplace to allow them the time to fulfill their duties in Parliament.
The MGA sources said Ms Debono took home €32,000 for her job.
They added that, between 2013 and 2019, the MGA senior management had been given “political direction” not to take any action against such MPs. This, they noted, was mostly because of a quid-pro-quo tacit agreement between the Labour and Nationalist parties.
“Look, when the PN was in government there were Labour MPs who had these kind of jobs and they (the PN) never did anything about them. And then when Labour came in they returned the favour to the PN,” a public service source said.
How much are MPs paid?
In Malta, an MP is a part-time job. These elected politicians are paid half the amount of the top civil service salary, which is currently just over €46,000.
On top of this €23,000 pay, they can earn a further €7,000 if they chair a committee. Most of the committees are chaired by government MPs.
The Opposition has previously argued that the position of MP should be a full time job.
Meanwhile, Times of Malta is informed that a decision had been made to put a stop to this to avoid it being raised further down the line. “There are parliamentary questions that get asked about these MPs and so on, so we wanted to address it early on,” sources said.
Replying to questions sent last week, a spokesman for the Office of the Prime Minister said that “a worker’s duty is to report to work, be it an MP or not”.
“The norm under different administrations was that MPs were excused from work when carrying out their parliamentary duties. However, this should not result in never turning up for work, especially when getting paid through people’s taxes,” the spokesman said.
‘Flexible’ working arrangements
Opposition MPs contacted by Times of Malta maintained they had “flexible” working arrangements with their government employers that allowed them to attend to parliamentary duties.
PN deputy leader David Agius said his job at the Freeport Corporation allowed him the flexibility to carry out his duties at work and also as an MP.
“This is the constant practice adopted by the various entities along the years with regard to the various MPs from both side of the House,” Mr Agius said, adding he hoped the PN’s concrete proposals to strengthen Parliament and introduce full-time MPs came to fruition.
Opposition whip Robert Cutajar, who works in the animal welfare directorate, said he did a 40-hour week and had a formal teleworking agreement approved and signed by the director and the permanent secretary. He flatly denied having been approached about his attendance.
Hermann Schiavone, a government employee at the abattoir, said all MPs were entitled and expected to perform their parliamentary duties, even during office hours.
Mr Schiavone said his employer had not flagged any attendance issues.
Ivan Bartolo, employed at Jobsplus, said he regularly attended his job. He too pointed to the flexible arrangement extended to MPs and denied having been spoken to about his attendance.
Toni Bezzina, who works as an architect within the Transport and Infrastructure Ministry, said his employer allowed him to carry out his parliamentary duties and responsibilities.
Mr Bezzina, the shadow minister for transport and infrastructure, said he attended work on a “regular basis”, just as he had done over the past 32 years.
Ambjent Malta employee Ryan Callus said he had a formal agreement to attend parliamentary duties falling within his 40-hour weekly schedule.
“I always make sure to complete the duties assigned to me by my superiors.
“At no point was I ever informed about a lack of attendance at Ambjent Malta,” Mr Callus said.
PL - This is gross political hypocrisy
In a statement, the Labour Party said this was a case of gross political hypocrisy.
It said PN leader Adrian Delia, who spoke so much on rule of law, meritocracy and wise use of public funds, should tell his MPs to walk the talk and go to work like every other worker in the country.
It said some members of the Nationalist Party felt they are 'holier than thou'.
"If they ever want to be believed, they should at least start believing what they say," the PL said.