The Malta Independent 17 August 2022, Wednesday

TMID Editorial: Paying golden handshakes to disgraced former ministers

Friday, 7 January 2022, 09:17 Last update: about 8 months ago

Disgraced former minister Justyne Caruana is set to receive a €30,000 ‘golden handshake’ after she resigned in the wake of a damning standards report, according to reports.

To make matters worse, this will be the second time in the span of two years that Caruana will receive such a handsome package after resigning from Cabinet.

The controversial system – known as a terminal benefit - was introduced by a Gonzi administration some years back. The arrangement is reserved exclusively for members of cabinet who either lose their jobs after an election or as the result of a cabinet reshuffle, or who resign following a scandal. The scheme was twice updated under Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, with the amounts being increased.

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Over the years, tens of thousands of euro were paid to resigning ministers, irrespective of the circumstances that forced them to step down.

In fact, even the disgraced Muscat was given around €120,000 after he resigned in January 2020.

While the scheme is intended to reward former ministers for their service to the country and to help them out until they find a new job, the practice of paying huge amounts from public coffers to disgraced politicians is questionable, at best.

Justyne Caruana was forced to resign in 2020 after it emerged that her former husband, Silvio Valletta, enjoyed a cosy relationship with suspected Daphne Caruana Galizia mastermind Yorgen Fenech. Back then, Valletta was the second most senior police officer.

According to reports, Caruana received a terminal benefit of €28,000.

A few months later, the Gozo MP was reinstated to Cabinet, this time as Education Minister.

Now, she has been forced to resign again, after Standards Commissioner George Hyzler said she abused her power when her ministry gave a €15,000 contract to her close friend and former footballer Daniel Bogdanovic. While Caruana is challenging the case in court, the conflict of interest is evident. To make matters worse, Bogdanovic did not even draft the report himself, despite being paid for it.

Caruana’s resignation was not a straightforward one. The case was first uncovered by MaltaToday in March of last year, yet it took Caruana months and a long investigation to step down. Instead of doing the right thing and resigning there and then when the report came out, she refused to go. Even when Hyzler’s report came out, she did not step down immediately.

The Bogdanovic saga did not only harm the minister’s reputation but also sent new shockwaves through the education sector, which has been led by no less than four ministers over the span of five years. It widened the divide and mistrust between government and unions and forced a change in minister at such a crucial time when the Covid spike is threatening the opening of schools. Yet Caruana gets a second €30,000 payout.

We must also assume that she is not the only one to be given a terminal benefit. It would be good to know whether Rosianne Cutajar, who also resigned in shame, also get a terminal benefit, despite the fact that she is under investigation by the tax authorities over alleged undeclared income and also possibly by the police.

And did Konrad Mizzi get a golden handshake when he was forced to step down amid the Daphne Caruana Galizia scandal, and after he bound us to pay a €100m exit fee to the hospitals operator?

Two things must be done. Firstly, the government should be more transparent and tell us who received these sums and how much they received.

Secondly, the system must be updated to ensure that anyone leaving office under a shadow of corruption or other form of wrongdoing is not rewarded, certainly not from taxpayer money.

We are often told that politicians are there to serve. If they fail to do that, if they betray our trust, we should not be paying their retirement settlements.

They have already cost us enough in corruption, mystery exit clauses and unnecessary investigations.

 

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