The Malta Independent 13 June 2024, Thursday
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TMID Editorial: Benefiting from politics

Friday, 15 March 2024, 10:27 Last update: about 4 months ago

There is much to be said about why some enter the political arena. Some believe that the majority become politicians because they believe that they can make an impact on people’s lives. Others believe that the majority simply care about reaping benefits themselves. Some think it’s a mix of the two.

This week it emerged – through a standards investigation – that former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had received more in termination benefits than any of the Prime Ministers who preceded him.

Standards Commissioner Joseph Azzopardi investigated whether the Prime Minister and Cabinet gave an "excessively generous" severance package to Joseph Muscat, whether the concession of the government property at Sa Maison to Muscat was done according to law, and whether the Prime Minister refused to give information about Muscat's benefits.

The Commissioner examined the complaint that the benefits given were too generous. The Commissioner noted that the package given to Muscat had three new elements not given to previous Prime Ministers. The first was the possibility to choose double terminal benefits instead of a transitional allowance. The second was a second car, and the third was the Sa Maison office that Muscat now uses for his private practice.

In his final report, the Commissioner said he had written to the Lands Authority Chairman about the Sa Maison property in September 2022.

The response, the Commissioner said, shows that the property in question was allocated to the Office of the Prime Minister in 2012 through a €6,000-a-year lease. "The Authority was not involved in any other agreement regarding this property and no agreement or arrangement for the ex-Prime Minister to be given use of it."

The Standards Commissioner said that in a response he received from the Cabinet Secretary, it resulted that the terminal benefits given to Joseph Muscat amounted to €120,128, "since Muscat chose to take a double terminal benefit instead of a transitional allowance."

The Commissioner noted that Muscat's severance package was established through a Cabinet decision on 10 December 2019, when Muscat was still Prime Minister, and that, according to Abela, Cabinet discussed it in Muscat’s absence.

"In any case, Prime Minister Robert Abela cannot be held responsible for this decision as it was taken before he became Prime Minister in January 2020,” Azzopardi said.

It’s clear from the Standards Commissioner’s report that right up until the end – even as he was about to resign in a cloud of disgrace and under the shadow of the biggest protest movement since Malta’s independence – Muscat was still trying to find a way to get the best deal for himself.

That his termination package contained more benefits than any Prime Minister before him should, perhaps given the track record of his administration, not come as a surprise. After all, seeing that its members and their friends could benefit from Labour being in power was quite high on the Muscat administration’s agenda.

The Standards Commissioner goes to certain lengths to point out that Muscat’s successor – Robert Abela – cannot be held responsible for the decision on Muscat’s severance package. Perhaps that is the right call, but then who is responsible?

Will those in Cabinet back then take responsibility for the extras that the taxpayers have paid for Muscat to get the benefits he wanted? Will they somehow pay it back themselves since it’s become clear that there were extras? Or will nothing happen, and if, on the off chance, enough people happen to get annoyed by it, they’ll go grovelling to their Facebook audiences with a half-hearted apology and promise that they won’t do it again?

You can reach your own conclusions.

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