Cabinet Secretary refuses to disclose information a fresh golden handshake payment to disgraced former Education Minister, Dr Justyne Caruana.
Following the resignation of her Education Ministry portfolio, embattled Labour MP Dr Justyne Caruana is set to receive another golden handshake payment at the citizen taxpayers’ expense, to the tune of €30,000 according to sources cited by The Shift News at the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM).
So far, Cabinet Secretary Mario Cutajar has declined to say if the minister will receive another sizeable sum following her second forced departure in less than two years. Cutajar himself receives two distinct salaries from the public coffers: in addition to being the main permanent secretary, he is also the executive director of Heritage Malta, which increases his annual salary by €20,000.
According to reports, OPM has begun administrative processes for Dr Caruana to be paid yet another second terminal benefit under a covert system launched in 2008 – despite the fact that she was already awarded a comparable payout of more than €28,000 after her retirement in 2020.
When The Shift News inquired directly if the OPM would sanction the payment of a second golden handshake to Caruana, Mario Cutajar, who is in charge of disbursements relating to this scam, declined to respond. Payments made under this plan often require the cabinet secretary’s approval.
The Shift News revealed in August last year that politicians from both ends of the political spectrum had received almost €1.4 million under the terminal and transition benefit system, which was implemented in 2008. The arrangement is only for Cabinet members who lose their posts after an election or as a consequence of a cabinet reshuffle, or who resign as a result of a scandal.
According to the provisions of this programme, which was amended twice for the benefit of disgraced former Prime Minister Dr Joseph Muscat, leaving cabinet members are entitled to a big payout equal to one-twelfth of their income for every year they serve, or a minimum of six months’ salary.
More dosh as a back bencher
Following the revelation of unethical connections between her former husband, then Deputy Police Commissioner Silvio Valletta, and the accused mastermind of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination, Yorgen Fenech, Dr Caruana was immediately issued a treasury cheque for €28,589 as a terminal benefit after her resignation as Gozo minister in January 2020.
As a backbencher in Parliament, Dr Caruana got the standard remuneration for that position, plus she was nominated as the chairperson of two parliamentary committees, the fees for which totalled €20,000.
She was also placed on the government’s payroll indirectly by a direct-order of a €48,000 one-year contract to offer legal services to the Lands Authority, as well as a similar arrangement with the Water Services Corporation (WSC) for another €10,000.
All of this meant that during her brief tenure on the backbench, Dr Caruana’s salary increased significantly, and she was actually earning far higher government income than while she was Gozo Minister. After just a few months, Prime Minister Dr Robert Abela, who had first requested her to resign, reinstalled her as Education Minister in his Cabinet. This, too, did not last long, as Caruana was forced to resign after it was revealed that she had handed her lover, Daniel Bogdanovic, a €15,000 direct order.
Bogdanovic was an elite athlete in his own right, playing for the likes of Barnsley, Sheffield United and Blackpool in his prime. Open-source information shows he now plays as a striker for Xewkija Tigers in the Gozo Football League.
Despite the fact that Dr Caruana has created an unusual precedent by being forced to resign twice during the same legislature, Prime Minister Robert Abela is now considering awarding her a second terminal benefit less than two years after she received her first. Citizens are not permitted to profit from the same state benefit twice under normal circumstances.
Abuse is the result of an obfuscated scheme
The Shift News discovered in June last year that disgraced former Prime Minister Dr Joseph Muscat got €120,000 in terminal payments under this plan, despite the fact that according to publicly accessible statistics, he should have received just half of the scheduled payout. Former PN Prime Minister Dr Lawrence Gonzi got much less than Muscat, although having spent far more time in politics, including in the Prime Minister’s office, than Muscat.
While the provisions of the preferential arrangement for Cabinet members, including Prime Ministers and Presidents of Malta, remain mainly unknown, the government refuses to provide any explanations.
The Shift News has made several demands for information on the scheme, including Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, but the government, and particularly Dr Robert Abela, has consistently failed to provide an explanation to taxpayers. All endeavours to learn more have been thwarted by the allegation that cabinet files are top-secret and cannot be disseminated.