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Anomalies in the salary scales

Malta’s salary scales have become controversial, to say the least. Traditionally, within the public sphere, the senior heads of the civil service and the members of the judiciary were among the best paid.

Over the last couple of decades, however, we have experienced a rapid increase in the number of senior public officers who no longer necessarily form part of the civil service. These new posts are the result of the introduction of the various innovative public entities and regulatory authorities that have been steadily mushrooming since Malta joined the European Union. These, though akin to the customary government departments, surprisingly do not fall within the ambit of the salaries awarded to civil servants. The disparity in these economic arrangements is, as a result, giving rise to certain discontent.

It is no secret that the earnings of CEOs and people in top management posts at these new authorities by far outweigh those of the members of the judiciary and the civil service and this, to me, does not seem justified.

Lately, particular statistics caught my attention. I was literally astounded by what I read. It transpires, for example, that the chairman of the Malta Environmental and Planning Authority earns, believe it or not, more than double the pay of the Chief Justice who occupies the third highest ranking position on the island. Similarly, he earns more than two and a half times what is paid to the Attorney General and permanent secretaries, who occupy the top posts within the civil service.

Senior officers of this same entity (Mepa) are similarly awarded a financial package by far more lucrative than that offered to judges and to the more senior heads of departments. This, to me, is unmerited. Amazingly, some of these high-flyers are actually earning more income than our head of state himself. All this is naturally raising eyebrows.

On the other hand, and contrary to this trend, government ministers have definitely taken advantage of upgrading their own financial package. To justify this, the government points to the income being generated by the above-mentioned public officials but such comparisons seem only suitable with regard to the Executive and this seems unjust.

As we are all only too aware, in this legislature, the government made arrangements to raise significantly the remuneration of Cabinet ministers to the extent that, today, they are earning close to double what they used to get in the past. No similar immediate initiative was however taken to bring in line senior civil servants and members of the judiciary. All this is somewhat unnerving.

As the opposition member responsible for justice, I have, as expected, been persistently approached by various members of the Bench who have clearly pointed out their dissatisfaction with such a situation. Notwithstanding their position in Malta’s hierarchy, the Bench has commenced a nosedive in terms of salary scales within the government service. It is to be appreciated that, in order to have a strong and efficient judiciary, we have to entice the best legal brains available. Surely, the financial package being offered nowadays is far from attractive in this regard.

Furthermore, judges lament the way their pensions are computed. Due to this, it has become customary for judges approaching retirement age to endeavour to seek ulterior public positions after leaving the Bench. In truth, this tendency, justly or otherwise, diminishes their independence, especially in litigation involving the Administration or highly polarised cases.

On account of all this, we have lately read how two prominent judges, on attaining retirement age, raised the issue of the mandatory pensionable age of 65. They actually felt obliged to suggest that this should be extended for a few more years to avoid the necessity of having retiring members of the judiciary seeking further employment, which seems demeaning.

In the light of all this, it seems right and fitting if the government tackled these anomalies.

Dr Herrera is Labour spokesman for justice.

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