Four parliamentary assistants missed more than a quarter of sittings in the House this year, despite being paid an additional €6,000 to provide assistance to ministers.

Nationalist MP Stephen Spiteri missed 52 of 64 parliamentary sittings so far this year (81 per cent), while Peter Micallef, also from the PN, was absent from 45 sittings (70 per cent), according to statistics obtained by The Sunday Times.

Nationalist MP Robert Arrigo missed 21 sittings (31 per cent) and his colleague Philip Mifsud failed to attend 17 (26 per cent). The other five parliamentary assistants had much better attendance rates.

This information confirms claims by Nationalist MP Jean-Pierre Farrugia, who on Friday appealed to the Prime Minister to see why some parliamentary assistants had such poor attendance. 64 sittings (January-June 2011) Stephen Spiteri: 52 ( 81%) Peter Micallef: 45 ( 70%) Robert Arrigo: 21 ( 32%) Philip Mifsud: 17 ( 26%) Beppe Fenech Adami: 7 ( 11%) Frederick Azzopardi: 6 (9%) David Agius: 3 (5%) Charlo Bonnici: 2 (3%) Franco Debono: 1 (1.5%)

Parliamentary assistants were appointed in March 2010 amid disgruntlement among government backbenchers who were feeling cut off from the Cabinet of ministers and parliamentary secretaries.

Dr Farrugia had declined the invitation to become a parliamentary assistant, saying he wanted to remain free to offer loyal criticism of the government, since parliamentary assistants must abide by a special code of ethics which prevents them from embarrassing the ministry they are paired with.

Dr Farrugia recently asked a parliamentary question about the duties and income of parliamentary assistants. Parliamentary assistants were paid their MP's honorarium of 50 per cent of Scale 1 (€38,245) plus 15 per cent of Scale 1, paid for by ministries.

This means they are paid €24,859, which is some  6,000 more than the rest of MPs who earn €19,100.

Parliamentary assistants are also given up to € 6,407 in allowances for telephone and mobile services, according to the parliamentary question.

Dr Farrugia also asked whether their responsibilities include having to " at least" attend Parliament.

In his reply, the Speaker said the responsibilities were determined by the specific ministries.

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