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Cabinet changes bloats costs by €1m a year; team is largest in Malta's history

Cabinet changes last week will bloat costs by €1 million a year, an exercise conducted by the Times of Malta shows.

The new Cabinet is also the largest in Malta’s political history. With 16 ministers, apart from the Prime Minster himself, the size of the Cabinet is equal to Matteo Renzi’s in Italy and just three members short of David Cameron’s in the UK.

The Cabinet is now larger than that of many medium-sized member states in the EU, including Finland, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands. It is estimated that a Cabinet minister costs taxpayers about €800,000 a year to maintain and half that amount is spent on a parliamentary secretary.

The bulk of the costs are related to staff recruitment. Ministers are allowed to engage a 19- strong private secretariat, and parliamentary secretaries can have an 11- member team.

The costs do not include the daily operation of a ministry, like transport, overseas travel, accommodation and maintenance and upkeep of buildings. The Prime Minster’s Office is by far the biggest expense, as he can employ as many as 38 people.

With 16 ministers, apart from the Prime Minster himself, the size of the Cabinet is equal to Matteo Renzi’s in Italy

According to the calculations made, while Dr Muscat’s first Cabinet cost €15.4 million a year, or a total of €77 million over a five-year term, the latest reshuffle raised the bill to €16.2 million. In the latest Nationalist administration, Lawrence Gonzi had eight Cabinet ministers, who cost €9.3 million a year even if one considers the controversial €500-per-week increase that was later withdrawn.

In his latest changes, while keeping the whole team (ministers as well as parliamentary secretaries) consisting of 23 members, Dr Muscat increased the number of ministers to 16 (excluding himself) while only keeping six parliamentary secretaries.

Promoting two parliamentary secretaries, Chris Fearne and Josè Herrera to become ministers, Dr Muscat brought in Manuel Mallia, who had been sacked in 2014 after a shooting incident involving his driver, to replace Leo Brincat. Mr Brincat is being nominated to the European Court of Auditors.

At the same time, Dr Muscat removed the energy and health portfolios from Konrad Mizzi’s ministry, retaining him in Cabinet as minister without portfolio. This is the second time in Malta’s political history that a Cabinet minister does not have a specific portfolio.

In the short-lived Alfred Sant administration, Joe Mizzi, the present Transport Minister, was appointed minister without portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister.

Before the last election, Dr Muscat pledged that the size of his Cabinet would never exceed the size of the largest Cabinet of the Fenech Adami administrations. The largest Cabinet of the four headed by Eddie Fenech Adami was in 2003 and consisted of 13 ministers

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