Games with a minister’s wife
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Games with a minister’s wife

The saga of the appointment of the wife of a Cabinet minister as Malta Enterprise’s special envoy to China started out badly, degenerated with time and looks set to come to an inglorious end. If this is the end.

Sai Mizzi Liang, wife of Minister Without Portfolio Konrad Mizzi, received her appointment soon after the 2013 election. There was no call for applications, no selection process. She was just employed and given a salary of €13,000 a month, perks included. That means that, through her contract, which ended last month, she would have pocketed nearly €500,000 from taxpayer money. The problem is there is little to show for it.

In a rare public appearance last year at the inauguration of an office by Huawei Technologies in Smart City, she came across as mocking the country she served when she said: “You have finally found me.” She then told the press to judge her by her actions, promising other projects in the fields of education, tourism and aviation. Last April, the Office of the Prime Minister was still playing that same tune, saying there were initiatives under way that would be published in due time.

Now Ms Mizzi Liang’s contract is up, or so it seems, because Economy Minister Chris Cardona has not ruled out a renewal even though her husband said, when he was appointed Labour Party deputy leader, that the contract would not be renewed. In the wake of the Panama Papers scandal, Dr Mizzi has since resigned his party post. However, it is not clear what Ms Mizzi Liang has done in Shanghai.

Her China posting has been a torrid affair. All along the way, the government has fought any sort of disclosure, in pure breach of its electoral promises of openness and accountability. The €13,000-a-month package was bad enough but this was followed up with other controversies over her telephone accessibility, the new offices in Shanghai and her appointment as consul general. At one point, the Foreign Minister even admitted he had no idea where she operated from.

When Opposition leader Simon Busuttil met her for 30 minutes in Shanghai, all he could say was that the meeting was “bizarre” and that he was unimpressed by her.

Efforts to obtain any feedback on Ms Mizzi Liang’s achievements have proved fruitless. Malta Enterprise said the list of initiatives and investments resulting from Ms Mizzi Liang’s work was confidential and commercially sensitive, as was her performance appraisal.

The fact that she is the wife of a Cabinet minister had raised the spectre of nepotism. But Ms Mizzi Liang was not just another appointment to a ‘position of trust’ because the government has, all along, insisted on her capabilities. Had it wanted, the government could have put an end to the controversy by ensuring transparency and showing the deliverables. Taxpayers who funded her generous remuneration have seen nothing of that. Perhaps the National Audit Office could put our minds at rest it was money well spent.

By repeatedly refusing to do the obvious and what is right, the government has rubbed salt into the wound to the point that it is now festering. This is no game. Like the Panama Papers, this issue will not be forgotten, whether she is reappointed, reassigned or if she has resigned. Nor will Dr Mizzi’s two promised audits of his financial affairs following the Panama scandal be forgotten.

People are still awaiting answers and explanations as to where their money has gone.

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