MP ‘struggling to survive financially’ highlights need for full-time MPs

Kevin Schembri Orland Sunday, 27 January 2019, 08:00 Last update: about 1 hour ago

Nationalist MP David Stellini has spoken out about the need to introduce an option for full-time Members of Parliament, using his own troubles and issues as an example why such a move would help eliminate potential conflicts of interest (which he himself also has). It would also be beneficial as it would help MPs dedicate all their time to serving their constituents and their country.

Such a move would be controversial to say the least, however in a candid interview with The Malta Independent on Sunday, Stellini spoke frankly about his situation and highlighted the struggles some MPs face because of the current situation.

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David Stellini was in charge of the European People’s Party public relations for Justice and Home Affairs policies in Brussels, and moved to Malta to contest the 2017 General Election.

Asked how the EU Parliament is different from the Maltese Parliament, he said that the difference in resources available to MPs and their salaries when compared to MEPs was the first major difference. “The major difference between the EU Parliament and the local Parliament essentially boils down to resources. MPs don’t have assistants and don’t have offices at Parliament House, unlike their MEP counterparts.”

The salary is also an issue, he highlights. “When I moved to Malta I started earning €1,300 a month – my parliamentary stipend. I had to find either a job or clients to start my consultancy. Because of that, I had to focus mainly on earning extra money, as I did not just move here by myself, but brought my wife who is Belgian and our two children as well.”

“Although parliamentary work requires a lot of time and concentration, I was split, as I also had to find work to provide for my family. I had to spend a lot of my time on finding clients, I approached roughly 25 major companies, and a few odd jobs were found. Primarily however, I was earning just €1,300 a month, my parliamentary stipend, which is less than what a minister’s driver gets paid.”

MEPs have at least four or five assistants, a salary of €8,000 a month plus €4,000 per month for office expenses, he said. “There is a major difference. Politics is not about becoming rich, but at least MPs should have adequate resources to make meaningful representation for their constituency and the resources required to be able to research and scrutinise proposed laws and legal notices in greater detail.

“I spent time over the past years looking for a job, and was not able to focus on politics as much as I would have liked. I was trying to survive financially. During the first year, I was using my savings to survive here. Now they have run out and I still have to focus on finding clients, and when you do find clients, another issue crops up – conflicts of interest I work with companies which have major projects in this country.”

His situation could easily be comparable to other MPs who in the past have been mentioned in the media as having conflicts of interest given the clients they represent, when compared to their party’s stance on certain issues and deals.

“I cannot understand how this is the situation in Malta in 2019. I cannot understand how we, as Maltese, can accept the system of a part-time Parliament which involves so much conflict of interest, even on the Opposition side.”

Stellini himself has such a conflict of interest, and this newsroom brought this up. The Nationalist Party has expressed concern about the valuation of public land regarding the Corinthia project, saying that “the footprint for real estate is estimated to be double the built-up area for tourism purposes.” The Opposition has declared that it will be voting against the deal, and wanted a parliamentary plenary session to be held for the people to get to know more on how Minister Mizzi negotiated this deal against the interests of the Maltese public.

Told by this newsroom that there was a recent report in a Maltese language newspaper – Illum – detailing that he himself has a conflict of interest, given that one of his clients is Corinthia, he said: “Yes. One of my clients is Corinthia. I have never worked and was never asked to work on the St George’s Bay project. Corinthia is an international group and all my work with them focuses on the international aspect. But this came up and I felt uncomfortable. I really respect the Corinthia people.

“Because of this situation, I always leave when there is a discussion about Corinthia within the Nationalist Party structures. There was a Parliamentary Group meeting which I did not attend on this. There were other internal discussions where I told my colleagues I could not be present due to my conflict of interest. I don’t have a job contract with Corinthia, but I invoice them and they pay me for the work I do for them.”

He said he is not present in party discussions regarding Corinthia in order to limit, as much as possible, his conflict of interest. Asked about a potential vote in the Maltese Parliament, he said that if there is a vote in the Maltese Parliament he will either abstain from voting or not go.

He said that another issue is that many companies will not employ politicians because they would not want to be dragged into politics.

“All parties say they want to attract people to politics. How can we attract people to politics if we do not give them opportunities?”

Stellini made clear his stance that Malta is in dire need of full-time MPs, highlighting that this would help deter potential conflicts of interest, as it would allow MPs to focus solely on serving their country.

However, when told that some people argue that the introduction of full-time MPs could actually deter some people from going into politics, given that some have high-paying jobs, he said: “What about starting with an optional system, where one has an option to either be a full-time MP or a part-time MP. Is there a Parliament in the EU without a full-time Parliament? If one looks at the Westminster model, the UK Parliament has a full-time Parliament, and ours is modelled on the UK Parliament.”

Stellini spoke about the current political situation in the country.

“Nowadays if a young person runs for election on the Labour Party ticket, one thinks that they might be OK even if they lose because they would be in the good books of that party and believe that the Labour Party would help them find a job elsewhere. How can you encourage people to run with a party in Opposition? This is one of the weaknesses of the PN at the moment. There are people who ask ‘where were you on this issue when the PN was in government and the PL was in Opposition?’ I tell them that they are right; I was nowhere to be seen as I was working in Brussels and did not raise a finger on this issue. They are right to think that. This should have been introduced over 20 years ago. The current situation where there are no full-time MPs is unacceptable.”

Asked whether he has discussed the issue of a full-time Parliament with other MPs, he said he has spoken openly about it with MPs from both sides of the House. “I don’t think I can do my job as well as MEPs do theirs, as I don’t have time to conduct in-depth research for my speeches. How can you expect me to have time to scrutinise all the legal notices being churned out by the government, or communicate properly on social media while I need to focus on earning money to provide for my family. How can I live on €1,300 a month when my wife, who is Belgian and is learning English, left her job to come to Malta? When I do not have parents to help with my children and my wife’s parents are in Belgium. It is not easy.

“You need to give an MP some tools to help them represent their constituency well and to scrutinise laws efficiently. As far as I am concerned, Parliament is not about shouting at each other, but about being creative and offering constructive solutions. It is about providing new ideas, and helping represent all segments of society.”

Asked whether he has found support from other MPs on the issue of a full-time Parliament, or at least introducing an option, he said: “Broadly yes. The situation is this. They are broadly in agreement with me, but they probably understand that the situation is tricky politically. What I can say is that in my conversations with others I am representing myself; it is not some form of organised discussion between the Nationalist and Labour Parties on this issue. It is basically me chatting with other MPs, and I am frustrated that nothing is moving. There are no talks between parties on the issue and I have no idea what the Labour Party’s position is.”

He said he has spoken with PL MPs informally about the situation and said that, broadly speaking, MPs have agreed with him.

“They see that the situation is completely unacceptable. As far as I know, the Labour Party is not thinking of introducing something like this, and I have no idea if they will. The PL MPs I have spoken to also do not know. We are not getting anywhere.”

This newsroom asked Stellini about the situation in the PN, and whether things have died down. “It is business as usual and people are now focused on the next EU Parliament election and the party is ow behind Delia.”

Asked if he is behind Delia, he said “Absolutely, yes.”

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