Sai Mizzi Liang, Minister Konrad Mizzi’s wife and Malta Enterprise’s trade envoy to Asia, has been given an ambassador’s salary, a diplomatic passport and diplomatic duties but she is not a diplomat. Or is she? That question is becoming more and more pertinent as the mystery surrounding Ms Mizzi Liang keeps unravelling piece by piece.
Mrs Mizzi Liang is not employed by the Foreign Affairs Ministry. She is an employee of Malta Enterprise – the state trade-promotion agency.
This is what we know so far. Mrs Mizzi Liang is based in Shanghai. She earns €74,000 a year – as much as Clifford Borg-Marks, Malta’s Ambassador to China, earns. She has also been given a very attractive perk package, which includes “a fully expensed residence, medical allowances, travel allowances, an official car and fuel, and a clothing allowance”. Sources told The Malta Independent on Sunday this week that Sai Mizzi has been given a “high-end” ambassador’s salary plus perks that have not been previously afforded to other ambassadors. The reason behind this might be the fact that her employer is Malta Enterprise (ME), and not the Foreign Affairs Ministry.
But therein lies the question. If she is doing a diplomat’s job, why is she not directly employed by the government? The answer to that question might not be that simple.
Sai Mizzi doing diplomat’s job
The government had initially announced that Mrs Mizzi Liang’s job was that of a Trade Envoy. The Office of the Prime Minister had stated that her responsibility was “to promote Asian investment in Malta and Maltese exports to Asia, targeting China, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore”.
But Mrs Mizzi Liang admitted a few days ago, during the Prime Minister’s visit to China, that her work goes beyond these responsibilities. She told the selected media that accompanied the Prime Minister to China that her work also includes “pushing to speed up the process of visa applications for Chinese tourists seeking to holiday in Malta”.
Foreign Affairs Minister George Vella told The Times this week that Sai Mizzi Liang does not fall under his Ministry’s remit but said a new Maltese consulate will be opened in Shanghai, the same city Mrs Mizzi Liang is based in. Dr Vella insisted that with China being such a large country, Malta would do well to have four or five others like Sai Mizzi promoting trade and attracting Chinese investment to Malta.
But while Dr Vella confirmed that Sai Mizzi is not employed by his Ministry, the Office of the Prime Minister, in replies to questions by this paper, implied that Mrs Mizzi Laing’s job is primarily that of a diplomat and secondly as a trade envoy.
“The Labour government did in a year what no other Nationalist administration did in 25 years of relations with China. The decision to invest more resources to attract investment from China is reaping benefits. We want our ambassadors and envoys building relations with governments as well as with entrepreneurs. The job is not just about diplomacy, but also about attracting investment.”
Dual citizenship and a diplomatic passport
The spokesman also insisted that Sai Mizzi has obtained “concrete results” for Malta. “The government signed a five-year cooperation agreement with China, the first of its kind among EU-member states. There are a number of investment opportunities coming our way as explained by the Prime Minister during his visit to China and widely reported in the media.”
The spokesman also revealed that Ms Mizzi Liang has dual citizenship, which is usually not possible for Chinese citizens, and a diplomatic passport.
An internet search will tell you that China does not recognise dual nationality with any other country and, in fact, Chinese citizens who acquire foreign citizenship normally have to forfeit their Chinese passport. Likewise, foreign citizens who acquire Chinese citizenship cannot retain their foreign nationality.
However, under Chinese Nationality Law, it is still possible for a person to have dual nationality of China and another country in some circumstances. One such scenario is if the citizen is born in China to one Chinese parent and one foreign parent. In that case the person can claim the additional nationality of the foreign parent.
If they were born outside China, to one or two Chinese-national parents who have not settled abroad, they are a Chinese national at birth but they may also acquire the nationality of the country in which they were born.
The passport issue is more easily explained. To put it simply, all former ME trade envoys were given diplomatic passports. In fact, a Memorandum of Understanding signed by ME and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in 2010 states: “Upon notification by Malta Enterprise to MFA, an ME Official may be provided with the official title of Commercial Attaché or Counsellor. The respective Embassy/High Commission of Malta undertakes to obtain all the necessary permits for the named ME Official to be recognised in this official capacity by the respective accreditation jurisdiction. In this capacity, he/she will also be covered by diplomatic immunity for the duration of this agreement, and will, subject to the guidelines established by MFA, be issued with a diplomatic passport.”
No performance incentive
Sources who spoke to this paper on condition of anonymity have claimed that Sai Mizzi Liang’s package is very different to that given to others doing the same job before her. One way in which Sai Mizzi’s contract differs to those of other trade envoys is the exclusion of Performance Incentives. In fact, the contract of a former Trade Envoy to Beijing stated that the officer could be given performance bonuses based on the investment brought to Malta or the number of jobs created through the setting up of Chinese companies in Malta. Sai Mizzi Liang’s contract includes nothing of the sort.
It only stipulates her salary, allowances and perks. Mrs Mizzi Liang is paid Rmnbi 621,885, equivalent to €74,069, per year at the Married Rate. A source in the Diplomatic Corps told this paper that ambassadors were only paid the married rate if their spouses accompanied them on their mission and if they were not employed. “In the case of Sai Mizzi, her husband is employed and he is not accompanying her. So why is she being paid the married rate?”
A never-ending list of perks
Ms Mizzi also enjoys a €2,883 settling-in allowance, a €3,261 representation allowance, a €310 outfit allowance payment, €2,908 in child allowance and around €18,000 in education allowance. Other perks include medical care, dental care, a “fully expensed mobile phone”, flight allowances for her and her family, and a fully paid official car and fuel.
The total amount per year works out at a little less than €160,000, for a total of just over €13,000 per month. The Opposition has used these workings to claim that it had been right all along in saying that Konrad Mizzi’s wife earns €13,000 a month.
Whilst it has been established that Sai Mizzi enjoys the same salary packet as Mr Borg Marks – a €34,000 salary and an extra €40,000 for being posted to China, it is so far proving difficult to compare her ‘perk package’ to those afforded to ambassadors.
To make matters worse, the contracts of former Maltese ambassadors that were tabled in Parliament by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat make no mention of these perks and only speak of salaries. A day later, the government published the contracts of seven other former ambassadors but, even in this case, the contracts did not mention any perks.
This newsroom has sent a number of Freedom of Information (FoI) requests asking for the contract, including all the perks and allowances, of Malta’s Ambassador to China Clifford Borg Marks, so that it can compare them with Sai Mizzi’s. So far, it is still waiting for the documents to be released. The Malta Independent had already filed an FoI request asking for Sai Mizzi Liang’s contract, which was refused by the government.
Sai Mizzi Liang:Is she a diplomator not?