The government has refused to answer a freedom of information (FOI) request sent by The Shift asking how much taxpayers are spending for the nightly clearance of the Daphne Caruana Galizia memorial outside Valletta’s law courts.
Questions were sent to Owen Bonnici, Minister of Justice, Culture, and Local Government, and to Deo Debattista, Parliamentary Secretary for Consumer Rights, Public Cleansing, and Support For The Capital City, in August. No replies were forthcoming.
The Shift then filed a freedom of information request on 3 September to find out how many times the memorial has been cleared by government employees or subcontractors since October 2017, how many people are deployed to clean it, how many hours of overtime were logged for the task, and the total cost for man power over the last two years related to the cleansing of the memorial.
We also requested information on the total cost for restoring the Great Siege Memorial when it was closed for maintenance in 2018.
The Ministry for Justice, Culture and Local Government (MJCL) first extended the deadline and then refused the request, stating “the document is publicly available”. Their response referred to Parliamentary Question 11634, but this does not answer the questions which were asked.
PQ 11634, tabled by PN MP Jason Azzopardi on 4 November, asked how often the Cleansing Department was sent to remove traces of the memorial, and the cost of this work, including overtime.
The government’s response stated that “no worker was sent specifically to remove traces of the memorial including candles and flowers”. They said all cleaning work done at the Great Siege Monument is part of the “routine work” of the cleaners, and that there “is no cost related to overtime” because such work is part of a night shift.
The Parliamentary Question referred to in response to our FOI request does not address how many times the memorial has been cleared, how many people are involved in clearing it, how many hours it takes them, or how much this has cost the taxpayer. The refusal of the freedom of information request by referring it to this Parliamentary Question is therefore invalid.
The memorial — made up of cards, flowers, candles, and calls for justice — was set up at the foot of the Great Siege monument shortly after Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination in 2017. The government has sent workers to clear it away nearly every day and night on the orders of Minister Bonnici, and each morning, activists and members of the murdered journalist’s family put it back.
A labourer employed to sweep, clean and wash public areas receives a minimum of €11,780 per year according to a recent government job advert. Occupy Justice and the Caruana Galizia family told The Shift that the memorial has been cleared approximately 500 times between October 2017 and August 2019. Taxpayers have a right to know what this is costing.
The clearing of the memorial on government orders has been widely criticised by both local and international journalists, media freedom and human rights experts, intellectuals and writers, members of civil society, news portals, and officials from international bodies including the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, the European Commission, and the United Nations, who describe the government’s actions as undemocratic, repressive, and a violation of freedom of expression and the right to protest.
Journalists and activists have also been assaulted and subjected to death threats from bystanders when visiting the memorial, prompting reports on Mapping Media Freedom, a platform that tracks threats against journalists in the EU.
The Maltese government has also been repeatedly criticised for failing to provide information under the Freedom of Information Act, a law which should provide transparency and accountability in government by giving the public and journalists the right to information held by the authorities.
A total of 402 Freedom of Information requests were filed in Malta between 2015 and 2017. Only 54% were upheld in full or in part. The remaining 46% were denied.