Event organisers have told The Shift that Lionel Gerada’s presence at The Malta Tourism Authority’s (MTA) Sponsorships Committee, which selects the events and organisers that receive public funding, made a level playing field in the industry impossible.
Following revelations on how the Authority’s events budget skyrocketed when former Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi put his canvasser at the helm, a number of individuals who organise cultural events and parties in Malta contacted The Shift to share their experiences.
The Shift revealed how in the first year of Gerada at the helm – as a person of trust for Mizzi – the MTA events budget shot up from €2 million to €6 million, with some one third given to the same network of individuals under different company names.
Sources experienced in dealing with the MTA’s Sponsorships Committee firsthand said that because of Gerada’s friendly ties with a select group of people from the industry, their own proposals would be refused or, at least, treated differently.
One event organiser who spoke to The Shift said their proposals would either get completely rejected or they would receive minimal funds compared to other events organised by Gerada’s friends – even when the events were similar.
“They would tell you your funding is rejected without a simple explanation as to whether you missed any criteria, recommendations or targets. No explanation whatsoever. The worst part is knowing that people like Lionel Gerada, who has very close ties with other event organisers, are present and privy to sensitive information,” he said.
Another event organiser said that having people with close ties to competing organisers presents a clear conflict of interest. “It’s basically a meeting with a competitor and they ask you for all sorts of information which we know can be used to hurt us commercially.”
“Gerada’s close tie to this small group of people is well known in our industry. So we are not surprised that they were handed so much money.”
Gerada confirmed his presence at these 2018 committee meetings when grilled by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which is looking into the MTA’s spending spree. Before the committee, Gerada had claimed that he did not know for certain who owned the companies that raked in millions of euro in funds from the Sponsorship Committee.
Yet, photos published on social media show the close ties between Gerada, as well as other members of the Sponsorship Committee, and the event organisers that got the bulk of the funds.
Photos online show Gerada dining with Nicholas Spiteri, Gerald Debono (known as Gerry) and Trevor Camilleri at a restaurant in The Netherlands.
Debono, Spiteri and Camilleri are either owners or shareholders in this select group of companies which raked in almost €2 million in 2018, namely G&T Entertainment, FMA, Est 1985 Co Ltd and 365 Entertainment Group.
In 2018, Gerada also appeared as a guest speaker at an event organised by IMS (International Music Summit), as one of the event organisers from 356 Entertainment Group, one of the companies that made a killing out of MTA funding.
The web page which names Lionel Gerada as speaker was removed less than two months ago. The Shift managed to obtain a screen shot of the information removed.
In another photo, Alex Cutajar (Konrad Mizzi’s former spokesperson) appeared at a staff party event organised at Uno, a club in Ta’Qali owned by G&T and 365 Events.
According to information given by Gerada during the PAC hearing, the Sponsorship Committee of 2018, the year when the spending frenzy happened, was also made up of the Authority’s Chairman Gavin Gulia, as well as Anthony Vella, Carlo Micallef and Kevin Borg.
Proper record keeping of these committee meetings seems to be another issue. When grilled by the PAC, Gerada first confirmed that the Committee does keep minutes and Gulia had to be asked for them. Later, Gerada said the Committee did not record minutes but took note of decisions.
One particular event, Summer Daze received more than 1 million in sponsorship funds, The Shift revealed. The money was given to G&T Limited.
Questions sent to the Tourism Ministry and the MTA received no reply. But emails seen by this newsroom show Tourism Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli has been informed of Gerada’s actions. No action was taken.
The Shift also revealed how Gerada was entrusted to handle taxpayer money despite his criminal record involving embezzlement of funds and falsification of documents.
Following the Shift’s investigations into MTA funding of events, a petition was launched calling for Gerada’s removal.