A two-day international triathlon event in Malta, fronted by the son of former Deputy Prime Minister Louis Grech, was given more than half a million euro of public funds in 2018 in sponsorship from the Malta Tourism Authority (MTA).
The public funds awarded to Xandru Grech in 2018 amount to a staggering €600,000. The Shift has shown how that year the MTA’s budget tripled, from €2 million to €6 million, according to documents being scrutinised by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
The issue was raised again at the PAC hearing yesterday in which MTA Deputy CEO Leslie Vella was grilled about public funds given to Grech. The Committee received no real reply.
Although no information has been tabled in parliament for 2019 so far, The Shift is reliably informed that the MTA committed similar amounts for the same event held in 2019 and another scheduled to be held later this year.
In total, Grech’s private activity received some €2 million in three years. Athletes and sports organisations who spoke to The Shift confirmed that they had noted the “unfair” practice in a field where most struggle to advance their sport and find adequate facilities to train their members.
Sports organisations said that while the MTA found absolutely no difficulty dedicating €600,000 for a sports event that had only started a year earlier (2017), the Authority had turned down requests from other sports organisations wanting to organise international events for a fraction of the funds given to the former Labour Deputy Leader’s son.
They were not given a reason for their project’s refusal, except that the MTA said it had no funds to dedicate for international competitions involving snooker, karate, beach soccer, table tennis and a number of other disciplines. The MTA even refused a sponsorship of less than €5,000 for the organisation of a sporting event.
They echoed complaints received byThe Shift after publishing findings that over one-third of the €6 million budget in 2018 went to a handful of event organisers who were close to Lionel Gerada, a political canvasser for former Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi who he appointed to the helm of the Authority’s events despite a criminal record.
“The whole sponsorship system being adopted by the MTA is a sham,” an event organiser said. “Apart from the total lack of transparency and fairness, it’s clear that the only way to get an MTA sponsorship is to partner with someone connected to the government.”
The same can be said of party sponsorships. Event organisers told The Shift that a level playing field was impossible while Mizzi’s man was deciding on budgets.
Medasia Limited, owned by Darren Casha, another close friend of Mizzi’s, was given €40,000 in 2018 for parties held at his private entertainment venues during the summer months. Casha was involved in the More Supermarkets scandal in which his partner, Ryan Schembri, the cousin of former chief of staff Keith Schembri, fled Malta owing millions to suppliers.
Dizz Group and Cessani, fashion sponsors of former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s wife, Michelle, were given thousands in MTA sponsorships to organise their respective fashion shows and market their products. It is unclear what benefits local fashion shows have for tourism.
The MTA also gave €107,000 to a company controlled by the Decesare’s Eden Leisure Group for an e-sports tournament, and another €40,000 to the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) to hold a tourism forum – the association is also represented on the MTA’s Board of Directors.
MTA sponsorships were decided by an internal MTA committee headed by the MTA chairman, former Labour Minister Gavin Gulia, according to what Gerada told the PAC. No minutes of these meetings were held.