The price of a villa in Msida that the Malta Tourism Authority (MTA) rents from its chairman Gavin Gulia’s father-in-law more than doubled in 2017 to €50,000 per year, according to records held by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
The villa the MTA leases in Valley Road, known as ‘The Lodge’, is owned by Lino Mousu who is the father-in-law of the Authority’s chairman and former Labour MP Gulia.
The parliamentary committee, which is scrutinising the Authority’s expenditure after a series of questionable deals in recent years, was told the contract was “missing”.
The MTA first rented the villa in 2007, under a PN government, at a time when Gulia was Labour’s shadow minister scrutinising the government’s various portfolios, including tourism. At the time, the MTA rented the villa for 10 years at a cost of €20,000 a year.
Following a change in government and Gulia’s political appointment at the helm of the MTA, Mousu’s proceeds from the villa more than doubled under a new agreement struck in 2017, for another 10 years.
According to the new contract signed, seen by The Shift, the same 500 square metre property, more than half of which is used for parking, was rented at €50,000 a year.
In both 2007 and 2017, when the MTA signed agreements to rent out the villa, no public call was made. Instead, the Authority negotiated directly with Mousu.
During a recent grilling in front of the PAC, the former CEO of the MTA, Paul Bugeja, who signed the second contract in 2017, admitted that he did not know at the time that the property was owned by Gulia’s father-in-law. He said he only discovered this during the actual negotiations with Mousu.
He denied any possible conflict of interest, saying Gulia was not directly involved in the negotiations.
When asked to submit the 2007 contract to the PAC to allow the committee to compare differences in the contracts and examine the surge in price, Bugeja said he would submit the documents.
What the committee received instead was a letter sent by CEO Johann Buttigieg saying, “the MTA has as yet been unable to trace such documentation but shall oblige to continue to search at MTA headquarters”.
MPs expressed surprise at how a contract “went missing”, insisting the document be retrieved.
The MTA rents out a number of other properties from private tenants including its headquarters at Smart City and a store in Mrieħel. Bugeja told the committee he was also responsible for negotiations on these two rental contracts signed on Gulia’s watch.
The MTA has been facing a number of scandals in the past years, particularly when it was under the political leadership of disgraced former Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi. The appointment of his political canvasser, with a criminal record, at the helm of the Authority’s events directorate led to a tripling of expenditure to €6 million in 2018 alone.
When Mizzi was forced to resign from his role as Tourism Minister, the Authority that fell under his remit gave him an €80,000-a-year consultancy contract with the Authority, The Times had reported.
Gulia has been chairman of the Authority since Labour came to power in 2013. He also served as a full time executive chairman of the same Authority for a short period of time.
The Shift also revealed a ‘secret’ €4.5 million deal struck between the MTA and VistaJet, a private airline for millionaires. The committee found that most of the obligations in the contract had not been met, with the MTA’s Deputy CEO Leslie Vella saying last week that the Authority had never carried out any form of verification on whether VistaJet was providing any tangible service – because there was an “environment of trust”.
All these controversial contracts were signed on Gulia’s watch.