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Valletta Film Festival organiser requests probe into MTA’s ‘unjust’ fund refusal

“It is clear that numerous sponsorships were provided to events that had no international dimension and were clearly intended for local consumption with little or no connection to inbound tourism”.

Valletta Film Festival Photo: Facebook/Valletta Film Festival

Oliver Mallia, the co-founder of Film Grain Festival, which organises the Valletta Film Festival, has formally requested the Public Accounts Committee to investigate an “unjust” refusal of sponsorship from the Malta Tourism Authority in 2018.

In a letter seen by The Shift, which was addressed to committee chairperson Beppe Fenech Adami, Mallia said the audited accounts and list of MTA sponsorships presented to the committee in recent weeks clearly show that “numerous” sponsorships were given to events which did not have an international dimension and that had “little or no connection” to inbound tourism.

Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee is currently scrutinising a number of controversial contracts issued by the MTA, which led to its budget balloon from €6 million to €12 million in 2018 alone. The Shift revealed how, that same year, Konrad Mizzi’s former person of trust Lionel Gerada was appointed head of events at the MTA and thousands of euro were given out in sponsorships to a small elite group of event organisers.

In his letter, Mallia pointed out that his foundation invited over 40 prominent guests every year to the Valletta Film Festival. The guest list included established as well as up and coming actors, directors and producers who “present their films and share their experiences with audiences” and who have “given great testimonials about their experience in Malta”.

“It is remarkable to note that all applications requesting more than €5,000 had to present a three-year plan in order to qualify for sponsorship, however, many of the sponsored events were one-off activities that did not happen again in 2019,” he said.

Mallia was among those who had recently criticised the government for organising its own open air film festival after stating there were not enough funds to hold the well-loved Valletta Film Festival.

In his letter, Mallia described the foundation’s application for sponsorship, which was presented to Gerada and formally submitted through an application one month later. However, after weeks of chasing a reply, they received feedback from the MTA just weeks before the festival that the committee had decided not to accede the foundation’s request.

MTA’s head of events Lionel Gerada.

The foundation asked for feedback on the refusal and was told by the authority that: 

“The MTA’s criteria for supporting initiatives and events focus, primarily on those initiatives that have a direct bearing upon bringing significant numbers of people to Malta. In this regard, the initiative in question does not satisfy these criteria to a satisfactory degree and seeing that the resources at our disposal are limited, we were unable to accede to your request”.

Mallia pointed out that it was difficult to understand what assessment parameters were followed by the Sponsorship Committee to ensure a level playing field among all applicants.

These “shortages” led the foundation to believe that its request that year was “unjustly refused”.

Despite the limited resources cited by the MTA, The Shift had revealed in the summer of 2018, a select small group of event organisers close to Gerada had received close to €2 million of taxpayers’ money for private events. This had created an unlevel playing field for other organisers who had also applied for sponsorships but those who complained were described by MTA chairman Gavin Gulia as “jealous”.

These amounts vary drastically to the request of €10,000 by the foundation to support the Valletta Film Festival “over three years and promote the event abroad to attract film enthusiasts and industry professionals to visit the island for the festival”.

Mallia said this was the fourth time the foundation had approached the authority for support. They had been awarded a sponsorship once, which amounted to €2,500 in 2017.

Following its refusal, the MTA told Mallia to contact the Malta Film Commission for support. However, when they did so, Film Commissioner Johann Grech had also “unfortunately shown zero interest in supporting the festival,” Mallia said. 

Despite several invitations, Grech has never attended the highly-acclaimed film event. Similarly, in 2019, Grech had been criticised for promoting only select registered production companies to foreign filmmakers while excluding many others.

Mallia called on the committee to launch an investigation to establish “whether the grants and/or sponsorships provided by MTA in 2018 were given in line with the established parameters stated in the sponsorship application, the general public procurement regulations and state aid regulations”.

The letter was also addressed to Tourism Minister Julia Farrugia, who has so far remained silent on the sponsorship scandals, and Auditor General Charles Deguara.

It’s time for Europol to intervene

The Council of Europe's Special Rapporteur Pieter Omtzigt

Omtzigt calls on Maltese authorities to end impunity and make reforms real