An investigation by the National Audit Office (NAO) found no audit trail to justify and verify a €120,000 direct order awarded to a British pollster who worked for the Labour Party in the 2013 and 2017 electoral campaigns.
The NAO investigation, initiated following a request by the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation, found that the consultancy contract given to Nicholas Wright in 2013, for ‘regular benchmarking of MEPA’s (now PA) reputation’ is nowhere to be found and there is absolutely no audit trail to account for why Wright was commissioned and what work he actually delivered.
The NAO said that despite the absence of a contract between Wright and the PA, the Authority “did not draw up a document outlining agreed deliverables” and “there is no audit trail to ascertain the quantity and quality of deliveries through this direct contract”.
To make matters worse, payments made through taxpayers’ funds to Wright or his company, Sentio, were made despite irregularities.
“The PA proceeded with payments even though the VAT number and company registration number quoted in the invoice did not pertain to the company awarded the direct order,” the investigative office concluded.
Asked to explain this blunder, one of many during his time at the PA, former CEO Johann Buttigieg, who went from a low ranking officer at the PA to CEO within a few weeks of Labour’s return to power in 2013, could not explain or give any details. Instead, he gave conflicting statements, the NAO said.
Buttigieg is now the CEO of the Malta Tourism Authority, appointed by the Office of the Prime Minister. He proceeded to hand disgraced former Minister Konrad Mizzi a €90,000 consultancy contract after he was forced to resign from his ministerial role – on direct orders from Joseph Muscat, The Shift had revealed.
Pressed to supply the termination letter of the Labour pollster’s contract, to verify that what was commissioned and what was actually done, neither Wright nor Buttigieg could produce the necessary documentation to the NAO.
Wright was given his three-year direct order of €39,000 per year by the PA in November 2013, just a few months after he worked on Muscat’s first electoral campaign which had swept him to power.
Yet it immediately became clear that Wright’s work, contracted through his company Sentio, was kept under the radar with little or nothing to show. The issue was brought to the public’s attention last year, following a Freedom of Information request by the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation when the PA supplied a couple of invoices that reflected the quarterly amounts paid to Wright but said it couldn’t find the rest of the documents.
The Data Protection Commissioner investigated the matter following a complaint and expressed his disappointment at the outcome.
The Commissioner expressed “serious concerns” about the Authority’s record-keeping practices, saying that it was “not satisfied” with the way records were kept by the PA. He said that this case was “indeed worrying” and that it “did not augur well for accountability and transparency”.
The results of this latest NAO investigation is yet another confirmation of how Labour, led by disgraced former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, had used public entities to award ‘consultancies’ to those who had worked or were still giving services to the Labour Party.
Wright has denied receiving this payments in full, but defended Muscat against corruption allegations: “There were a lot of ‘allegations’…but I don’t believe (nor does the majority apparently) that your prime minister is corrupt – far from it.”
He lashed out at journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia after her assassination in October 2017. “Daphne was neither impartial nor a journalist,” he said, even after the world recognised her contribution to journalism with an endless list of awards.
Muscat was then awarded the dubious title of ‘2019 man of the year in organised crime and corruption’ from the widely respected OCCRP. He was forced to resign soon after.
Wright was not the only consultant the Labour Party rewarded for his efforts. The same had happened with Leslie Skipper, a British PR consultant hired by the Labour Party for the 2013 electoral campaign and put on the taxpayer’s payroll at the OPM and Malta Enterprise soon after Muscat became Prime Minister.
Apart from hundreds of Labour Party officials, fixers and helpers who were all put on the government’s payroll within a few weeks of the Party winning the general election, companies and suppliers who ‘help’ Labour are regularly given direct orders worth hundreds of thousands of euro.