NAO confirms Planning Authority’s blunder over direct order awarded to Labour pollster

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.

                           
                               
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KD Far
KD Far
22 days ago

This always happens with any political party returning to Government. Being PL or PN, this is all from our taxpayers money. Although some hide their money abroad and some do not declare their full income!!! Even these are evading their duties to the country!

Paul Pullicino
Paul Pullicino
22 days ago
Reply to  KD Far

Generic condemnations are only anecdotal when no evidence or details are provided. We might be right in saying corruption is never far from power, but to dismiss actual recorded and detailed investigations of specific cases of corruption like this case with an “oh, what’s new?” is like trying to hide an elephant behind the shadow of a flea.

KD Far
KD Far
22 days ago
Reply to  Paul Pullicino

Yet very recently we had seen verified cases of tax evasion on a higher level of society. What happened? All has been settled without severe penalties.

I work within a governmental entity. Same shit happens with both parties in government.

Governance just being abused. Malta is small and politics is rotten. Zero accountability.

Issa x’hin tersaq l-elezzjoni, nergghu nibdew naraw l-hnizrijiet tal-Ministri biex nghamlu l-pjaciri lin-nies u nakkwistaw erba voti aktar. iz-zewgt partiti abbuzivi!

Raphael Dingli
Raphael Dingli
22 days ago
Reply to  Paul Pullicino

Michael Falzon and Ninu Zammit! Not to dismiss the current recorded investigations and the mob of thieves , just making it less generic.

Paul Pullicino
Paul Pullicino
20 days ago
Reply to  Raphael Dingli

Point taken about Falzon and Zammit secret accounts. Swiss Leaks exposed them after they retired from politics and were then granted a 4% amnesty repatriation fee.

Margaret Cox
Margaret Cox
22 days ago

No, you don’t say. Surely not ANOTHER blunder. Aaaah, jahasra!

Maryanne Darmanin
Maryanne Darmanin
21 days ago
Reply to  Margaret Cox

The second one after the BOV blunder regarding The Marigold Foundation?

mick
mick
22 days ago

I’m thoroughly amazed that he wasn’t made a “person of trust as well”, or maybe he was!

John
John
21 days ago

The PL contracted him and we foot the bills from our taxes!!

Corruption every where!!

But the Maltese don’t give a hoot about corruption as they join along by getting the promotions they don’t deserve, planning permits on scheduled properties and in ODZ areas, hunting season, bird trapping for RESEARCH!!!

The country is heading for the dump!

carlo
carlo
10 days ago

U allura? mhux kollox jghaddi la l-poplu Malti hekk irid. Hadd ghandu ma hallas ghall- dawk skandli kollha li saru f’dawn l-ahhar tmien snin u mbaghad nghajjtu bis-saltna tad-dritt?

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