There is scepticism among the top tiers of Maltese sports organisations, including the Malta Football Association, as the government is paving the way to appoint Chris Bonett – a close associate of Sports Parliamentary Secretary Clifton Grima – as the island’s frontman in the fight against corruption in sports.
Bonett (pictured with Karl Stagno Navarra) is a former Labour mayor of Gzira. He is not new to sports and has occupied various top roles in organisations, including the MFA and UEFA.
Yet many are questioning his appointment as the CEO of a new Sports Integrity Authority, particularly following his involvement in a major sports facility building scandal and a bitter election contest against the current MFA President Bjorn Vassallo.
On the direct instructions of disgraced former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, in 2017 Bonett was put in charge of the building of a €7 million shooting range at Ta’ Kandja, to be used for the international shooting federation World Cup. The range was a last-minute electoral pledge by Muscat to win the vote of shooting enthusiasts.
As Bonett took over the reins of Sports Malta, as acting CEO responsible for the project, the cost of the shooting range project spiralled upwards, with its final price tag reaching €14 million, or twice the projected cost.
Most of that expenditure – €13 out of the €14 million – was made through an array of direct orders approved personally by Bonett. These included contracts given to Bava Holdings, an offshoot of Construct Furniture, and contractors Bonnici Brothers given more than €5 million in works without any competition.
While admitting to approving these direct orders, Bonett had said it was due to the “urgency” of the project. So far, no wrongdoing has been proven.
Yet The Shift is informed that an NAO audit on the shooting range project has just been concluded and is expected to be published shortly.
The Shift is also informed that relations between Bonett and Sports Malta – the government’s sports arm – are not very rosy.
“Although the establishment of a Sports Integrity Authority might be a good idea, the appointment of Dr Bonett as its boss does not augur well,” a director at Sports Malta said.
Parliamentary Secretary Clifton Grima refused to confirm whether Bonett will be appointed CEO of the Sports Integrity Authority. He also declined to comment on whether he believed that Bonett is the ideal person to fight corruption in view of the shooting range controversy.
While the government is pushing to give Bonett an important role in Malta’s sports governance, his bitter election contest for the MFA’s top post in 2019 has scarred his relations with the current national football administration, which would make any future relationship with the newly proposed authority “very problematic”.
“If the government is to be taken seriously in fighting corruption, which is rampant also in sports, it needs a new broom and not someone who already had issues with many sports organisations,” the president of a leading national sports federation said.
The law that will establish the new Sports Integrity Authority has been drafted by Bonett himself on the instructions of Parliamentary Secretary Grima. The government has already budgeted €0.5 million for the running of this authority in 2021.