While 2020 has been a challenge for artists in Malta due to the pandemic, friends of the Labour Party were taken care of with more than €2.2 million in direct orders dished out by the Arts Ministry during the first six months of the year, according to new information published in the Government Gazette.
The list of direct orders from entities falling under Minister Jose Herrera, published on Christmas Eve, as happens when Ministries try to avoid too much attention to their legal obligations, repeats the stream of direct orders dished out to ‘friends’ and repeatedly condemned by the National Audit Office.
The Arts Council, headed by 73-year-old Chairman Albert Marshall, a former One TV CEO among other political appointments, has once again topped the list, issuing almost €350,000 in direct orders in six months.
Among Marshall’s repeated recipients of direct orders was former Labour Zurrieq major Ignatius Farrugia, given €10,000 to provide “consultancy for Arts Council’s dealings with local councils”.
Besteam Audio, which provides sound services during the Labour Party’s mass activities, also received direct orders while Sean Buhagiar, a close friend of Marshall and on the State payroll for many years, was given €25,000 as the artistic director of Teatru Malta.
The latest data also shows that some ‘persons of trust’ already employed in other lucrative full time jobs with the government are also getting additional jobs through direct orders.
Tyson Fenech, until 2017 the Deputy Prime Minister’s Ministry Coordinator, on a taxpayer financial package of over €40,000 a year, is now also providing marketing and consultancy services for the Arts Council, pocketing an extra €10,000 a year. Fenech is also the Deputy Chairman of the Water Services corporation where he receives a separate income.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and its devastating effect on cultural activities, Festivals Malta still managed to issue €321,000 in direct orders during the first six months of the year.
Sean Buhagiar also managed to secure a second direct order through an additional €10,000 payment to provide “consultancy” to Festivals Malta, to top up his Arts Council direct order.
While spending over €25,000 for publicity billboards, even though all festivals were cancelled, Festivals Malta issued repeated direct orders to ‘employ’ the same people in a clear attempt to bypass procurement rules.
Sandro Kitcher, a former employee of the Labour Party’s TV station, was given repeated direct orders of €8,000 each to act as “technical manager”.
Martina Bonello was given three direct orders in six months to provide unspecified “services for FCN projects”.
The repeated direct orders in smaller amounts are normally issued so public procurement thresholds are bypassed and no competitive tender would be necessary.
Heritage Malta, which has as its Executive Director the Head of the Civil Service Mario Cutajar with an extra €18,000 a year package, issued two consecutive direct orders worth €20,000 to Sharp Shoot Media for video promotion.
The small company, also a recipient of State funds from PBS, is owned by Justin Farrugia, brother of Kurt Farrugia, the former spokesman of disgraced former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.