A new PBS Chair has been appointed only six months after the government announced a new PBS board chaired by academic Carmen Sammut.
A government statement on Maundy Thursday announced that IT entrepreneur Mark Sammut (no relation to Carmen Sammut) has been appointed PBS executive chairman.
Sammut has absolutely no experience in broadcasting or journalism. Together with his wife, also named Carmen, they have hit the headlines repeatedly for their questionable dealings with the Labour Party.
He replaces academic Carmen Sammut, who had years of experience working as a journalist at PBS as well as a PHD in journalism, and appointed to the post only six months ago.
Charles Dalli, a former ONE TV employee, has also been stripped of the role of CEO.
According to the government, Mark Sammut will now move to implement an important reform at the public broadcaster. No details were given except that the government has agreed to pump some €30 million into PBS over the next five years.
The public broadcaster has been the focus of criticism for its bias towards the government in its reporting, noted in several international press freedom reports.
The national broadcaster has registered heavy losses in the past years, mainly due to mismanagement and overstaffing.
Who is the new PBS boss?
An IT consultant to former disgraced European Commissioner John Dalli, Mark Sammut is also the owner of several companies in the IT sector which have been given lucrative direct orders by the government over the past years.
Through Cursor Ltd and Mall Systems, which he co-owns with his wife, the Sammuts have been paid hundreds of thousands since 2013 through IT contracts, particularly by the Health and Transport Ministries.
In 2014, when serving as a member of the board of directors at Transport Malta, Sammut was also giving his services, through his private companies, to one of the directorates at the same government Authority. He later resigned from the board only to be appointed as Chief Officer at the same regulator, without a public call.
While his company continued to provide IT services to Transport Malta, his son Pio, still a university student, was recruited as a full time IT technician at Transport Malta.
In 2018, following a change at the helm of Transport Malta, Sammut resigned. Soon after, he followed James Piscopo, his former chairman at TM, as his consultant at the Lands Authority, where Piscopo was appointed CEO. This was done through another €100,000 direct order approved by Piscopo, who has since been forced to resign.
Mark’s wife, Carmen Sammut (formerly Portelli) is one of the shareholders of Pirella supermarkets, who was appointed chief of staff of Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne in 2018. As director and shareholder of her husband’s IT companies, she had a conflict of interest through direct orders issued by the same Ministry.
In November 2019, Fearne defended his appointee, stating that she had no conflict of interest as she had transferred her business interests onto her husband, Mark. This was not the case – Sammut remained a shareholder.
The deputy prime minister soon changed his mind. In December 2019, after the ousting of Joseph Muscat and Fearne contesting the PL leadership, he announced that he had asked Sammut to leave, insisting that “good governance had to be seen to be ensured”.
Apart from Cursor Ltd and Mall Systems Ltd, the new PBS boss is currently also the shareholder of CY Investments Ltd, Hotel Damiani Ltd, MYS Investments Ltd and Why Properties Ltd.
He is also a government-appointed director of Malta Air Travel Ltd.
According to a 2014 report in The Malta Independent, Hotel Damiani in Bugibba was operating illegally and without an MTA licence. According to the MTA website, the same hotel is still not listed among licenced hotels. So far, the MTA did not reply to questions by The Shift.
Apart from Mark and Carmen Sammut, Hotel Damiani Ltd includes lawyer Pierre Lofaro as the other shareholder.