A week-long media campaign organised in June by public service head Mario Cutajar to launch ‘a new five-year strategy’ cost taxpayers as much as €300,000, a Freedom of Information request by The Shift shows.
The services procured for the campaign were recruited via direct orders and company quotations, instead of through the issue of tenders, as protocol demands. The selected providers were mostly companies known for their service to the Labour Party when organising mass activities.
Prime Minister Robert Abela refused to give details in parliament on how the €300,000 spent by his Principal Permanent Secretary was distributed.
However, the response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by The Shift shows that companies belonging to Labour Party loyalists were paid hundreds of thousands of euros to provide services for Cutajar’s week-long campaign.
Pure Concepts, one of the companies on that list, was paid almost €10,000 for ‘design and production of information for the media’. Pure Concepts, which was co-owned up to a few weeks ago by Alan Piscopo and Ismael Borg, is known to have been awarded a raft of direct orders over the past few years.
Piscopo, who has recently transferred his shareholding in Pure Concepts to Borg, is involved in several other companies, including the company accused of mounting scores of illegal billboards for the Labour Party during the electoral campaign.
RVC, the company that coordinates lighting and stage equipment for the Labour party’s mass meetings, was paid €46,000 for ‘technical services’ provided during the public service week. A third company, MAV, was given €34,000 for similar services.
Nexos and Besteam, two other long term suppliers for Labour’s mass events, shared more than €50,000 for “lighting and audio” services, while AF Signs – another of Piscopo’s companies – was paid €23,270 for “the production of backdrops”.
More than €48,000 went to Motion Blur for filming, production and media space buying and €21,000 to the Mediterranean Conference Centre to host activities which mostly could only be attended virtually due to Covid-19 restrictions.
The state broadcaster PBS, which already receives a subsidy of about €6 million a year from public funds, was paid €32,000 for the production of programmes about the event.
The campaign was widely covered in the media, mainly through press releases issued by the OPM, but Mario Cutajar hit the headlines after he said in one of his speeches that he was using a novel LED screen of the type that will be used during the upcoming electoral campaign.
According to Cutajar, this screen, owned and mounted by one of his private services providers, was a sign of the innovation that the public service was making under his leadership.
Civil servants are expected to steer away from politics.
Cutajar, 63, a former deputy secretary general of the GWU and an assistant to Glenn Bedingfield during the latter’s short stint as an MEP, was handpicked by disgraced former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to become Principle Permanent Secretary on the first day Labour returned to power in 2013.
The first order he gave was to force the resignation of all permanent secretaries – something unheard of in the civil service. Only the Finance Ministry’s Alfred Camilleri and the OPM’s Paul Zahra survived that cull.
Apart from being Malta’s highest-ranking, and highest-paid, public servant, Cutajar was also given a second government appointment as executive director of Heritage Malta, boosting his salary by an additional €20,000 a year.
No other public servant holds a similar position in a separate publicly funded entity.