A national arts fund administrated by the Arts Council, set up to help NGOs involved in the organisation of traditional village feasts across the island, has granted two-thirds of its cash to groups hailing from minister Jose Herrera’s own electoral district, The Shift can reveal.
An investigation into how the Arts Council disbursed some €230,000 of taxpayer funds among these groups shows that 65% of the available funds – €150,000 – were disbursed to 19 organisations all hailing from the first electoral district, while most applications from other parts of Malta were rejected.
The Arts Council, chaired by Albert Marshall, falls under the direct political direction of national heritage minister Jose’ Herrera, who is elected to parliament from the first district.
Asked by The Shift to list the members of the evaluation board of this scheme, Marshall has so far refused to pass on the information.
Announced last May as a scheme to promote “the tradition of village feasts”, the allocated budget of €230,000 was intended to be distributed as equally as possible among applicants from across the island.
Yet the undisclosed members of the evaluation board appear to have decided that most of the funds should only go to organisations from Valletta, Pieta, Hamrun, Marsa and Santa Venera – the areas where Jose’ Herrera will be canvassing for votes at the next general election.
The Arts Council also allocated the highest amount of funds possible to those groups based in Herrera’s district, who were granted €8,000 or more each, while those from other parts of Malta were awarded smaller sums.
Sources close to the Arts Council described this agency as “a hijacked organisation by a 78-year-old Labour crony (Marshall) abusing people’s funds on a daily basis to satisfy his political masters”.
Herrera and Marshall – a history of abuse
Both Hererra and Arts Council chairman Albert Marshall have been hitting the headlines with reports of irregularities and abuse over the past months.
Despite pressure from other first district Labour politicians, particularly environment minister Aaron Farrugia, Prime Minister Robert Abela has failed to take any action to curb the abuse.
A few weeks ago, The Shift exposed Herrera as being in business with Keith Seychell – the owner of Capo Crudo – an illegal restaurant occupying public land in Valletta.
When responsible for the environment, Herrera was involved in at least two property development projects, in Senglea and Gzira, putting him into a situation of possible conflict of interest.
Herrera also used the Arts Council and Albert Marshall to give a phantom job to his former private secretary, Charlon Gouder. Gouder, a former Labour TV journalist turned lawyer, has been recruited in a full time position at the Council while practising as a lawyer on a full time basis.
Gouder is also reportedly receiving an additional €100,000 a year as a lobbyist for the tuna industry, which used to be ‘regulated by Herrera’.
No one at the Arts Council knows when and how Gouder performs his job for which he is paid thousands of euros every week.
Last year, during the political turmoil leading to disgraced prime minister Joseph Muscat’s resignation, The Shift revealed that Herrera had hired one of his former clients to act as his bodyguard, paid for by taxpayers. No action against this abuse has been taken.
The Arts Council under Marshall has been in the news for the wrong reasons for years. The NAO reported in its annual reviews that the high number of direct orders – millions of euros every year – approved by Marshall constituted clear breaches of public procurement rules.
In some cases, Marshall handed tens of thousands of euros to friends and acquaintances, without providing any information or accountability for the grants.
The former One TV CEO has decided also to allocate half a million euros in public funds to enter into the joint production of a privately produced film about the Sette Giugno affair. Several of the partners are former One TV colleagues of Marshall’s. The film was due to be released last year.