Public accounts committee (PAC) chairman and opposition MP Beppe Fenech Adami said the PAC is not aware of any further investigations by competent authorities into the Malta Tourism Authority’s (MTA) spending of taxpayer money to sponsor major events organised by businessmen linked with MTA head of events Lionel Gerada.
“Government itself has an obligation to investigate things that become known to the public, it should explain and investigate any sort of abuse. At no point in time are we aware that the police or any other competent authority took up any new matters in relation to what appears to be, at prima facie, abusive, corrupt behaviour in breach of the law,” Fenech Adami told The Shift.
The PAC was investigating how Gerada’s position as key decision-maker at the MTA’s sponsorship committee had led to sky-rocketing budgets and discrimination between sponsorship applicants who had spoken to Gerada directly and applicants going through the standard process.
As reports on new sponsorships to those close to Konrad Mizzi’s appointed person of trust resurface, the PAC chairman was contacted for an explanation as to why nothing further was heard from the PAC looking into the matter.
The last session in which the PAC discussed sponsorships issued through the MTA was on 1 July 2020. Following the House’s suspension for summer recess, the issue was not placed on the agenda again.
“The public accounts committee has a specific and limited function. It’s a parliamentary committee which examines public accounts, including expenditure of government and how public funds are spent,” Fenech Adami told The Shift.
“When we carry out our investigative sessions, the goal of the public accounts committee is to make such matters public. It then becomes up to the competent authorities to take up the matter even further,” he added.
Fenech Adami also referred to a repetitive pattern in the lack of further investigation about matters highlighted by the PAC, arguing that relevant authorities like magistrates and the police should investigate the “new stories which cropping up and deserve further investigation”.
Gerada, when summoned to appear in front of the PAC in March last year, had sent the committee a letter through his lawyers, including a copy of his police conduct in a bid to persuade the committee of Gerada’s “good repute”, in spite of the MTA executive’s criminal history as well as his attempts at getting the court to remove his record from public scrutiny. At the time, the PAC had spent months calling up witnesses from the MTA, including MTA chairman Gavin Gulia.
Gulia had told the committee that he did not know of Gerada’s criminal history, that he felt like Gerada’s ‘experience’ made him fit for the role, and that overall he believed that competitors who were “jealous” of the success of events which were being sponsored by the MTA were using the PAC to “punish us”, referring to the tourism authority he chairs.
The investigations into Gerada’s dealings had revealed several issues with the way in which the MTA’s sponsorships were being awarded, including a ‘fast-tracking’ system in which specific applications would be earmarked for Gerada while others would be discarded without explanation, according to competitors.
During the committee’s sittings, MTA CEO Leslie Vella was grilled about the note which marked unnamed applicants for fast-tracking with a mention of Gerada’s name. Vella had defended the approach by stating that it was simply an internal procedure used to annotate who had already spoken to Gerada, denying that any preference was being given.
Besides 356 Entertainment Group, owned by Nicholas Spiteri, Gerald Debono, Trevor Camilleri and Edward Zammit Tabona, other companies linked to the same individuals known to be close to Gerada include G&T Entertainment, FMA and Est 1985 Co Ltd.
The Shift has also sent questions to the Malta Tourism Authority in relation to how much has been spent to sponsor a fresh line-up of events which are all linked directly with 356 Entertainment Group. Questions on whether any sort of investigation into Gerada’s affairs has been carried out were sent to the Malta police force.
Featured photo: Lionel Gerada appearing before the PAC on 4 March 2020.