Architect Gilbert Bartolo was given a direct order to prepare architectural plans for a project at the Institute of Tourism Studies (ITS), which falls under the responsibility of his brother, Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo.
According to PA 08231/21, the CEO of the ITS, Pierre Fenech, together with the Head if the ITS branch in Gozo, Jesmond Borg, requested the Planning Authority (PA) to grant a permit for ‘change of use’ so a store room at the Gozo campus can be converted into a diving school.
The application, presented last August, was signed, and put forward by Mellieha-based architect Gilbert Bartolo, who happens to be the Tourism Minster’s brother and direct boss of the ITS CEO.
Yet, Fenech – a political appointee – told The Shift he “was not aware that the selected architect was the minister’s brother”. Fenech claimed that he become aware of the connection only after receiving questions from The Shift.
He also downplayed the issue, stating that the minister’s brother has been paid only €1,300 so far. Yet the application process is still ongoing and Fenech did not mention whether more fees are expected to be forked out by taxpayers.
Shielding his minister from any implication of abuse or nepotism, Fenech told The Shift that it was his decision and that the minister “had absolutely nothing to do” with giving a direct order to his brother.
Apart from being appointed CEO of the ITS, Fenech was also made CEO of the Mediterranean Conference Centre through another political appointment. The MCC also falls under Minister Clayton Bartolo’s remit.
He even said Clayton Bartolo was “not our minister at the time” the direct order was given. Yet further research shows this to be false.
The application, which is still being considered by the PA, was filed last August and photos presented by Bartolo in his submission show that work on the application was carried out a month earlier.
Contrary to the CEO’s claims, at the time of the presentation of the application to the PA, Clayton Bartolo had been tourism minister for more than nine months.
Bartolo under pressure
Minister Bartolo, 34, an accountant by profession, was elected to parliament for the first time in 2017 after serving as a councillor in Mellieha.
In January 2020, as soon a Robert Abela became prime minister, he was appointed parliamentary secretary for financial services. He was promoted to tourism minister less than 12 months later, replacing Julia Farrugia Portelli.
Bartolo is currently under pressure to try to rein-in an unprecedented spending spree by the Malta Tourism Authority, which is riddled with accusations of abuse of public funds and lack of accountability.
The latest scandal again involves Lionel Gerada – a convicted fraudster – who was appointed head of events by Bartolo’s predecessor, disgraced former minister Konrad Mizzi.
Gerada was caught booking rooms at the luxury Phoenicia Hotel to coincide with a Christmas fair being organised by the MTA. As the scandal hit the media, Minister Bartolo said he had stopped the abuse. So far, he has not taken any action against Gerada.
In 2019, when representing the government on the PA Board, Bartolo, still an MP, voted in favour of the controversial project by Gozo construction magnate Joseph Portelli to turn a dilapidated room in the outskirts of Qala into a sprawling villa.