Injustice, in one form or another, is the subject of nearly every story by The Shift.
Exposing breaches of public trust, corrupt behaviour and instances of maladministration are at the heart of our work because we know that it is only by persistently holding those in power accountable that we can push for change. We take a look at what a small newsroom supported by our readers has achieved this year alone.
Reveal how politicians gifted themselves a pay rise
After a year chasing FOI requests, we revealed how Maltese taxpayers footed the bill for a hefty €120,000 to pay for a secret golden handshake to Joseph Muscat following his resignation and how he had changed the policy of terminal benefits for Cabinet members, resulting in possibly receiving double what he would have been entitled to under the original arrangements.
Neither was Muscat the only politician who engineered financial benefits for themselves. Former Finance Minister Edward Scicluna gave an €11,000 annual salary increase to his predecessor at the Central Bank just before the former finance minister – forced to leave politics – started pitching for the same position.
Sound the alarm on dodgy development proposals
In February, The Shift and Lovin Malta exposed how a medieval foundation started to claim ownership on vast swathes of land in Gozo that had been earmarked for development and we went on to expose the interests of a complex web of businessmen and lawyers who had taken over the foundation from the Church in 2017.
We then revealed how Chloe Portelli – daughter of construction magnate Joseph Portelli – repeatedly defied planning laws, first by registering as a farmer seemingly to access benefits and permits related to build ‘stores’ on agricultural land that happens to enjoy magnificent views.
The Shift discovered how Vijay Kumar Berlia, an Indian millionaire with ties to John Dalli, bought some 30,000 square metres of land off the Dwejra coast and applied to extend and develop a dormant quarry in a protected area. Dalli denied any knowledge of the millionaire’s business plans but his personal email address appeared on the planning development application and Berlia’s family even bought Maltese citizenship.
There was also the proposal to convert a large, abandoned explosives factory, with views that stretch across Dingli and Mtahleb cliffs into a ‘high class’ tourism development. The Planning Authority was flooded with objections and in a rare move, the PA turned down the application (at least for now).
We also exposed how the government was giving prime public land away for peanuts on scandalous payment terms such as the deal struck with Corinthia where the hotel group will be paying just €1.3 million, and not €10.3 million (as stated by the government), to build and sell 25 residential luxury villas at Hal Ferh, a site that commands exclusive views of Golden Bay.
Shine a light on stories of injustice
In October, The Shift sat down with the parents of Matthew Bartolo, the 17-year-old boy who died tragically in a workplace accident in a woodworking factory six years ago. They spoke about the consistent delays and administrative issues they experienced in court over these six years.
In other stories, we spoke with a Maltese truck driver and machinery operator, Joseph Spiteri, who was injured while at work and fired by his employer who, rather than paying compensation is demanding the former employee pay for damages to equipment. And we continued to work with one of the families that had almost signed over their share of a Valletta building to Marco Gaffarena, embroiled in the Old Mint street expropriations scandal of 2015 – the family has finally won the appeal.
With the help of Abbass Mussa Jameah and others, we highlighted how migrants in prison were subjected to racist treatment, lack of information about their prospects and subjected to trauma from the minute they set foot on the island. We also spoke to an insider who warned that the ‘filtering system’ used to process asylum seekers’ application is broken.
More recently, The Shift spoke to Matthew Caruana Galizia in Albania, who explained that four years later, local authorities still have not launched an investigation to establish how a bomb from this Balkan State ended up under his mother’s car in Malta. We looked into the ease of acquiring bombs in the country and mafia links to individuals accused in Malta.
Chronicle cronyism, phantom jobs and waste of taxpayer funds
We reported how Michelle Muscat’s The Marigold Foundation was given in excess of €500,000 in taxpayer funds after The Shift analysed the public data available. This is after she acquired the foundation set up by Bank of Valletta for only €100 and after milking State coffers.
The Shift also found that Andreina Fenech Farrugia, who was suspended on full pay in February 2019 on serious corruption allegations was still drawing a full salary from government coffers although she was never reinstated as Fisheries Director-General. We also revealed that former One TV reporter-turned lawyer Charlon Gouder has been given a full time government job while still working his private legal practice and serving as CEO of the tuna lobby in Malta. No one knows what he does or even where his office is, for that matter.
We also exposed how Katya De Giovanni, chairperson of the Social Care Standards Authority (SCSA), hired her 74-year-old father as a full time ‘junior lawyer’ with the agency mere weeks after he was sacked from the education ministry for wrongdoing and was then given a second engagement contract.
We also detailed how Saviour Balzan, the only independent newsroom editor still getting contracts to produce current affairs programmes for the public broadcaster PBS, was awarded at least €1 million in government contracts under Labour and bagged another €20,000 to provide consultancy services directly to the justice minister for a year – and that is just the tip of the iceberg.
More recently, we disclosed how Economy Minister Silvio Schembri and the Malta Gaming Authority (MGA) withheld important information from parliament about several direct orders given by the public authority over the past few years and how he also turned down The Shift’s FOI request to disclose the ‘prohibitive’ €31 million Malta Business Registry rental contract.
Our Steward/Vitals Global Healthcare hospital deal investigations continued and this year we revealed the previously hidden documents that Steward filed in open court that claimed the Vitals concession was ‘fraudulent and corrupt’, that the government added €20 million to Steward’s coffers in this year’s budget goes straight to Steward and even calculated that by the end of 2022, taxpayers will already have paid over €300 million to Steward Health Care for the running of three State hospitals despite not delivering on its commitments.
Made surprising discoveries, joined forces, made a difference
In June, The Shift discovered how paintings ‘donated’ by an anonymous “generous benefactor” on display in an exhibition curated by Heritage Malta are owned by Vladimir Logvinenko, who was embroiled in the ‘Rubens Affair’, dubbed the Russian art world’s “biggest scandal to date”.
The Shift also joined a consortium of journalists in partnership with the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation to investigate leaked documents from Henley & Partners. We discovered that most applicants for Malta’s cash-for-passports programme came from countries where obtaining another country’s passport is illegal or frowned upon.
Our investigations into the Labour secret Facebook groups working to dehumanise and isolate assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and others were carried out well before 2021 but it was this year that our findings proved pivotal to the conclusions reached by the public inquiry into her murder. Despite the lukewarm reaction from the government to the public inquiry’s report, the international community understood the importance of the inquiry and we continue to be invited to workshops in several European countries to share our investigation findings and our knowledge and experience with others. This year, The Shift also delivered the keynote speech at the VDZ publishers summit in Berlin.
We’ve got big plans for 2022 and in spite of all the challenges we faced this year, we have managed to build a dedicated and hardworking team that is able to work thanks to the support of a community of readers who have stuck with us, through a pandemic, through trolling, legal intimidation and numerous attempts at discrediting our work. We look back at our achievements with pride and with gratitude for the support of our readers and we look forward to the next year with renewed determination.