Government in desperate legal scramble to hide Saviour Balzan deals in defiance of FOI order

Ministries and government bodies challenge Data Protection Commissioner's decision to grant information on Saviour Balzan's contracts

 

At least 29 government entities, ranging from the Education Ministry and the Gozo Ministry to Identity Malta and Projects Malta (Malta Strategic Partnership Projects), are appealing the Data Protection Commissioner’s decision to provide information on payments made to Media Today’s Saviour Balzan, each mounting their own separate challenge.

One by one, the 29 entities (and counting) filed virtually identical appeals pushing back on the Commissioner’s decision to grant the information in the public interest regarding the use of public funds.

Though the Commissioner’s orders were based on the Freedom of Information Act and previous court judgements, the government has refused to comply and is instead challenging the authority of the Data Protection Commissioner to issue such orders.

This is an unprecedented move that raises serious questions about why the government is so reluctant to publish details about Balzan’s contracts.

The Shift has already revealed that Balzan has received at least €1 million in government contracts under Labour, reporting that this was only the tip of the iceberg.

Following the publication of the findings, government entities started to object to the Data Protection Commissioner’s decision that they should also provide information on tens of thousands of euro payments made to Balzan and his commercial entities.

This implies that each of these entities has used the services of Balzan who, while claiming to have established “the only independent newsroom” in the country, has been offering consultancy services to ministers – who then appear in his publications, including Malta Today and Illum, and his TV programmes on the public broadcasting service itself funded by taxpayers.

Those services include advising members of government on how to deal with the media in difficult circumstances, according to contracts seen by The Shift.

The 29 appeals by government entities are now all being heard by the Appeal Tribunal. The Shift has submitted its response to the Tribunal, arguing that the requests were entirely legitimate in that they concern the expenditure of public funds.

Brick walls

The Shift made a series of FOI requests to ask ministries and public authorities to release contracts and lists of payments made to Saviour Balzan and his companies since Labour was returned to power in 2013.

The information was deemed necessary and of public interest in view of multiple reports that Balzan was using his media business to acquire government handouts and PR contracts through public funds.

This was also partially confirmed when accused money launderer Keith Schembri – the chief of staff of disgraced former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and reportedly one of Balzan’s sources – was reported to have said in court that the owner of Malta Today was more of a lobbyist than a journalist, regularly requesting government handouts including through TV programmes with the public broadcaster.

While most of The Shift’s requests were immediately shot down by the government, which claimed that the data requested did not exist, this news portal asked the Commissioner for Data Protection to look into the matter. Following a thorough investigation, the Commissioner found it was not true that the data was unavailable and ordered all the government ministries and authorities to divulge the information.

Still, the government refused, claiming that the Data Protection Commissioner was not entitled to issue such an order and instead mounted a coordinated legal challenge, attacking the commissioner’s position and in effect protecting Balzan.

Unlike The Shift – the only newsroom in Malta which refuses to take any advertising or sponsored content from the government or public agencies – mainstream newsrooms have become heavily dependent on government advertising for their survival.

In addition to the advertising received from the government, Balzan has established himself as a PR consultant contracted by different ministries and government agencies, setting up a network of commercial vehicles through which he cashes in on contracts, which are often direct orders.

Balzan claims he has resigned – twice – from his involvement in his newspapers, but he retains his columns and his obvious influence.

Balzan’s close connections with those in power, though still ostensibly working as a journalist, are not new. He is known to have been paid to support a number of political campaigns over the years, including that of disgraced former European Commissioner John Dalli’s bid for the PN leadership and Malta’s entry into the EU.

                           
                               
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MT is a crooks paradise

Well, if one sees that the appeals tribunal is controlled by labourite Anna Mallia, The Shift will be lucky if this information is obtained before the next decade. If ever.

Freedom of information does not exist in Malta.

Carmelo Borg
7 months ago

Niskanta kif il PN qatt ma qal xejn fuq hekk JAQAW ??????

Francis Said
Francis Said
7 months ago

The government should disclose all the direct orders issued. The individual amount and to whom.
The taxpayer has funded these contracts and therefore there are no ifs or buts.
These must never be considered as sensitive issues. Punto e basta.

carlo
carlo
7 months ago

Guess which one of the above scoundrels is the most CORRUPT.
The first present for Guessing is a Bulgari watch and the second prize is Petrus wine bottle.

JOHN CASSAR
7 months ago

Balzan pinnur , idur ma kull rih. Dejjem ghamel li qabillu basta jimla l-but.

Victor Vella
Victor Vella
7 months ago

By their legal protest, they are confirming that the accusation is true, and that they have a lot to hide. Should we pay our taxes, when the money is being wasted like this?

viv
viv
7 months ago
Reply to  Victor Vella

Hypothetically – tax payers should reroute our payments towards journalistic and legal funding. Otherwise we are paying the ‘government’ to subdue us.

James
James
7 months ago

It would seem to suggest that just like every other report which emerges where the government is shown for what it is, they close ranks to stop information being made available.

It is no wonder the US State Department press release of December 22nd confirms that the government institutions’ failures to uphold the rule of law has undermined the Maltese public’s faith in those institutions and has officially put the country on watch after the credible evidence in its possession of bribes and kickbacks being paid to Schembri and Mizzi.

Maybe the heat for the kitchen cabinet is getting a little too hot for comfort for them now?

Toni Borg
Toni Borg
7 months ago

The institutions are working…..or so Bobby came out telling us with a smirk on his face!
They’ve taken over everything, Police Force, Army, MFSA, FIAU, Central Bank…the whole lot….and the only 3 standing to be counted, are now being shot at by the government and its lackeys!!

What a corrupt dictatorial party!

joe tedesco
joe tedesco
7 months ago

ARROGANCE AND DEFIANCE OF THE INSTITUTIONS
PAR EXCELLENCE NOW, IMAGINE HOW DISASTROUS
IT WILL BE DURING THE NEXT 5 YEARS!

Sciberras
Sciberras
7 months ago

The more one wants you to stay away from questioning shows there is more to dig up and if one is paid from our coffers what is there to hide when we were promised transparency ?

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