An investigation over alleged irregularities by the public broadcaster and the Malta Tourism Authority on thousands of euros spent to manipulate betting odds in favour of Malta’s participant in the European Song Contest last year remained inconclusive, contradicting Minister Carmelo Abela’s public declarations that “no irregularities had been found”.
A summary of the report, acquired by The Shift through a Freedom of Information request, also shows that the main allegation on which the report was supposed to delve into – the use of public funds on betting sites – was not investigated by RSM, and instead focused on the almost €600,000 spent by both state organisations on the contest.
The report, assigned to auditing firm RSM through a direct order – the same firm that audits the accounts of the governing Labour Party – concluded that while both organisations seem to have stayed within their self-determined budgets, most of the procurement was made through direct orders and insisted that the information included in their report could not be independently verified.
Noting that their assignment was “not an audit”, RSM underlined through a disclaimer that “the possibility exists that not all relevant information and documentation was made available to us”, taking no responsibility for the conclusions of the report.
The Office of the Prime Minister refused to make available the full copy of the report, citing commercial sensitivity, and only made available the report’s executive summary.
Extravagance and revised budgets
According to the RSM report, originally, PBS had budgeted some €350,000 for the participation of singer Destiny in the competition held in Rotterdam.
However, for some undefined reason, the PBS management, led by politically-appointed chairman Mark Sammut, later decided to increase the budget to €500,000.
A further €155,000 were obtained from the MTA budget, which according to the report, were still to be paid to PBS two months after the event took place.
While the RSM report concluded that both organisations stayed within budget ( since they were revised upwards during the process), no investigation was carried out on whether funds were used for betting – PBS and the MTA did not provide any invoices or other financial data on this issue.
On the other hand, a breakdown of the figures on which the two organisations spent taxpayers’ money shows tens of thousands of euro dished out on social media marketing and unidentified influencers to build public support for Malta’s song.
On social media platforms alone, PBS and the MTA spent a staggering €157,000.
Several so-called unnamed influencers also shared between them some €32,000 in additional state funds to promote Malta’s entry.
Travelling costs also significantly veered from the original budget, with many at PBS and the MTA spending weeks in hotels in Rotterdam in preparation for the contest.
While less than €6,000 were listed as having been spent on travel – possibly undervalued considering the number of people travelling to the Netherlands – accommodation costs in hotels reached €80,000.
Staging, artistic and unspecified ‘other talent’ and the production of a music video set taxpayers back another €160,000.
Dubious procurement and missing invoices
The report shows that PBS alone spent a total of €423,000 on the contest, while the MTA spent an additional €137,000, mostly on ‘marketing’, bringing the total to over €560,000.
While documents provided to RSM were not verified, some of the costs involved were not even covered by an invoice.
RSM pointed out that no invoices were provided by PBS for 16 of the recorded expense items, totalling almost €40,000. It is not known whether these missing invoices were somehow related to the alleged betting.
On its part, the MTA was still waiting for some invoices to arrive by the time the RSM ‘investigation’ was concluded.
RSM noted that it “cannot conclude on the completeness of the information” included in the report and that “any documentation brought to our attention subsequent to the date of this report which would affect the fundings, will require our findings to be adjusted and qualified accordingly.”