Tista’ taqra bil-Malti
Labour’s extravagant final electoral events at Ta’ Qali’s MFCC (Malta Fairs and Conventions Centre), including the campaign’s closing event tomorrow, are being indirectly funded by taxpayers, an investigation by The Shift has found.
This has been orchestrated through a deliberately planned government music festival at the same venue, which was ‘postponed’ at the eleventh hour, to make way for Robert Abela’s choreographed televised shows.
Our investigation shows that while Labour’s activities are being managed by the same contractors who have received direct orders worth millions of euro over the past few years, One TV officials, including Chairman Jason Micallef, were incensed to learn the OPM has engaged former PN media boss Anton Attard to coordinate the ‘spectacle’ and its live TV broadcast on One.
The former NET TV CEO coordinated Labour’s TV broadcast of last Sunday’s rally using a hired Italian crew and their Outside Broadcasting Unit (OBU), which is also expected to be used for the Pope’s visit next month.
The same crew has already been used for several of Attard’s private ventures, including X-Factor and the upcoming Shark Tank TV shows on PBS. Additionally, Labour’s transmission was directed by Mark Vassallo, current PBS board secretary and lawyer of disgraced former OPM chief of staff, Keith Schembri.
Sources close to Labour told The Shift that while hundreds of thousands of euro are being spent on the PL’s activities, no one knows who is paying and how.
“Last Sunday’s spectacle, with a live orchestra and all, would have cost Labour some €500,000 to organise. Obviously, the PL didn’t fork out this money as other sources are providing the necessary logistics,” one of the event’s coordinators told The Shift on condition of anonymity.
“Jason Micallef, who was opposing Anton Attard’s participation, eventually had to bow to pressure, after he was told that the LED screens being used by Labour for its stage were ‘hired’ from Attard’s private company,” a ONE TV employee said.
How are taxpayers subsidising Labour’s mass rallies?
Just three days before Prime Minister Robert Abela announced the date of the election, government agency Festivals Malta issued four tenders, without publication, calling for stage, lights, sound, LED screens and other important provisions for its planned ‘Muzika, Muzika’ song festival scheduled for 24-26 March at the MFCC.
Instead of postponing the show and delaying its procurement plans after Abela announced the date of the general elections on 20 February, Festivals Malta, chaired by Labour stalwart Norman Hamilton, proceeded with the tenders, closing the offers on 22 February.
While booking the MFCC for the end of March festival, four direct orders worth €640,000 were awarded to habitual Labour contractors: Nexos, Ray Vella & Co, Besteam Audio and Tec Ltd.
Just as the contractors were finalising their work – building the stage and setting up at the MFCC – Festivals Malta announced that it would postpone ‘Muzika, Muzika’ to April because of the election. Immediately afterwards, Labour announced that its last two mass rallies were to be held at the MFCC, where all the logistics were almost ready for the now-postponed song festival.
In an attempt to make the machinations less obvious, Norman Hamilton, in his postponement announcement, gave details of the ‘stage’ designs for ‘Muzika, Muzika’, presenting an image that appears different to the stage being used by Labour. Also, Festivals Malta is still supposedly ‘evaluating’ the tenders, although the contractors have been assured of their new assignment and payment, The Shift is informed.
All four ‘Muzika, Muzika’ contractors are the same companies responsible for Labour’s events at the MFCC.
In the meantime, other props for mass events planned for the weeks after the election, including props for the stage to be used by the Pope during his visit, which will also be coordinated by Anton Attard, and an April MTA event called ‘LOL surprise’, coordinated by Lionel Gerada at the MFCC, have ‘arrived’ early from abroad and are being used in Labour’s extravaganzas.
‘Muzika, Muzika’, Labour and Anton Attard
‘Muzika, Muzika’ – dubbed the Malta Song Festival – is the brainchild of 78-year old Norman Hamilton, who after spending five years in London as Malta’s High Commissioner, returned to the island as Chairman of Festivals Malta.
The organising committee of this festival is staffed almost exclusively with names from Labour’s One TV: Albert Marshall, former One TV CEO, Jason Micallef, ONE TV Chairman, Charlon Gouder, ONE TV host and former journalist and Chris Galea, Labour’s mass events coordinator.
While Paul Abela is the festival’s director, his son, Ryan Paul, directed the ad hoc orchestra that played during Labour’s mass rally.
Anton Attard has been in the events industry for years and made a name for himself during the PN’s mass events in the late 1990s and the elections of 2004 and 2008. After years heading the PN media, he was appointed to the helm of PBS soon after the 2008 election. He is the brother-in-law of PN MP Beppe Fenech Adami.
After Labour returned to power in 2013, he was asked to step down and make way for John Bundy. In the meantime, Attard was paid tens of thousands of euros to cover the remainder of his contract at PBS. He has recently also been rewarded with prime time spots on the State broadcaster for his private productions, including X-Factor.
Attard, also a former CEO of the Church’s media, is now operating several media businesses and consultancies, including NNG Promotions, which conducts the annual government-sponsored Joseph Calleja concert, Mint Media, and Greatt Company Ltd. His organised public events often benefit from government sponsorship, as well as private funding. In addition, Attard acts as a consultant to various entities.