National Theatre has been funding Azzopardi’s plays for 8 years

To date, Mario Philip Azzopardi's company Staġun Teatru Malti has received €160,000 in public funds

 

Teatru Manoel – Malta’s National Theatre – has been using taxpayer funds to underwrite the scriptwriting and production of Maltese plays by Labour apparatchik Mario Philip Azzopardi for the past eight years, according to documents seen by The Shift.

Azzopardi was given an exclusive contract in 2014, signed by the national theatre, under the guidance of Chairman Michael Grech, through which a ring-fenced budget of 20,000 per year of public funds was made available by the Finance Ministry to fund Azzopardi to write and produce three plays in the Maltese language every theatrical season.

The contract, seen by The Shift, specifies that the budget allocation is to go directly to Azzopardi’s private company, Staġun Teatru Malti, which is also responsible for how these funds are utilised, with little or no oversight at all by Teatru Manoel’s management.

The contract also specifies that Teatru Manoel is to make available all its in-house resources, including theatre rental. This means that Staġun Teatru Malti would have to bear none of the normal costs of staging a production at the theatre.

Azzopardi’s company not only gets paid for writing, hiring actors and other professionals but also gets the use of the Teatru Manoel itself, as well as the use of the theatre’s props, costumes, stage lights, backstage staff, set building staff, wardrobe mistress and front of house entirely free of charge, adding considerable value to the agreement.

In the contract, the theatre retained the right to object to any of the scripts presented by Azzopardi, as it did a few days ago after Azzopardi attempted to stage a play that mocked murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Part of the 2014 contract allocating public funds directly to Mario Azzopardi’s company with the Teatru Manoel acting as a payment gateway

However, any work rejected by the theatre, despite the fact that taxpayer funds have already paid for it to be written, remains the property of Azzopardi, according to the contract, and can be produced by the same director elsewhere.

The first of two exclusive contracts handed to Staġun Teatru Malti was signed in 2014 after both Azzopardi, who spent most of his adult life in Canada, and Sean Buhagiar successfully lobbied the new administration on the need to invest public funds in Maltese-language theatre productions.

Setting up a commercial vehicle (Staġun Teatru Malti), Azzopardi signed the deal with Teatru Manoel which ensured that 20,000 a year for the next five years would be paid to his company in return for three Maltese plays per season. 

The agreement noted that the sum of 20,000 a year was to cover all the expenses related to the productions, including the payment of actors and any other requirements.

No other Maltese theatre company has been invited to compete for these funds or has any similar agreement.

During the first two years of operation, although Azzopardi was the majority shareholder in the company, all profits were divided equally between the two company directors. However, this changed in 2016 when Buhagiar was ousted from the company by Azzopardi after the two fell out.

Taking full control, Azzopardi and his wife Therese continued with the state-guaranteed commercial entity and according to invoices, also seen by The Shift, were directly receiving some 70% of the total annual fund, for services they were rendering to their own company.

An invoice sent by Mario Azzopardi charging for the work he and his wife did for his own company

Despite objections by various competing theatre producers, claiming discrimination and favouritism, a further contract was drawn up in 2019 giving Azzopardi’s company the same 20,000 a year allocation for another three theatre seasons. This deal ends in June.

So far, through these contracts, Staġun Teatru Malti has received 160,000 of public funds.

Azzopardi, 71, has been hitting the headlines for the wrong reasons since his return to Malta from Canada in 2013.  

After 35 years in North America, Azzopardi immediately jumped onto the Labour Party’s bandwagon, producing propaganda videos for disgraced former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s first electoral campaign.

As soon as Labour returned to power, Azzopardi began receiving numerous direct orders, particularly through the Arts Council, managed by his long-time friend and fellow emigrant Albert Marshall.

Azzopardi was also handpicked to act as the artistic director of the Valletta 18 – EU capital for culture, through an 80,000 contract.

His latest attempt to trash the reputation and memory of Caruana Galiza is not his first.

According to minutes of Teatru Manoel’s management board, in 2016, a year before her brutal murder, Azzopardi wanted to use public funds to produce a play titled ‘Min qatel lil Daphne Caruana Galizia?’ (Who killed Daphne Caruana Galiza?)

The minutes show that the script was deemed to be in bad taste and rejected. The journalist was brutally assassinated the following year.

More recently, Azzopardi repeated his attempt to denigrate the memory of the murdered journalist through a new script he presented to Teatru Manoel, for a play titled ‘ix-Xiħa’.

 

Lawyer Michael Grech (right), a partner at GVZH firm and the government appointed Chair of the Manuel Theatre

The play was originally turned down by the artistic director of the theatre, however, it was later approved by Chairman Michael Grech’s board and was due to be staged at the end of this month. The news was greeted by public outrage, and the theatre finally cancelled the production.

Azzopardi has claimed he will take the play to a different theatre and stage it there, regardless of public opinion.

                           
                               
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Stephen John Newton
Stephen John Newton
1 month ago

This is scandalous. The Theatre should receive all government grants and disperse the funds to sponsor events that have a broad spectrum of appeal in Malta.
Apparently this gift was made to sponsor the PL agenda and thus represents a misuse of public funds.

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