MTA wages legal war to hide millions of euros disbursed in questionable event sponsorships

Tista’ taqra l-artiklu bil-Malti hawn.

The government, through the Malta Tourism Authority (MTA), is challenging a decision taken by the Data Protection Commissioner, that obliges it to partially reveal the names of beneficiaries of millions of euros in taxpayer-funded sponsorships for private parties, events, and concerts.

Assisted by Ryan Pace, an inexperienced but well-connected lawyer, who used to work in the private legal practice of Prime Minister Robert Abela, the MTA has refused to comply with a decision by the Commissioner that partially upheld a Freedom of Information request from The Shift. 

Instead, the publicly funded MTA is mounting a new legal challenge against The Shift and the Data Protection Commissioner, arguing that the revelation of how public funds are being disbursed by the tourism authority would have negative effects on the commercial interests of the beneficiaries.

Last year, The Shift filed an FOI request asking the MTA to provide a list of payments made under ‘events and sponsorships’ for 2019, 2020 and 2021. 

The MTA immediately shot down the request arguing that this did not fall under the requisites of the FOI law as the information was “commercially sensitive”.

Against The Shift’s argument that the millions of euros paid by the MTA are coming out of funds belonging to taxpayers, who have the right to know how their taxes are being spent by the government, the MTA has continued to to insist on concealing the information. It is said that a total of 202 events were allocated public funds in the three-year period, mostly dominated by the pandemic.

Following a call for an investigation by The Shift, arguing that the government cannot conceal such information, particularly if it espouses transparency and accountability standards, the Data Commissioner partially upheld the request, ordering the MTA to give details of each and every sponsored event without giving the precise amount of public funds disbursed.

The MTA still refused to adhere to the decision of the Data Commissioner, and through Ryan Pace – also paid through public funds – is now insisting, through an appeal, that the decision is struck down.

The Shift’s request for information about the way in which public funds are being used by the MTA was made following various revelations by this news portal about the millions of euros that were squandered by the MTA in 2017 and 2018.

During an investigation of the MTA’s accounts by the Public Accounts Committee, it was revealed that party organisers and companies closely connected to the Labour government were being fed hundreds of thousands of euros to organise parties, particularly during the summer months, under the guise of attracting tourists to Malta during a period when Malta is usually already inundated with tourists anyway.

The Shift revealed that several millions of euros in public funds were being diverted to a small group of close-knit organisers, namely Gerald Debono (known as Gerry), Trevor Camilleri, Nicholas Spiteri and Fortina’s Edward Zammit Tabona, working under the name of 365 Entertainment Group and related companies.

Another major beneficiary, NNG Promotions, which included Nigel Camilleri, Jonastin Zammit and former PBS boss Anton Attard, were also receiving hefty sponsorships, including for the annual government-sponsored concert by tenor Joseph Calleja.

It was also revealed that most of these sponsorships were channelled through the MTA’s Head of Events, Lionel Gerada, a convicted fraudster and ‘person of trust’ of disgraced former Minister Konrad Mizzi, who was given a headship post at the MTA.

The Shift reported that in just a year, the sponsorship money spent by the MTA, with limited transparency and rules, shot up from 2 to 6 million in a year.

The Shift is informed that most of these same event organisers have benefited from other tens of thousands of euros during the past three years and have already ‘secured’ massive amounts of public funds in sponsorships for various events being held this year.

However, so far, the MTA has continued to insist it will not inform the public about how the funds are being administered.

Through its lawyers, BCGL Advocates, The Shift will file its submissions before the Appeals Tribunal, to counter the latest legal challenge by the government.

                           
                               
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Francis Said
Francis Said
3 days ago

Public funds used in anyway must never be considered as confidential for commercial reasons.
These funds are not to be treated as confidential. The government is there to administer these funds wisely.
The general public and the Auditor General have repeatedly signalled out gross misuse of our funds.
These are not the Government’s funds but the public’s. The only sector that the Government has a duty to keep secret is anything that regards security.
This government has reached a National Debt of €8.3 billion and rising. It will not be the current PL group that at some point in time will pay the debt, but our children, grandchildren and future generations.
If these funds have been well spent and the Country as a whole has benefitted, the. The Government should have absolutely no problem in disclosing all.

Joseph Tabone Adami
Joseph Tabone Adami
3 days ago

Is there a sort of standard reply – unashamedly saying “THOU SHALT NOT ASK EMBARASSING QUESTIONS” – whereby the Data Protection Commissioner’s enquiries are met by those expected to provide him with the information he seeks?

Maybe!

Last edited 3 days ago by Joseph Tabone Adami
D. Borg
D. Borg
3 days ago

This is not only an issue of transparency in the way taxpayers funds are spent – supposedly on an arms length value for money basis (which both the Ministry of Finance, the Internal Audit Directorate, and the Auditor General should be investigating)..
but more importantly an issue concerning Transparency Party Financing, considering that the lucky beneficiaries of these handsome direct orders happen to coincidentally be close to the party in government AND above all are also engaged to provide similar services to the same political party and/or its candidates. This is a matter that the Electoral Commissioner is duty-bound to investigate in a transparent manner.

Having said that it is very peculiar how the National Party is keeping quiet over such, let’s just say “potential” abuses, that ultimately undermines our democracy!

Lastly a big thank-you to the Shift for undertaking such investigations and persevering in following the money trail – which ultimately is what all the charades and hollow excuses strive to shroud.

carlo
carlo
3 days ago
Reply to  D. Borg

Once we have been taken off the grey list (which thanks to the muvument korrot we were listed in), expect to see MORE CORRUPTION, lies, theft and pilferage of our taxes.

Malta had substantially complete the necessary reforms ( ON PAPER) and appeared (ONLY APPEARED) to have addressed the shortcomings identified (REALLY).

The FATF are either idiots, misinformed or a corrupt lot as we are still waiting for justice to be made and only harsh measures are needed to relieve us from the ongoing corruption. Now robert and the whole lot of them feel safe and can keep moving in a vicious and uncontrollable manner on this rock and it’s only the honest taxpayer who will have to pay for it as they are all well set in other countries.

Joe Genovese
Joe Genovese
3 days ago

What an apt backdrop!

Plundering the Nation’s treasure chest, their enduring pursuit for entering politics.

Last edited 3 days ago by Joe Genovese
Carl
Carl
3 days ago

obvious that they will go to court because the money does not take them from their own pockets, but from those of the citizens, so it costs them nothing, the same money they will take to bribe some lawyer..

carlosa.
3 days ago

Komplu thanzru, issa mohkhom mistrieh ghax harguna mill-grey list li muvument korrott dahhalna fiha. Korrotti kontu u hallelin tibqghu.

Joe Genovese
Joe Genovese
3 days ago

So the MTA has been taken before the House Public Accounts Committee……before.

Currently Clayton sits as a Government member on this Committee, immersed in his mobile throughout the proceedings, raising his head only to gulp down endless cups of coffee.

If MTA is taken there the second time around, one would hardly entertain the thought that that would impact Clayton’s penchant for posturing.

carlo
carlo
3 days ago

” Quote”
The MTA immediately shot down the request arguing that this did not fall under the requisites of the FOI law as the information was “commercially sensitive”.😒
Unquote

CORRUPTION is the BACKBONE of POWER.

The honest taxpayer have the right to know the beneficiaries of millions of euros in taxpayer-funded sponsorships for private parties, events, and concert.

Malajr tghallimt tahrab mid-domandi validi – ISTHI – dawk flusna u ghandna kull dritt inkun nafu, jekk nibqghu bla risposta allura jkollna ragun nghidu li l-muvument kollu huwa korrott.

I. Gatt
I. Gatt
10 hours ago

We are beyond redemption, should hell indeed exist, there is indeed a prominent place reserved for this scum…

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