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.