Malta Enterprise CEO Kurt Farrugia approved close to 70 direct orders totalling some €1 million, according to a list of direct orders issued in 2021 and recently published in the Government Gazette.
Farrugia was Head of Communications for disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat before he was given a €180,000 a year job to head Malta Enterprise, just before Muscat himself was forced to resign in 2019.
An analysis of the list of direct orders shows that, in most cases, the required services could have been secured through a competitive tendering process in conformity with established procurement rules.
Among Farrugia’s primary beneficiaries were some he knew very well.
Randolph Debattista, the current CEO of the Labour Party, co-opted to parliament following the general elections in March even though he never contested, was Farrugia’s choice for formulating a regulatory framework for the medicinal cannabis sector.
Debattista had to rope in a former colleague for this assignment, Clive Gerada, who used to work with him while serving at Malta’s Permanent Representation in Brussels.
For this job, based on legislation already established in other jurisdictions, Farrugia paid Debattista and Gerada €15,000.
Separately, Debattista was also appointed editor of an online news portal in English for the Labour Party (The Journal) that promoted the government’s proposed legislation with ‘exclusive’ stories.
Though Malta Enterprise work should focus on international markets to attract investment to the country, Farrugia decided to organise several expensive events in Malta that helped boost his profile.
All these required services for catering, venues, props and so on were decided on direct orders.
Big Events Ltd was paid thousands for an event for start-ups, while a related company, Eventify Malta Ltd, was paid €10,000 to produce a banner for the same event.
TEC Ltd, the organiser of Labour’s mass events during electoral campaigns, was paid €33,000 to provide a tent for the event – the rate was far cheaper than what Minister Ian Borg declared in his campaign expenditure for tents used for his electoral campaign.
Other events Farrugia organised, not quite within Malta Enterprise’s remit, included a commemoration of the Kordin Business Incubation Centre, a low-key institution with few tangible results.
To celebrate its 20th anniversary, Farrugia threw a lavish dinner party paying Corinthia €8,000 for catering and another €5,500 for entertainment during the dinner that featured a brass band.
While, so far, Malta Enterprise has refused to give details on costs to organise and host the Malta Pavilion at the Dubai Expo last year, the first direct orders issued in connection with the event show that some €400,000 were spent on hosts, manning the pavilion for some six months.
Most hosts were hired from a Dubai-based human resources supplier – EFS Facilities Services – while Malta Enterprise chose others.
The total cost of the Maltese Pavilion in Dubai is not yet known, but a six-figure sum is expected.
The former spin doctor’s list of direct orders also includes contracts for the engagement of several advisors. No public call was made.
These included €7,000 to John Bonello, a former PN official who addressed a Labour Party mass meeting in the 2017 elections; €8,000 to Philo Meli, a retired Malta Enterprise employee made ambassador by Labour; €10,000 to Stephanie Mintoff, a PR person for former economy minister Chris Cardona; and €7,200 to Striped Sox Ltd, a small media company close to the inner circles of the Labour Party.