Government rushes to appeals court as The Shift wins more FOI tribunal cases

Government entities this week rushed to the Court of Appeal to submit new challenges against The Shift’s Freedom of Information requests after the FOI Appeals Tribunal upheld another six of the Data Protection Commissioner’s initial rulings to release information being requested.

The information that the government is going to extraordinary lengths to withhold concerns how public funds are being used to fund the operations of MaltaToday and Saviour Balzan’s private businesses, particularly the public relations consultancies offered to different ministries.

Headed by lawyer Anna Mallia, the Information and Data Protection Appeals Tribunal threw out another round of challenges against releasing such information by the Malta Police Force, the National Social and Development Fund (NSDF), which administers funds from the sale of Maltese citizenship, and five different ministries – those of finance, the environment, the economy, social policy and home affairs).

In total, 40 government ministries and agencies are refusing to abide by the decision of the Data Protection Commissioner to release the information, taking the cases to the Appeals Tribunal.

So far, Chair Anna Mallia has thrown out 25 of those cases.

Yet the government entities are now filing second appeals, this time in court, where The Shift is facing another 17 cases (so far) before Judge Wenzu Mintoff.

In all this effort, the government is appealing the decisions of its own bodies – twice – imposing a substantial financial burden on a small newsroom that has to fight back some 80 lawyers, paid by taxpayers, to deny information in the public interest.

Through her decisions upholding earlier rulings by the Data Protection Commissioner, Mallia has insisted that The Shift has every right to seek information on how public funds are being administered and that the government should be accountable for its expenditure.

Soon after these decisions, instructions were issued by the Office of the Prime Minister for a last-ditch challenge to try to twist the latest Freedom of Information decisions in the government’s favour.

Through the office of the State Advocate, lawyers Anthony Borg and Corinne Pace this week filed counter-appeals to Mallia’s decisions, repeating the exact arguments that have already been thrown out twice – by both the Commissioner for Data Protection and the Appeals Tribunal.

In what is being described in legal terms as a 40-strong SLAPP against The Shift, the government appears adamant on crippling financially the small independent newsroom with continuous and lengthy legal battles.

It started as a simple Freedom of Information request following revelations in court by Keith Schembri, the former chief of staff of disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat, who exposed Balzan as being ‘more of a lobbyist than a journalist’ who would continuously ask for handouts.

The Shift filed FOI requests to seek the information to which Schembri had alluded, also following reports by The Times of Malta that revealed Balzan was acting as a consultant to Minister Ian Borg on the controversial Central Link project when public opposition was widespread. The Shift also revealed he was a consultant to former justice minister Edward Zammit Lewis, all while running an independent newsroom across several channels.

From the little that is already known, Balzan has been the beneficiary of more than €1 million in contracts and direct orders.

The cases the government is instituting against The Shift and its own appointed bodies come at a significant expense to the State in legal fees and handouts to lawyers close to the administration. Among these recruited for the purpose is Labour Party President Ramona Attard.

One of the arguments the government is making against The Shift’s demands for transparency is that the exercise of gathering all the information on Balzan’s handouts would prove to be excessively cumbersome.

                           
                           
                               
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KLAUS
KLAUS
2 months ago

This is just embarrassing.

What ridiculous figures has ROBBER Abela bought together as the last bid? 
Where did he find these joke figures?

KLAUS
KLAUS
2 months ago

i truly think that this should be as headlines in all newspaper and broadcasts,
because it shows the real face of this regime.

robert
robert
2 months ago

State funds spent against the general interest. Let’s hope this newspaper will be able to resist the GoV intent to gag good journalism. Please don’t give up.

adriang
adriang
2 months ago

These cases and their appeals should be heard with exreme urgency at this point. This would render the Government’s efforts to conceal this information useless. They’d have to give up. Moreover, on judgement the Government should be made to pay all expenses incurred.

Philip
Philip
2 months ago

Disgraceful. We are being trodden on left, right and centre. Thank you Shift for your indefatigable work.
Share this article people !

Godfrey Leone Ganado
Godfrey Leone Ganado
2 months ago
Reply to  Philip

And donate.

Francis Said
Francis Said
2 months ago

Democracy at it’s worst. Only the PM with a dirty conscience does not accept this. His mantra is one: The Institutions are working.
Working for the corrupt and mis-management of public funds.

Godfrey Leone Ganado
Godfrey Leone Ganado
2 months ago

1. DONATE TO THE SHIFT to fight for our legal right to accountability of how government is misappropriating our taxes, and keeping the pockets of its rent seekers like Saviour Balzan, lined with gold.
2. Well done to Dr Anna Mallia who impartially judges the refusal of these requests, in favour our human right to freedom of information, public accountability, and good governance.
3. We need responsible citizens to act as whistleblowers in every corner of any institution and entity, public or private, to bravely report all suspicions of misdoings to the detriment of what is good governance and right.
4. The lack of accountability is leading to the everincreasing National Deficit which is reaching Euro 1 billion annualy and increasing our National Deficit by an equivalent Euro 1 billion annually. This has now reached an amount of Euro 10 billion and becoming unsustainable and irreversible.

Roy Austin
Roy Austin
1 month ago

Agree completely, but he is a proxy pm.he has no power, it’s the construction moguls who run this country, I’ve met his mother when I lived Marsaskala she must be so disappointed in him when his father was a good President. Shame on you

Carmelo Borg
2 months ago

Imhatra li se inehhu lil Dr ANNA MALLIA meta jalqila iz zmien

Mark
Mark
2 months ago

TheShiftNews hija ponn sod tal-ġurnaliżmu Malti. Kulħadd jibża’ mill-ponn fi ġlieda, iżda n-nies ta’ rieda tajba lkoll jieħdu pjaċir li jkunu jafu li hemm ponn sod li jiddefendi l-interessi tagħhom. Quddiem dan is-SLAPP biċ-ċatt, din il-Kamra tal-Aħbarijiet qed issir dejjem iżjed rilevanti, segwita, fdata u stmata. Ibqgħu ponn sod għalina. U min jista’, jgħin finanzjarjament.

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