The year in review: Five of The Shift’s biggest stories in 2022

From Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February to rising inflation and climate change, there was no shortage of events to test the world around us in 2022.

Maybe it’s just us, but events in Malta have made the last year feel more like a decade. We’ve covered, among many things, a general election, the saga involving Malta’s national airline, cronyism, conflicts of interest, corrupt practices, the unparalleled abuse of public funds, a sexual harassment scandal, and bold action to reclaim the use of public land.

It is impossible to do justice to all the newsworthy stories that The Shift has worked on this past year, so we’ve picked five of our most impactful investigations of the year.

The Air Malta saga

In August, The Shift revealed that the government had established advanced plans to dissolve Air Malta later in the year and transfer its few remaining profitable assets to a new airline, similar to what had been done in Italy with Alitalia. The plan included the redundancy of Air Malta’s workforce, from pilots to ground handlers.

A couple of months earlier, The Shift had reported how the government was secretly negotiating a U-turn on its pre-electoral promise to hundreds of soon-to-be redundant workers at Air Malta by offering those who had signed up for the Voluntary Employment Transfer Scheme (VETS) a pay-out to resign and leave instead of being given a government job until retirement.

Despite the highly publicised scheme before the March elections, the government could not implement the promise, given that most of the Air Malta employees who signed up for the scheme had financial packages that were far higher than public service employees. This could lead to claims of discrimination which could be deemed illegal if challenged.

And yet, despite the airline’s dire financial situation, Air Malta still managed to spend €4 million on consultancies over the last few years.

The Malta Philharmonic Orchestra scandal

Our story about the sexual harassment in The Malta Philharmonic Orchestra resulted in the indictment of the perpetrator and the orchestra’s CEO for tampering with evidence.

Musicians, administrators and members of the orchestra’s management demanded action in the wake of The Shift’s reports, calling for the sacking of CEO Sigmund Mifsud for “covering up” the accusations when he had been made aware of them months earlier by the victim herself.

The Shift then revealed how Culture Minister Owen Bonnici was given details about the incidents of sexual harassment at the national orchestra weeks before the police took any action. The Shift also learnt that Bonnici had passed all his notes to Joyce Dimech, his Permanent Secretary, but no concrete action appeared to have been taken until The Shift made the case public.

Reclaiming Comino’s Blue Lagoon

This year also saw one of the most direct actions taken by activists. In June, Moviment Graffiti activists cleared out deckchairs and umbrellas from Comino’s Blue Lagoon vacating the beach space for the first time in years.

Not long after, The Shift revealed that the associate of construction tycoon Joseph Portelli, Daniel Refalo, and the brother of Labour MEP Josianne Cutajar, Mark Cutajar, are the two individuals who own the deckchair rental operations on Comino’s Blue Lagoon.

Meanwhile, Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo confirmed The Shift’s report that his father and uncles have a direct vested interest in Comino after The Shift revealed that they own Pleasure and Leisure Ltd, a ferry service to Comino, but dismissed suggestions of any conflict of interest.

Bartolo has yet to produce a management plan for the island that was promised years ago.

Uncanny VAT Lottery winners

If anything, 2022 was a good year for the 64-year-old woman residing in Bormla, who might well be Malta’s luckiest person, as her VAT fiscal receipts were drawn among the monthly winners in the lottery at least 13 times since January 2021. But the Bormla resident was not alone in her good fortune.

The Shift found that while the Bormla resident of Triq il-Polverista took home approximately €9,000 from her 13 wins, further research showed that a 41-year-old man from Siġġiewi walked away with a total of €18,584 after just four wins.

The Shift discovered another 24 lucky individuals who had their tickets drawn multiple times since January 2021, despite competing with millions of other participating receipts.

Experienced professionals told The Shift that it is “mathematically impossible” for the same participant to have so many wins in a lottery with millions of tickets: “We do not like to speculate as we have no proof, but it is quite obvious that something is very wrong with this lottery.”

Nevertheless, Finance Minister Clyde Caruana told parliament that the two investigations into the uncanny luck of a handful of individuals with the VAT receipt lottery had found no evidence of wrongdoing.

Breaking public procurement rules reaches new depths

The mismanagement of public funds is at the core of many of The Shift’s stories. Still, none are more emblematic than the severe breach of procurement rules and blatant abuse of taxpayer’s funds by then Transport Minister Ian Borg when he split a €420,000 bill from TEC into 20 direct orders to avoid issuing a tender.

Just a few months before the general elections, Borg’s ministry issued 20 direct orders worth almost €0.5 million to the same company in just one day. The direct orders were related to the launch of a proposal for a metro system in Malta.

Independent candidate Arnold Cassola asked the Standards Commissioner to investigate Borg’s expenditure, and the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation asked the National Audit Office (NAO) to do the same.

The Shift’s findings were later confirmed by the NAO report published in December, which found that while expenses for the exhibition inaugurated by Prime Minister Robert Abela were to be capped at €400,000, it ended up costing taxpayers over €550,000.

The NAO also discovered that negotiations with the supplier were handled directly by the minister and the Transport Malta chairman without the approval of either the finance minister or the agency’s procurement committee.


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1 month ago

Air Malta investigations of who signed the collective agreements????

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