The Malta Tourism Authority (MTA), which was given a record €122 million subvention from the public coffers last year, still managed to overspend its budgetary allocation and posted a €2.2 million deficit for the 2022 financial year.
In the meantime, Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo has already spent a month avoiding giving detailed explanations to Parliament about how the MTA spent a staggering €56 million on sponsorships, events, public relations and advertising last year.
Despite the record spending, the number of tourists visiting Malta last year, 2.3 million, was half a million lower than in the 2019 peak year.
Malta does not either appear to be attracting the high-end tourism sector the minister has been hoping for – so much so that the average individual tourist spend in Malta has also continued to decline.
According to the MTA’s latest financial report covering 2022, the authority closed the year in the red with most of its spending going on route development and marketing (€54 million); events, sponsorships, and advertising (€56 million) and millions more in consultancies, salaries, and leases of private property for its offices.
Through the route development budget – another name for avoiding EU rules and giving direct subsidies to airlines flying into Malta – the MTA is paying low-cost airlines for each and every passenger coming into Malta.
The MTA refuses to divulge which airlines are receiving the subsidies, which are camouflaged as marketing, although it is widely known that Ryanair is, by far, the largest beneficiary.
Asked in Parliament by Opposition shadow minister Mario de Marco for a detailed account of how the MTA spent the €56 million in sponsorships, events, and advertising – including who the main beneficiaries were – Bartolo has already postponed his reply three times over the last month.
Each time he is reminded of his duty to supply such information to the House, Bartolo simply says that “the information will be given in another session” – perhaps hoping the Opposition will stop asking or that Parliament rises for its customary summer recess before he is obliged to reply.
Bartolo has been under scrutiny over how he is spending millions of euros of public funds, mostly indiscriminately and with a complete lack of transparency.
Only last week, Bartolo again permitted Film Commissioner Johann Grech to spend millions on the so-called Mediterranean Film Festival that promoted foreign productions and saw the attendance of friends and Labour Party loyalists to a lavish dinner party paid for by taxpayers and complete with entertainment by none other than tenor Joseph Calleja.
This is coupled with The Shift’s recent reports on how the Summer Daze party – organised by a group of entrepreneurs close to the government – was sponsored by the MTA to the tune of 2.7 million.
While the tourism season typically struggles in the winter months, the MTA chose to send millions 356 Entertainment’s way to host the party during the Santa Marija holidays, when Malta is bursting at the seams with tourists.
Administrative costs are also being diverted to the relatives of the MTA chairman, former Labour Minister Gavin Gulia. A villa in Msida owned by his father-in-law, Lino Mousu, has continued to be leased by the MTA for office space and with rental payments having increased substantially on Gulia’s watch.
The former minister is also receiving some €100,000 a year in remuneration and perks even though he is a non-executive chairman. The MTA is led by CEO Carlo Micallef, who is the son of a former Labour minister.