The annual Joseph Calleja summer concert will not be held this year for the first time in its 25-year run, The Shift has confirmed with senior Malta Tourism Authority officials.
They, however, insisted that the renowned tenor’s absence this summer after a decade and a half was down to Calleja’s other international engagements and is not related to the cutting of funds that the government has injected into the annual do since 2013.
The news, which has been kept under wraps until now, follows a new National Audit Office report that flagged concerns over spending irregularities associated with the annual concert, and after remedial action was taken by the MTA to drastically reduce its sponsorship.
According to the NAO, it was “verbally informed that the Authority (MTA) managed to reduce its annual contribution to this event by around €450,000”.
The MTA did not state the total amount of funds allocated to the event in past years and it has so far refused to publish its contracts with Calleja since 2013.
But, according to the NAO, up until last year (2022), the MTA was still spending €350,000 on the annual event, even though it was already suffering from dwindling audience numbers and standing spectators were no longer allowed.
The government started sponsoring Calleja’s annual concert in 2013. Through an agreement signed with the MTA, hundreds of thousands of euros were injected into the event in exchange for free entrance for members of the public to enjoy the show from a large standing area.
The sponsorship, however, ballooned over the years without any real oversight on how the funds were being spent.
In an audit a few years ago, the NAO found several irregularities on the MTA’s part.
Prior event budget forecasts and documentation on sponsorship arrangements were not made available to the NAO and a marketing strategy plan as envisaged by the contract was not being followed.
The NAO found in one case that “although one of the signatures on the contract bore the date of eight days before the event, the formal contract was entered into retrospectively, and no explanation for this irregularity was given by the MTA.”
In its review of its recommendations published a few days ago, the NAO commented positively that the MTA had followed up and had taken several measures to regularise its agreements with ‘The Maltese Tenor’.
The NAO noted that this has also contributed to a significant reduction in the contribution of public funds to Calleja’s concert of around half a million a year.
This year will be the first time since the revision that the concert will not be held.
Just a few weeks ago, Calleja entertained Film Commissioner Johann Grech’s guests at a gala dinner on Manoel Island for the Mediterrane Film Festival.
It is not yet known whether Calleja was paid for his short performance since neither the Film Commission nor the Tourism Ministry gave any details.