The government has blocked a Freedom of Information request to provide details on Film Commissioner Johann Grech’s spending spree on the Mediterrane Film Festival held last June and estimated to cost taxpayers at least a million euros.
The government has also refused to give details on Grech’s list of invitees to a lavish gala dinner held at Fort Manoel, for which British comedian David Walliams was flown in and paid tens of thousands to conduct the dinner show, together with a raft of foreign artists awarded during the event.
The Shift’s FOI asked the Film Commission to supply documents to account for all spending made for the festival, a list of non-paying guests attending the lavish dinner party and a breakdown of all the contracts issued by Grech for all the services provided during the week-long festival.
The Malta Film Commission was also asked to indicate whether the supply contracts were awarded following public procurement rules or were issued by direct order.
The Commission has turned down all the requests made.
In a terse reply, Commissioner Johann Grech said that he could not give the requested details on his guests for the ‘free-dinner party’, citing data protection. Most of the guests invited to this dinner party had nothing to do with the film industry, including many PL officials and personal friends of the Commissioner.
Regarding the costs of the activities held last June and the list of contractors, Grech also refused to be transparent and accountable, stating that “the requested information is in the process of being published.”
Surprisingly, even though British comedian David Walliams was part and parcel of the gala show with Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja, Grech said: “He is not in possession of any invoices for David Walliams.”
Sources have told The Shift the Tourism Ministry issued the funds for the comedian’s exorbitant fees.
The presence of Walliams for a Film Commission activity had already hit the headlines in 2022 as he was reportedly paid over €200,000 from taxpayer’s funds to conduct a Film Awards night organised by Grech at the Mediterranean Conference Centre in Valletta in 2022, just before the general elections.
On that occasion, Grech had spent more than €1.3 million for the awards night, mainly through direct orders to suppliers, who, just a few weeks later, supplied the same services to the Labour Party’s electoral campaign.
Grech’s refusal to give the necessary information on his latest taxpayers’ spending spree follows similar stances taken by Minister Clayton Bartolo in parliament.
Asked repeatedly through parliamentary questions to give a detailed breakdown of how taxpayer funds were used for the Mediterrane Festival, Bartolo dodged all questions, replying with the usual postponement reply that “the information would be given in another parliamentary session”.
Bartolo repeated the same answer until parliament rose for its three-month-long summer recess.
MPs will only reconvene in October.
Since becoming Film Commissioner in 2017, the former marketing manager of disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat has built a reputation of spending millions of taxpayer funds without any form of accountability, with the government seeming to be giving him a free hand on funds he dishes out in public contracts.
During his first two years as Commissioner, Grech spent over €600,000 travelling worldwide to attend various film festivals and conduct meetings.