Pierre Fenech – the CEO of the government’s Institute of Tourism Studies (ITS) – took his wife on a free cruise around the Mediterranean courtesy of Viking Cruises, a Swiss-based company that, at the time, was negotiating a deal to send staff to train at the same Institute, The Shift has confirmed.
The Shift was further informed that despite Fenech being advised not to accept the gift, as this could compromise negotiations with the government, he still went ahead and spent five days on the luxury ship.
When contacted, Fenech admitted that he had accepted the invitation but insisted that he had asked for clearance from Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo’s ministry. He insisted it was “no gift” and that Permanent Secretary Anthony Gatt had approved the trip.
“Although procedurally there was no need for any clearance since no gifts were involved, as ordinary procedure adopted in these circumstances (in the name of good governance and transparency), we referred the matter to our Permanent Secretary, who gave his go-ahead,” Fenech said.
The Shift is informed that a similar invitation by Viking Cruises was also extended to Frank Fabri, the former Education Ministry Permanent Secretary, who was forced to resign and then given a new job as General Manager of the ITS Training Institute. Yet Fabri declined.
Information obtained through a Freedom of Information request shows that Fenech charged the ITS for a refund for his travel arrangements to Ancona, where the trip departed on 25 April and returned on 2 May.
But he told The Shift that his wife, Romina, who accompanied him, paid for her travel arrangements to and from Ancona. He also said that a colleague from the ITS, Andrew Debattista, also joined the free trip.
“Members of staff who work for ITS who were and are involved in discussions to start offering courses in the cruise line business were invited for the ‘shakedown cruise during which a lot of testing is done before cruise ships accept guests on board,” Fenech said.
In his FOI declaration, Fenech omitted the fact that he spent five days on board the luxurious Viking Saturn and instead said his travels consisted of “meetings with Viking Cruises on possible collaborations in the future, especially in connection with the new ITS campus.”
‘Super CEO’ on board the Viking Saturn
Pierre Fenech and his wife Romina, a Housing Authority official given political appointments on government boards, also attended a ceremony at the Fincantieri Shipyard in Ancona where the newest ocean cruise liner was officially handed over to Viking.
The CEO and his wife then boarded the Viking Saturn for a five-day fully paid cruise, which would usually cost thousands of euros, with stops at Dubrovnik (Croatia), Corfu (Greece), Messina (Sicily), Naples and Rome.
Dubbed ‘Super CEO’, a jab at the two full-time CEO positions he was given, Fenech makes some €122,000 from his two government jobs.
Apart from his ITS post, he is also the CEO of the Mediterranean Conference Centre, another entity falling under the political remit of Clayton Bartolo.
Although he is not held accountable for the hours he should spend managing the Mediterranean Conference Centre, Minister Bartolo defended Fenech’s double role, saying he “delivers very good results”.
Fenech was also the CEO who offered disgraced Labour MP Rosianne Cutajar a consultancy job while already a sitting Labour MP.
Fenech never explained why he gave Cutajar the consultancy role and what results, if any, she had delivered.