Former Labour Party One TV host and current President of the Labour Party Ramona Attard also joined the free Mediterranean cruise provided by Viking Cruises, who were at the time involved in negotiations with the Institute of Tourism Studies, The Shift can reveal.
The free holiday, in which Attard joined the institute’s CEO Pierre Fenech, occurred last May when the ITS was conducting sensitive negotiations with the Swiss-based Viking cruise line company over the possibility of sending its employees for training in Malta.
The Shift is informed that Attard and her partner Andrew Debattista, a Business Development Manager at the Institute, joined Fenech and his wife, Romina, in Ancona, Italy, where they attended a ceremony to inaugurate a new ocean liner.
They then boarded the Viking Saturn and spent five days touring the Mediterranean with all expenses covered.
When contacted by The Shift, the Labour Party president admitted she went on the trip but said she paid for her travel to and from Ancona, where the vessel departed.
Explaining that she went on the free holiday to accompany Debattista, Attard confirmed she was in the company of Fenech and his wife during the trip.
“My partner Andrew, as a Business Development Senior Manager at the ITS, was invited for a number of meetings and also to review operations on board the mentioned cruise before it started to operate for paid guests. The whole delegation from ITS was invited with spouses/partners. I attended and paid for all the travel expenses,” Attard insisted.
She did not say whether she had informed PL officials, including party leader and Prime Minister Robert Abela, about accepting this gift.
Sources at the ITS told The Shift that it was unusual that Debattista, whom Fenech had recruited, was invited to such an event.
“It was completely Pierre Fenech’s idea to rope in Debattista in this story to make sure that the PL President also enjoys a free luxury trip,” a senior ITS officer told The Shift based on anonymity.
“Originally, Fenech wanted Frank Fabri to join him. Smelling a rat, Fabri declined the gift, and instead, Fenech got the idea to rope in Debattista so that he could have the President of the Labour Party aboard. Debattista and Attard immediately seized the opportunity and accepted the holiday without any qualms.”
He was later moved to a newly created post at the ITS as General Manager of a training institute.
Asked to confirm whether he had suggested inviting Debattista and Ramona Attard instead of Fabri, Fenech said that Debattista’s invite was personally addressed to him and his partner.
According to Fenech, who, apart from the ITS, also doubles as the CEO of the Mediterranean Conference Centre – another government organisation – Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo’s office, through the permanent secretary, gave him the green light to accept the free holiday.
While stating that his wife Romina, also a government employee, paid for her flights, information obtained by The Shift through an FOI shows that he charged the State for his and Debattista’s travel arrangements, arguing that this holiday was connected to work.
ITS sources said that Debattista, one of the few Maltese who has obtained a degree from the beleaguered American University of Malta, is being treated favourably by Fenech due to his partner’s Labour Party position.
In 2018, Attard’s partner was also put on the OPM’s direct orders list and paid some €16,000 for chairing a government working group to introduce voting rights to 16-year-olds.
At the time, Ramona Attard was an aide to disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat at the OPM. Since then, after obtaining a law degree, she was put on the government payroll with contracts and direct orders from various government entities for legal services.
The Institute’s CEO was catapulted into the public sphere by former Labour MP Rosianne Cutajar, to whom he offered a consultancy job at the ITS when she was already a sitting MP.
Published text messages later showed that Cutajar was accepting the extra cash which came with the job as, according to her, all her other colleagues in the PL parliamentary group were “pigging out”.