Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo and Film Commissioner Johann Grech have consistently refused to answer questions on how much public money was spent on the Mediterrane Film Festival held on Manoel Island in June, sparking concerns about transparency.
The event saw famous actors flown into the country for a gala dinner attended by top government officials, friends, and family members of Bartolo and Grech, despite many of them not having any connection to the film industry. It is estimated that the event cost more than €1 million, but despite mounting pressure from the media and parliament, Bartolo’s lips remain sealed.
An exercise by The Shift shows that since June – when the festival was held – Bartolo refused to answer 24 parliamentary questions regarding the festival, submitted by various opposition MPs, including Julie Zahra, Mark Anthony Sammut, and Eve Borg Bonello.
In each case, Bartolo responded that the information would be given in another session, but to date, has not given any indication of when this will be. This has resulted in MPs repeating the same question in multiple parliamentary sessions.
Journalists have also encountered the same issue when asking for information. The Shift made various Freedom of Information requests to the Malta Film Commission. They covered a breakdown of costs, the public procurement process, who received contracts and direct orders, and other payments. A list of all attendees was also requested.
In all cases, the commission blocked the requests, citing data protection and again repeating that the information would be provided “in the coming months”.
The Shift has now asked the Data Protection Commissioner’s office to investigate possible law breaches by the commission and Grech.
The festival, organised by Grech – a former marketing man for disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat – culminated in a massive open-air gala dinner featuring celebrities such as Jared Harris, Eric Bana, Darko Peric, Natascha McElhone and Annabelle Wallis- none of which have any connection to the Malta film industry.
Other event attendees included some 70 foreign judges, film critics, journalists and industry professionals who were all given five-star treatment with public funds. The gala included a large fireworks display and a performance by local tenor Joseph Calleja.
Grech, put in his position by Joseph Muscat, is known for extreme spending with little accountability or transparency and little benefit for the local sector.
In 2022, just a few weeks before the elections, Grech organised the Malta Film Awards, which cost €1.3 million in public funds. Most of the funds were distributed among Labour Party contractors tasked to organise the electoral campaign just a few weeks later.
The presenter of this show, comedian David Walliams, was hired for a rumoured €200,000 for the evening.
Yet, almost two years later, Bartolo and Grech refuse to publish the invoices used to pay Walliams.
Despite the controversy, Walliams was also flown to the Mediterrane Festival, with Grech claiming they did “not directly enter into a commercial relationship with Walliams.”
He has refused to give information on whether Walliams was paid for this appearance, if so, how much, and by whom.