Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo has again refused to divulge how much public money is being spent on a concert featuring Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja and his guest, world-renowned Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli, later this month.
Nationalist Party MP Mark Anthony Sammut tabled a series of parliamentary questions, asking to see the total amount of sponsorship funds passed on to Anton Attard’s Mint Media and Greaat to organise the event.
Bartolo was also asked if there was a transparent and accountable system regarding any free tickets the minister and the Malta Tourism Authority would be granted and how they would be distributed as a part of the sponsorship deal in place with Calleja and event organisers.
The minister insisted that he could not say how much public funds were spent on the event, citing “commercial sensitivity”. He also refused to give any information on the distribution of free tickets.
A source with knowledge of the matter told The Shift that Bartolo had been warned to keep tabs on the number of free tickets distributed to constituents and friends. This came after The Shift reported on how tickets are given to the government by organisers, who distribute them among employees, constituents, or close political acquaintances.
When asked by the same MP several weeks ago, Bartolo also refused to give details on sponsorships for two other concerts held in the summer by Robbie Williams and Andre Rieu.
It is believed that potentially thousands of people attended these concerts for free after acquiring free tickets through Bartolo’s ministry. But the authorities have remained tight-lipped on how many free tickets are received, how they are distributed, and to whom.
Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja has been holding annual government-sponsored concerts since 2013. According to an investigation by Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, in some years, the government gave him €500,000 for just one show.
Tickets for his next concert with Bocelli cost between €200 and €80 per ticket.
According to the latest MTA financial estimates, the authority is expected to spend some €56 million in sponsorships of events and other marketing activities this year.
The National Audit Office previously drew attention to the lack of any transparency system or checks and balances for overseeing the distribution of funds in this area.
While the MTA insists that its sponsorships are related to the number of foreign visitors attracted to these concerts and events, the agency refuses to publish a breakdown of its expenditures and sponsorship budgets.
Speaking to The Shift, concert organisers said that while without the government’s ‘help’ many of the concerts held in Malta by foreign stars aren’t economically feasible, many millions of euros are still spent without making any return.
During the recent announcement of the 2024 budget, the finance minister has, for the first time in years, reduced the budget allocated to the MTA by some €20 million although no explanation was given.