The Shift’s top stories of 2023

Aqra dan l-artiklu bil-Malti.

Even as a small community-funded team, The Shift has led some of Malta’s most significant stories. As we bid farewell to 2023, here are the ten top stories, in no particular order, that have captured the attention of our readers and influenced the discourse in Malta.

Air Malta’s dissolution

The Shift was the first to reveal the dissolution of Air Malta and how Air Malta offloaded its ground handlers to Italian partners. Other revelations included how Air Malta’s new consultants are the same Abu Dhabi-based consultancy company initially engaged to restructure and save the airline but failed to do so. Moreover, the company’s owners are facing criminal charges connected to Alitalia’s bankruptcy in Italy.

Rosianne Cutajar’s ‘consultancy’ contract

Former Parliamentary Secretary Rosianne Cutajar’s contract was first revealed by The Shift in April following leaks of chats between Cutajar and Yorgen Fenech, the latter charged with involvement in the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

The contract showed how Cutajar received a salary from ITS three months before telling Fenech she had decided to take on the consultancy. The issue raised questions on whether the consultancy was genuine, fuelled by Cutajar’s message to Fenech: “I don’t care anymore. I’m going to become Pierre’s [ITS CEO] consultant so I can get another salary.”

The contract was signed with Pierre Fenech, himself occupying two CEO roles with the government, as also revealed by The Shift.

The ‘Super CEO’

The Shift revealed how Pierre Fenech, the government’s one-of-a-kind CEO on a double salary heading two separate important entities under the tourism ministry, has been raking in over €122,000 a year. This unprecedented situation was created by disgraced former tourism minister Konrad Mizzi and reconfirmed by Prime Minister Robert Abela.

According to recent Freedom of Information requests filed by The Shift and parliamentary questions tabled by tourism shadow minister Mario de Marco, it has been discovered that Fenech, who is currently employed by ITS and earns an annual salary of €83,547, is also receiving an additional €38,556 for serving as a part-time CEO for the MCC.

Michelle Muscat’s continued benefits

One of The Shift’s most recent stories described how Michelle Muscat, the Marigold Foundation chairperson and wife of disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat, has changed the designation of her two state-funded drivers at her NGO amid an investigation into how she spends government money.

The pair, one seconded from the Cleansing Department and the other from Transport Malta, are now called “logistics managers” as the Standards Commissioner probes claims of her abuse of public funds.

Earlier in the year, The Shift reported how, following questions raised in parliament by PN MP Claudette Buttigieg, Abela conceded that Michelle Muscat was given the use of a fully expensed car, bought and funded by the government.

The Prime Minister’s property plans

The Shift revealed how Prime Minister Robert Abela and his wife, Lydia, filed a planning development application to convert a farmhouse they own in Xewkija, Gozo, into a large residence with seven double bedrooms with en suite bathrooms, an internal underground indoor pool, spa and gym facilities.

Soon after The Shift’s first reports, new plans submitted by veteran architect Joe Cassar on behalf of Robert and Lydia Abela were marked as ‘Xewkija Guest House’ instead of the earlier ‘Residential Development’ nomenclature. Then, the couple acquired adjacent land in dubious circumstances to enhance the value of their tourism venture to add to their property portfolio, while the prime minister should be busy running the country.

A bad year for Transport Malta’s RHIBs

The Shift reported how one of the five new Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIBs)  purchased by Transport Malta for its maritime enforcement section had already been declared unseaworthy and needed to be scrapped, while the other four were found to have developed serious structural problems.

When The Shift asked Transport Malta to provide the cost of these RHIBs, the tender through which they were bought, and a list of payments made in the last two years on repairs on every RHIB, the beleaguered transport regulator refused to provide the information.

Hospitals Heist

The Shift was part of a joint investigation with The Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and The Times of Malta that discovered that disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat’s consultancy contract with a Swiss company is suspected of funnelling public money back to the investors behind Vitals Global Health Care Group (VGH), now under intense scrutiny by investigators. 

The investigations also discovered that the companies involved in the hospital’s concession deal sent at least €7 million to Accutor. This Swiss payroll company played a crucial role in funnelling funds between investors.  Those same investors spent millions of euros living large while the hospitals under their care were virtually ignored.

Courting Qatar

The Shift’s investigative article ‘Courting Qatar: President invites alleged terrorism financiers to invest in Malta’ revealed how President George Vella sought investment from Qatari-resident Syrian billionaires accused only two months earlier of funding an Al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group.

The Shift subsequently revealed that the Qatari government covered many of the costs for several delegations from Malta to visit the country within a few months. The article was shortlisted for the European Parliament’s investigative journalism prize in Daphne Caruana Galizia’s name.

Hunting and the waste of EU funds

Cross-border research by The Shift and international partners found how hundreds of thousands of euros of member state funds are being wasted due to hunting in Malta, a practice allowed to increase in violation of EU rules and abetted by the government to “secure the votes of the hunting lobby”.

Unfinished sports venues

During May, The Shift revealed the various unfinished sports projects in Malta, including an incomplete €16 million pool in Victoria, Gozo, a €3 million tennis complex in Pembroke that was still in its initial phase, and a €9 million indoor squash and weightlifting complex in Marsa that was yet to have its foundations laid.

The fourth unfinished project is the €14 million Cottonera Sports Complex indoor pool slated for use during the 2023 Games, forcing athletes and GSSE staff to use the ad-hoc replacement Tal-Qroqq, which was built in 1993.

                           

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