Villains, heroes, liars and fails

At The Shift, I often find myself reading the stories we publish in disbelief. “Did she really say that?”, “How can he lie so brazenly?”, “Do they think we are that stupid?” are phrases that regularly come out of my mouth during discussions with my colleagues. I decided to hand out some well-(un)deserved awards to those individuals who made me laugh, cry, fume and exclaim during the year.

From the villains and heroes to the biggest liars and cheaters and everyone in between, here is the roll of honour for the last 12 months.

Villain of the Year – Rosianne Cutajar

After resigning from the Labour Party, but not parliament, in August following the publication of over 2,200 WhatsApp messages between her and the man accused of masterminding the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, Yorgen Fenech, Rosianne’s year was not off to a good start. Not only did it appear to be confirmed that she had some kind of romantic involvement with him, but she made many embarrassing admissions about what goes on in politics, including “pigging out”.

The Shift then revealed she received a salary from the Institute of Tourism Studies three months before she told Fenech she took on the consultancy, leading to suspicions the contract, published by The Shift, was backdated.

In November, the professionally impotent Standards Commissioner Joseph Azzopardi, tasked with investigating the case, said he could not proceed as the one-year prescription for ethics breaches had elapsed. Cutajar claimed victory loudly and publicly, just to be condemned by the National Audit Office a day later.

The report found not only was she not qualified for the consultancy, but the contract was “backdated”, “contrived” and “fraudulent”. In short, not only did Rosianne Cutajar lie repeatedly, but she broke the law, ethics guidelines, all procedures and processes possible and took money from the taxpaying public without so much as a second thought.

As if that was not enough, she did not express a single shred of remorse and proceeded to act with the same level of arrogance we have become accustomed to from her.

Labour MP Rosianne Cutajar posing for a photo with Prime Minister Robert Abela.

Hero of the Year – BirdLife Malta

My Hero of the Year award goes to BirdLife Malta, which, in the face of declining police numbers dedicated to keeping an eye on over-enthusiastic hunters, has taken it upon itself to carry out the work. They have also tirelessly battled against the hunting lobby.

BirdLife Malta carries out extensive work to protect and conserve bird species, hold hunters to account for illegalities, and raise awareness of the practice and the impact it has on bird species and the environment. They were also an important voice in a cross-border investigation by The Shift this year, that shed light on how Malta’s hunting policies wasted thousands of euro of EU member states funds spent on conservation.

Most Corrupt – Joseph and Michelle Muscat

Without a doubt, the most corrupt people in Malta in 2023 are Joseph Muscat and his wife, Michelle. Joseph Muscat needs no introduction, having previously been designated as the OCCRP’s most corrupt man in the world for 2019, but 2023 saw the disgraced former prime minister be investigated for funds channelled to him that are suspected to have come from the corrupt hospitals deal.

A magistrate’s decree then stated that “to date, there is enough to show that Joseph Muscat could be involved in the crime of money laundering and corruption,” following a search of his home in January. Investigations are ongoing.

Meanwhile, his wife Michelle gets a mention for the fact she is being probed for misuse of public funds in relation to her state-funded drivers who also help her with shopping and ferrying around the kids. The fact she gets a fully expensed car as a part of her husband’s lucrative severance package, as well as a range of other perks and ‘helpers‘, just adds insult to injury.

Least Transparent Minister – Sport and Education Minister Clifton Grima

Since the beginning of this legislature in March 2022, the government has dodged a staggering 750 parliamentary questions. This data was recently tabled in parliament and gave us a great breakdown of the worst offenders when answering in the House of Representatives.

Number one and least transparent was Sports Minister Clifton Grima, with 180 unanswered or postponed, head and shoulders above second place, which saw Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo with 77, followed by Transport Minister Aaron Farrugia in third place with 67.

Grima’s dismal performance is most likely linked to his consistent inability to deliver a single sports infrastructure project on time, on budget, or fit for purpose.

Ministers Clifton Grima and Owen Bonnici laying the first commemorative stone at the Msida primary school in 2020 – costs have soared to  €22 million with no completion date in sight.

Most Ridiculous Excuse for Refusing Information

By now, we all know that Freedom of Information Act in Malta is not fit for purpose as the government not only does not want to make any of the information available, but it will even sue independent media using taxpayers’ money to keep it from scrutiny.

Over the years, we have heard many ridiculous excuses from government departments, such as ‘the document doesn’t exist’, ‘it would take too long to find’, or ‘would cost too much to compile’. Recently, the court threw out all of these excuses, rendering them without basis, but this particular one from Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo is my favourite.

In parliament, Bartolo admitted his ministry received 600 free Robbie Williams tickets and 700 free Andre Rieu tickets. When The Shift sent a FOI to his ministry to ask for further details, they replied that no free tickets were received. Either Bartolo lied in parliament, or the ministry lied to The Shift.

Most Ridiculous ‘No Comment’

When The Shift asks officials, politicians, and institutions for comment, 99% of the time, we get ignored, but when we do get a response, sometimes they are simply hilarious.

My absolute favourite of 2023 was from Sylvana Mifsud, who is named on official documents as a consultant at the Tourism Ministry and has an official ministry email address, but both she and Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo claim she does not work there.

The Shift contacted Mifsud on her official ministry email address, and she replied on that exact email address, stating it had been “set up by mistake” and “has never been used from my end”. Well…

‘I cannot believe they said that!’

I have been following the saga of former head of news at PBS, Norma Saliba, with great bemusement over the last few months. Following her removal from the station over alleged disagreements with two rather disagreeable men, she was shoehorned into a new position that not only was she not qualified for, but that was also created with no need or requirement.

The new head of the Maltese Language Centre, who does not even have a degree in Maltese, took to task the qualified members of the National Council for the Maltese Language, who quite rightly challenged her appointment. She had the audacity to criticise their work and accused people of attacking her without checking her qualifications.

A quick look at her LinkedIn shows no qualifications in Maltese or linguistics. As a broadcast journalist myself, I can safely say that reading a teleprompter or notes in front of a camera does not mean I am qualified to run a centre dedicated to any of the languages I work in. Nor would I take a shot at anyone who works in professional linguistics and is significantly more qualified than I am, but then again, I am not Norma Saliba.

Norma Saliba.

Most Discussed Stories of the Year

The Shift’s comment section can often be rather lively, and 2023 was no exception. The story with the most comments this year was “Air Malta to close after summer, millions in compensation for redundant staff”. The Shift was the first to break the story, and sure enough, it was confirmed after the summer when the government announced a “transition” to a new airline, which so far has been going about as smoothly as one would imagine.

Our second most discussed story was ‘Data leak used to select only Labour-voting public service job applicants’. This expose revealed how a database of the voting preferences of 337,384 Maltese citizens held by a company run by relatives of former Labour Party president Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi, was used by ministries to decide who should get state jobs or not.

In third place, and a favourite of mine, is “It’s a goat farm with no goats, but a store that’s a countryside residence”. This told the tale of a “goat farm” in rural, picturesque Naxxar that actually appeared to be a very nice residence (for humans I may add), with not a single goat in sight. This goatless goat farm belongs to one of the two men accused of causing the death of Jean-Paul Sofia, who, of course, has no shortage of political ties.

Propaganda Fail of the Year

Without a doubt, the biggest and most embarrassing propaganda stunt of the year was European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s tour of a building site in Gozo. On the occasion of the Med9 summit, the president was wooed with coffee and biscuits on the decks of the beleaguered Gozo Ferry before visiting Nadur Primary School, which is being reconstructed with EU funds.

The Shift heard that all the stops were pulled out to get the school ready for the visit and photos, which meant sealing off the large swathes of it that were completely unfinished, silencing the workers, and tarmacking the road outside.

Just to give you an idea, the school is in such a state of incompletion that it has no lift, no staff toilets, and features corridors full of rubble. The president was made aware of the state of the school thanks to independent MEP candidate Arnold Cassola, and I believe her comment that “The school is indeed brand new” was perhaps a little tongue-in-cheek.

I also particularly enjoyed Prime Minister Robert Abela’s comment about Malta being the tourism jewel of the Mediterranean while standing next to Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, leader of one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations.

“Che cavolo!”

Best Protest

I do enjoy a good protest and hats off to Moviment Graffitti for always being ready to be chained to something, sit down and refuse to move from somewhere, or, more often than not, get arrested for a worthy cause. This NGO have been at the forefront of Maltese protests for many years and 2023 was no exception.

This year, along with Mosta residents, they successfully protested against the local council’s plan to remove a number of Ficus trees from the central square and plant them elsewhere. Protests against the trees removal saw Andre Callus arrested and then released, and widespread outcry over the barbaric plan.

Thankfully, at the last moment, the trees were saved and the mayor conceded defeat out of respect for the “wishes of the people”. A first time for everything, I suppose.


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Paul Pullicino
Paul Pullicino
1 month ago

But the best for 2023 was the declaration of a millionaire property dealer and super salaried consultant for government stating that he had “a socialist heart”.

1 month ago
Reply to  Paul Pullicino

Is this the same person who was quoted on saying how wonderful all the new buildings in Malta were?

Albert Bonnici
Albert Bonnici
1 month ago

A very well summerised article as there is much more big stories that the shift published. My first prize goes to the photo of Italy’s Meloni. That look says it all. Just shows what a stupid and incompetent prime Minister Malta has been encumbered with. Meloni’s expression says exactly that.

1 month ago

Real satire with a whole lot of funny clowns.
If only it were a stupid TV series.

For me personally, the top fool ROBBER Abella, with his shabby private deals, is the one who likes to fuel the chaos, even if it costs hundreds of millions for the taxpayers. Just an ….

1 month ago

Did the Labour Party commit fraud when after its 2013 election it proceded to do what it did not promise to do?
Selling Enemalta to the Chinese , Selling the Hospitals …….
Can the PL be taken to court for fraudulent Election Program? The Pl basically had made agreements pre-election with third parties to sell National Property to foreigners.

1 month ago

What can I say except to thank you and your team. The country would be in a much worse situation without you all.

Alain Micaleff
Alain Micaleff
1 month ago

Best “Best of” of the year. Not many other EU countries can compete.

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