London-based reputation management company Digitalis, engaged by the government at the end of 2023 for its services, was awarded a direct order contract of almost €40,000 amid total silence by authorities in the face of questions.
According to sources who spoke to The Shift on condition of anonymity, the direct order forms part of a larger contract totalling millions of euro.
Public procurement regulations stipulate that direct order contracts larger than €10,000 require the approval of the Department of Contracts.
It is unclear whether approval was given as Finance Minister Clyde Caruana has not responded to any questions on the matter.
Earlier this month, The Shift revealed how Digitalis, a company specialising in online search result manipulation, was engaged through the Ministry of Finance to “rebuild” Malta’s reputation by creating a “positive narrative” for its economic sectors.
Digitalis’ services were sought to improve the image of various government entities, including the Finance Ministry, the Malta Fiscal Advisory Council, Finance Malta, the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit, the Malta Financial Services Authority and the Malta Gaming Authority, among others.
The government agencies targeted for ‘reputation management’ coincide with those tarnished in Malta’s greylisting by the Financial Action Task Force between 2021 and 2022, raising questions on attempts to whitewash scandals using public funds.
An edition of the government gazette published last week shows a direct order contract of £33,600 (circa. €40,000) awarded to Digitalis Media UK Ltd. at the beginning of November 2023.
The direct order is entitled “International Branding Professional Services”.
The Shift’s sources say the published direct order is a payment for negotiation meetings between the government and the firm, not the total engagement.
It is understood the firm was engaged on a two-year contract worth millions of euro through a direct order, bypassing public procurement regulations.
Based in London, Digitalis promotes itself as an advisory firm that “helps clients protect and advance their online interests”.
The UK firm offers online ‘reputation and narrative management’ promising on its website “to make sure your story is being told in the way you want it to be”.
Questions sent to Digitalis CEO David King and Minister Caruana asking about the firm’s engagement and the deliverables expected from the company remained unanswered at the time of publication.
The Maltese government is no stranger to using public relations management firms to whitewash tarnished reputations, with the practice gaining popularity under disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat’s administration.