“We will issue all the numbers after the film awards,” Film Commissioner Johann Grech announced. That was over two years ago.
Grech was repeatedly asked how much of our money he’d squandered on the lavish film awards night. In one encounter with a Times of Malta reporter, he refused to answer that simple question seven times.
He declined to disclose how much he’d paid David Walliams for his appearance that night.
Despite his promises over the last two years to publish the figures, Grech has doggedly refused. Now, he’s reached the end of the road.
The court has ordered Grech to hand over electronic copies of all the invoices from David Walliams, his agents or companies for that single night.
It’s been a long and winding road to get here, but the story is simple.
Johann Grech, who started as Joseph Muscat’s propagandist and speechwriter, felt he could do as he pleased with our money.
Labour allocated €400,000 for a lavish one-night event. But Grech spent heaps more. David Walliams was allegedly paid more for one night than 45 average Maltese citizens earn in one year.
Local film producers boycotted the event, upset that the money allocated to local film productions was less than Grech spent in one night.
Questions were being asked, and everybody wanted to know why our money was being squandered in gaudy, vulgar shows parading Labour ministers in ill-fitting tuxedos.
Well, Grech wasn’t playing ball, and he kept teasing reporters with non-answers. “The prize-giving ceremony will provide value for money,” he insisted.
“We are making sure we are giving a good show. We are celebrating our story,” he declared.
Yes, celebrating Labour’s story.
No fewer than three Labour ministers – Clayton Bartolo, Carmelo Abela and Jose Herrera got to present awards.
Plenty of Labour’s inner circle – Jason Micallef, Malta Enterprise CEO and Joseph Muscat spokesman Kurt Farrugia, Albert Marshall, PBS CEO Mark Sammut, Johann Buttigieg – were also up on stage dishing out Malta’s version of the Oscars.
And, of course, Johann Grech was there, centre stage, basking in the limelight. How much we paid for those two hours of tackiness, nobody knows.
Grech and Clayton Bartolo came up with all sorts of excuses: “We’ll issue all the numbers after the film awards”, “We’re still compiling the numbers”, “It’s impossible to calculate how much it cost” or the award-winning “I don’t speculate on numbers”.
The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation asked Grech how much David Walliams was paid for that one night. Grech refused to reply, insisting, “There is good reason for withholding the requested document”.
When the Foundation complained that the documents requested were not exempt under the Freedom of Information Act, the Film Commission cited confidentiality and a decision by the UK Information Commissioner’s Office on disclosure of earnings as an excuse to withhold the information.
When the Foundation took its complaint to the Information and Data Protection Commissioner, the Commissioner ordered Grech to release the information requested.
He ruled that Grech’s Film Commission had cited the UK decision out of context, did not apply in this case and that the Information Commissioner’s office distinguished between private and public lives.
Besides, the Commissioner decided that the confidentiality clause with Walliams could not be used to prevent disclosure of the fee he was paid.
Instead of abiding by the Commissioner’s ruling, Grech appealed before the Data Protection Tribunal.
The Tribunal upheld the Commissioner’s ruling and ordered Grech to hand over the information.
But Grech wasn’t done.
He took the case before the civil court, asking that the Commissioner’s decision be annulled and revoked.
Judge Lawrence Mintoff wiped the floor with him. The Court noted that the information was being requested from a public authority over a contract the authority signed “of its own free will with a service provider”.
The Court ruled that the Film Commission “is duty bound to reveal and explain how public funds are being spent”. It said, “The information requested is related to payments to a person the Commission chose directly without a public call”.
The Judge threw out the Commission’s appeal. The court was compelled to state the obvious – that the money is public money, it’s not Johann Grech’s. He chose David Walliams, and he gave him a direct contract without any public call.
The court ruled that how much money Grech paid Walliams must be disclosed “to uphold principles of transparency and accountability”.
The National Audit Office has already found that the Film Commission showed “a complete disregard for established policies and procedures governing travel abroad and using public funds in an extravagant manner”.
Now, the Court has delivered a blistering judgement berating the Commission for its secrecy.
“I have nothing to hide,” Johann Grech told journalists in September 2023 while staunchly refusing to answer basic questions. Grech has gone through so much hassle for somebody who’s got nothing to hide.
Even worse, he’s squandered so much more of our money. Those appeals and court procedures imposed a further unnecessary financial burden on the State.
It was bad enough to squander possibly more than a million euro of public funds on a tasteless, garish pantomime of kitsch, but to inflict further costs on the public to hide his profligacy is offensive.
At last, time is catching up with Johann Grech. His evasion and deception have been exposed, and there’s more to come.