Opinion: Taxpayer funding of the Labour Party’s campaigns

In July 2023, Nationalist Party MP Julie Zahra asked Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo how much of our money he had squandered on the Mediterrane Film Festival. 

She asked who was invited and how much was spent on 5-star accommodation, business class travel, chauffeured transport, and food and drinks for the hundreds of guests. Clayton dodged the bullet, saying, “The information will be given in another sitting”.

By October 2023, Minister Bartolo had been asked 24 parliamentary questions about the obscene spending on that Film Festival. MPs wanted to know why family members of the minister and Film Commissioner Johann Grech were invited and why Labour party officials who had nothing to do with the film industry were at the lavish gala night at Manoel island, complete with a fireworks display and a concert by tenor Joseph Calleja.

Again and again, Clayton resorted to his default answer:  “The information will be given in another sitting”.

He did not give the slightest indication of when that other sitting would be. He just mocked those MPs while defying the basic principles of democracy – transparency and accountability.  

The press has repeatedly asked the minister the same questions. The Shift lodged Freedom of Information requests about the event, but Johann Grech’s Malta Film Commission declined all of them. 

The Shift requested copies of contracts awarded to eight speakers at the event, but Johann Grech replied that the commission “did not hold copies of the requested contracts”. 

The Shift asked about the cost of event equipment, itemised costs of advertising material, and money spent on celebrity endorsements. Still, the Film Commission refused to answer, claiming that “the majority of documents requested are in the process of being published.”

The Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, Article 14d, specifies that FOI requests can be rejected only if the requested documents are to be published within three months.

But seven months later, those documents have still not been published.

Johann Grech and his film commission were in breach of the law.

When you’d rather break the law than reveal basic information that should be accessible to the public, you must have a lot to hide, and Clayton Bartolo and Johann Grech sure do. 

The obscene extravagance of that film award is eye-watering. Over 270 individuals were flown to Malta for the event, most in business class.  They were accommodated in 5-star hotels, wined and dined, and transported to the event on luxury yachts.

This time, Grech didn’t just get David Walliams. He brought several other celebrities – Jared Harris, Eric Bana, Darko Peric, Natascha McElhone and Annabelle Wallis. 

Grech refused to divulge whether Walliams was paid for his appearance or, if so, how much and by whom.  Walliams had already made €120,000 for a single night’s appearance at another Grech vanity event – the Malta Film Awards. 

It took a long legal battle by the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation before the country found out how much of our money was funnelled into Walliams’ pocket.

The Times of Malta estimated that the cost of the Mediterrane Film Festival exceeded €1 million, but they were way off the mark.

Clayton Bartolo attempted to bury the bad news by tabling a report on the film festival costs in parliament just minutes before the House discussed the Sofia public inquiry report. 

The cynical Clayton thought nobody would notice as the papers would be too busy with the shocking details of the Sofia scandal. But not everybody was caught off guard.

Bartolo’s and Grech’s Mediterrane Film Festival cost the nation almost €4 million. They spent over €326,000 on hotel accommodation, €372,000 on flights, €140,000 on food and €110,000 on taxis alone.

Another €2.5 million was spent on obscure “arts and entertainment activities”, and a further half a million euro went on undefined advertising and market research. 

That’s an unbelievable waste of taxpayers’ money, trouncing even the wildest predictions.  No wonder Minister Clayton Bartolo tried to bury it. 

That information came from an ‘Impact Assessment report’ produced by audit firm RSM, which was set up by the Labour Party’s auditor, Deo Scerri.

Bartolo didn’t just squander €4 million of our money. He frittered probably thousands more on Scerri to produce a work of fiction to try and justify his prolific waste.

RSM’s report claimed those €4 million weren’t wasted.  RSM made an “assumption” that the festival generated €7 million and created 53 full-time jobs but produced no evidence or data to back their wild claims. 

They hypothesised that the festival might create €10 million in potential business opportunities “in future”. 

The report claimed that advertising for the Mediterrane Film Festival reached 1.8 billion people, more than double the total population of the entire European continent.

Clayton Bartolo repeated the ludicrous claims, adding some even wilder claims that the film industry could become “a true driver of the economy”. The film industry accounts for the tiniest fraction of Malta’s GDP.

Bartolo, like RSM, is dreaming or lying.

That RSM report did not tell us who the contractors who mopped up those €4 million were, how they were commissioned, who provided those luxury yachts, or how the 5-star hotels were picked.

We do not know where that €2.5 million of “arts and entertainment” money went or who was paid €400,000 for “advertising and market research”.

That report did not tell us whether all those direct orders went to handpicked Labour Party contractors who organised Labour’s electoral campaign, like the €1.3 million spent on the Malta Film Awards of 2022. 

Shamelessly, Clayton Bartolo announced that another Mediterrane Film Festival is planned for June 2024, adding the budget for it is “still being discussed”. Of course, the Party in government has another election campaign to fund that month.

                           

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saviour mamo
saviour mamo
1 month ago

We have good reasons to assume that a lot of the money found it’s way to the Mile-End.

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