While the Malta Tourism Authority (MTA) is currently going to great lengths to conceal the names of sponsorship beneficiaries in spite of this portal’s Freedom of Information requests approved by the Data Protection Commissioner, the person responsible for disbursing millions in dubious sponsorships remains in charge.
The MTA’s head of events, Lionel Gerada, who was originally appointed by disgraced former tourism minister Konrad Mizzi despite a criminal record, remains in charge of the Authority’s decision-making related to sponsorships dished out to support event organizers in the country, despite evidence of his close association to certain event organizers he favored by handing tens of thousands of euros of taxpayer money to those close to him.
Just last week, Gerada was in Gozo promoting an event organized by 356 Entertainment Group, a company run by its close associates. Based on The Shift’s research into Gerada’s first year in his position at MTA, an event organized by the same group, the International Music Summit, had cost taxpayers € 37,500 in sponsorships, from a total of € 2 million spent in the summer of 2018 alone .
The budget for these sponsorships for events tripled in the first year of Gerada’s tenure as director of the MTA’s events section, going from € 2 million to € 6 million.
The Shift had published an article showing how 356 Entertainment Group, through its venture known as Malta Shows, had organized at least six events which were sponsored by Visit Malta, the tourism information branch of the MTA. Given the MTA’s efforts to block information requests about its expenditure, the amount spent on these events is not yet known.
The MTA has denied Freedom of Information requests by The Shift on the matter, despite the Data Protection Commissioner ruling the information must be granted.
On 16 January, the Times of Malta published a report saying that following a spending spree in which MTA employees had booked expensive hotel rooms funded by the taxpayers for use during an event in Valletta, Gerada was going to be demoted and no longer allowed to be in charge of funding or decision-making. That didn’t happen.
Sources consulted by The Shift said nothing has actually changed, with Gerada holding the same responsibilities he has held since 2018. Official records confirm this.
In the summer of 2018 alone, The Shift’s findings showed that the MTA disbursed around € 2 million in sponsorships that went largely to the same tight-knit group of organizers. Gerald Debono, Trevor Camilleri, Nicholas Spiteri and Edward Zammit Tabona of the Fortina Group, the organizers in question, had received the lion’s share of funding that year, with one of their festivals alone, Summer Daze, costing taxpayers € 1.1 million.
Gerada was hauled in to testify in front of the Public Accounts Committee in 2020 following The Shift’s investigations into the millions that were disbursed on his orders throughout 2018.
Former PAC chairman and opposition MP Beppe Fenech Adami had confirmed that, in spite of the findings of the committee, which included revelations about a parallel sponsorship system in which applicants who had ‘spoken to Lionel’ were fast-tracked, no action had been taken by the MTA or the tourism ministry itself.
Event organizers who had spoken to The Shift had said that Gerada’s ties with specific players in the industry left ‘no room for a level playing field’, with several individuals complaining about how their proposals would be discarded or treated with indifference while those of Gerada’s associates would often take the lion’s share of funding that was made available.