Tourism Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli insisted that she found no evidence of wrongdoing by the Malta Tourism Authority’s head of events Lionel Gerada on the way sponsorships – which ballooned under his watch – were awarded.
Nevertheless, the minister said that she would be reviewing the criteria guiding the award of sponsorships by the MTA.
The MTA’s sponsorships are being probed by the Public Accounts Committee, which has paid particular attention to the €4.5 million sponsorship agreement reached with VistaJet, a private jet charter company.
During debate on the MTA’s latest financial estimates, PAC chairman Beppe Fenech Adami argued that the VistaJet deal likely did not even attract a single tourist to Malta. He went through a number of dubious achievements resulting from the deal, including €25,000 for an article and €50,000 for an interview which did not even mention Malta once.
Other payments included €17,500 for an article viewed by 70 people on the company’s jets. In contrast, Fenech Adami pointed out that as fellow MPs were well aware, boosting a post on social media cost much less and reached thousands of people.
In her reaction, Farrugia Portelli said that she was aware of allegations of misconduct by Gerada – a Konrad Mizzi canvasser who landed the job when Mizzi was Tourism Minister – when she took up office last January, stating that she sought to verify them. However, her efforts identified no evidence of wrongdoing.
Gerada’s criminal history – he has several criminal convictions including embezzlement under his belt – was also flagged, but the minister insisted that this did not mean he did not deserve a second chance.
She highlighted that one of the PN’s MPs had a criminal record – a young Claudio Grech had been caught falsifying an ID in 1996 – questioning whether this meant that the PN would be expelling him.