Konrad Mizzi, an eventful ministerial appointment

The idea of using people like Lionel Gerada to dish out taxpayer’s money without following any rules or restraint is typical of Joseph Muscat’s way of doing things

Former tourism minister Konrad Mizzi
Former tourism minister Konrad Mizzi

The appointment of Konrad Mizzi as tourism minister was eventful in more ways than one.

The hearings going on in the Public Accounts Committtee (PAC) about the spending ways of the Malta Tourism Authority (MTA) in the good old Konrad Mizzi days are yet another eye-opener.

The 2018 MTA budget for sponsorship of events shot up to €7.5 million when the amount spent in 2017 was just €2 million. One cannot understand how such a sudden increase can make sense and I am therefore tempted to conclude that this enormous difference in money available was made with malice aforethought.

According to reports, over one-third of the 2018 budget went to a few event organisers who were close to Lionel Gerada who, in turn, was appointed by Konrad Mizzi as MTA’s events manager.

It seems that the application for subsidy of those events that were approved by Mr Gerada followed a ‘simplified’ system while other events had to pass through normal procedures.

Lionel Gerada was a political canvasser for Konrad Mizzi and was reported as having a criminal record, including being found guilty of embezzlement of funds and falsification of official documents.

Organisers of events – including sporting events – who were not in the Lionel Gerada ‘loop’ claimed the whole system was a sham.

Events going through the Lionel ‘channel’ included Summer Daze Malta (August 2018) that scooped €1.1 million of taxpayer’s money; the Abode Festival (July 2018) that was subsidised to the tune of €230,000; and ‘Lost and Found’ event (May 2018) that got another €230,000.

In spending this money, public procurement rules were not followed and direct orders were the order of the day.

Moreover, there seems to have been neither rhyme nor reason why subsidies for certain events were approved while others were not; neither as to how the money available was allocated. Except, of course, for the significant note indicating Lionel Gerada’s name.

The idea of using people like Lionel Gerada to dish out taxpayer’s money without following any rules or restraint is typical of Joseph Muscat’s way of doing things. I would have thought this sort of mentality is no longer part of the way Robert Abela’s administration does things.

Konrad Mizzi is no longer a minister and the responsibilty for Lionel Gerada has now been passed on to the current minister responsible for tourism, Julia Farrugia Portelli.

From what one can surmise, Farrugia Portelli has hardly expressed any form of discomfort with Konrad’s protégé, who has very much held on to his post.

This is symptomatic of Robert Abela’s Cabinet – consistently trying to make compromises with the past, when a total clean break is what’s needed.

The past, undoubtedly will keep haunting them.

The crime of tipping-off

Trying to follow the tragic soap opera that is being unfolded by witnesses appearing in the compiliation of evidence in the case of Yorgen Fenech, who stands accused of being the man who ordered Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder, is quite a mind-boggling experience.

The network that is being uncovered includes a number of high-level police officers who seemed unfazed by their tipping-off about people who were under investigation. To say the least, this behaviour is a clearly an obstruction of justice.

It is interesting to note that the Prevention of Money Laundering Act specifies that tipping-off people who are being investigated on money laundering is also a crime in terms of that law itself.

Article 33 of the law specifies that any  official  or  employee  of  the  FIAU who,  in  any circumstances other than those provided for in the proviso to article 24(2), discloses to the person concerned or to a third party that an analysis is being carried out by the Unit, or that information has been transmitted to the Unit by a subject person, or that the Unit has transmitted information to the police for investigation, shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine  not exceeding €116,468.67 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or to both such fine and imprisonment.

Having said that, the reasons given by former Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar for his meeting with the notorious Edwin Brincat (Il-Ġojja) are so pathetic, that it beggars the imagination to attempt to concieve how and why someone of his ‘calibre’ was appointed Police Commissioner and who was responsible for that decision. Obviously he was just a ‘useful fool’!

His ‘explanation’ was given to Ivan Martin of The Times, who interviewed him last Monday a few hours before Magistrate Rachel Montebello ordered a criminal investigation into whether Cutajar had broken the law by leaking sensitive information about the Caruana Galizia murder case investigations.

When we thought the sordid revelations had touched bottom, we find that it was actually just a false bottom and even more digging is indicated.

The ‘Religio et Patria’ nonsense

Reporting replies that PN leader gave last Saturday when interviewd by Newsbook editor Sylvana Debono, the Nationalist Party leader allegedly said that the new statute is proposing changing the PN’s motto ‘Religio et Patria’ (religion and the fatherland) to ‘Għas-Servizz Tiegħek’ (at your service).

The proposed changes to the PN’s statute have yet to be approved by the PN executive.

Asked about the proposal for the new motto, Delia said that if this was eventually adopted it did not mean the party was abandoning its identity. In fact, he said, the PN had recently set up new policy clusters, one of which was dedicated to Maltese identity.

My issue with this piece of news is that the slogan ‘Religio et Patria’ is not the PN’s official motto and does not appear either in the PN’s current statute. Nor did it appear in the previous one – written in Italian – that was radically replaced by a new statute in 1974.

That slogan was an electoral slogan in the thirties, just like ‘Xoghol, Ġustizzja, Libertà’ was an electoral slogan in the eighties.

Electoral slogans reflect the topical political issues at the time they are launched. They are not official party mottos. Labour’s ‘Malta Taghna Lkoll’ was its electoral slogan in 2013. Nobody dreams of erasing that slogan from the PL statute – simply because it is not there!

I get livid when I hear such nonsense, especially if it makes me realise that the PN is its own worst enemy.