Tourism Minister denies conflict of interest over father's Comino ferry boat service

Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo refutes suggestions that his father’s and uncles' business interests in Comino cause a conflict of interest

Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo
Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo

Clayton Bartolo denies having a conflict of interest despite his father and uncles having a business interest in Comino, which is becoming a hot potato this summer.

The Tourism Minister’s father and uncles own a ferry business that operates daily transfers between Mellieħa and Comino. The company, Pleasure and Leisure Ltd operates under the brand name Oh Yeah Malta and offers water sport activities in Għadira and a ferry service to Comino.

The minister’s indirect link to business interests operating on Comino was exposed by The Shift News on Friday.

The company is equally owned between brothers Joseph Bartolo, Godfrey Bartolo and David Bartolo, and was set up in 1995. Joseph Bartolo is the minister’s father. Clayton Bartolo has no connection to the company.

In comments to The Shift News, a spokesperson for the minister said “clearly, there is no conflict of interest”.

“Minister Bartolo’s family have nothing to do with the issue which was dealt with last week concerning the deckchairs in Blue Lagoon. Apart from that, Minister Bartolo never had any financial interest or held any position in the company that you are referring to which has been in operation for nearly three decades,” the spokesperson added.

Comino was thrust into the spotlight by Graffitti last Saturday when scores of activists landed on the island and removed deckchairs and umbrellas that were hogging the public beach and shores in the Blue Lagoon.

The action was widely welcomed, including by some Labour politicians and sympathisers.

In comments Clayton Bartolo gave MaltaToday a few days after the direct action, the minister claimed that inspectors from the Malta Tourism Authority were due to visit Comino on the day of Graffitti’s action. He has now issued an order so that no umbrellas and deckchairs are placed on the sandy beach and the overall number reduced.

However, Bartolo also said that a holistic management plan for Comino was being prepared. Comino is a Natura 2000 site and a management plan is already in place and this includes a commitment to establish the carrying capacity of the Blue Lagoon. However, the study to establish the carrying capacity has never been done.

Bartolo’s conflict of interest may arise in the actual drawing up of a management plan for the island that could suggest reducing the number of ferry trips carried out by pleasure craft to Comino to reduce the pressure.

In 2018, MaltaToday had flagged Bartolo’s potential conflict of interest as a Planning Authority board member when the DB Group’s City Centre project in St George’s Bay came to the vote. The conflict related to his father’s company, which uses as its base, the quay forming part of the Tunny Net complex in Għadira, operated by the DB Group.

Bartolo was one of the board members who voted in favour of the project.

However, back then, Bartolo, who was a backbench MP, denied having a conflict of interest, insisting that he had no financial interest in his father’s company and the Tunny Net premises was rented out, which meant the company did not receive any payments from the DB Group.
Bartolo, an accountant by profession, had said he did not even offer his services to the family company to ensure that he did not have any conflict of interest.