The Malta Independent 18 October 2018, Thursday

OPM won’t say who paid for Muscat family’s Australia trip; TMIS files FOI request

Neil Camilleri Sunday, 22 April 2018, 11:00 Last update: about 7 months ago

The Office of the Prime Minister has refused to say who paid for the trip to Australia of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his family last month, part of which was on official business and part of which was a family holiday.

During the visit, which lasted more than a week, Muscat fulfilled some Commonwealth commitments but he also met with political leaders and attended social events. He was accompanied by his wife Michelle and their two daughters.

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During the trip, which started in the last week of March and ended in the first week of April, Muscat visited the Maltese athletic delegation in the city of Gold Coast and attended the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games. He also addressed the Commonwealth Innovation Forum.

Muscat was the Commonwealth’s Chair in Office until 18 April, when the role passed to British Prime Minister Theresa May.

Apart from the Commonwealth events, he met with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and with the Premiers of Victoria and Queensland.

On 30 March, the PM and his wife met members of the Maltese community in Melbourne, and on 4 April met members of the Maltese community in Brisbane.

Lovin Malta had reported that, apart from the PM’s official engagements, the Muscats had met with a number of personalities, including Maltese-Australian chef Shane Delia, had enjoyed some sightseeing and had visited an animal sanctuary.

Since several events had nothing to do with the Commonwealth, it is unclear whether or not the expenses for the trip were covered by the 53-member organisation and, if they were, whether the Commonwealth also paid for the expenses incurred by the entire family.

Muscat was also accompanied by Foreign Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela, Parliamentary Secretary for Sport Clifton Grima and a crew from TVM.

The Malta Independent on Sunday sent questions to the OPM asking which entity had paid the expenses, including those incurred by the PM’s wife and children, and what amount, if any, was borne by the taxpayer.

The questions, sent on 9 April, were not answered and neither was a reminder sent on 15 April. Whatsapp messages sent to the PM’s spokesman were also ignored.

Faced by this wall of silence on the part of the OPM, this newspaper had no choice but to address the same questions to the OPM through a Freedom of Information request.  It can take more than 40 days for replies to FOI requests to be received.

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