The Malta Independent 18 May 2022, Wednesday

Eurovision: government refuses to share full report into song contest expenditure

Albert Galea Sunday, 16 January 2022, 09:30 Last update: about 5 months ago

The amount of money spent on Malta’s participation in last year’s Eurovision Song Contest has been revealed, after the introduction and executive summary of a review of expenditure carried out into Malta’s participation in the song contest was acquired through a Freedom of Information request.

However, the full extent of the review, which would detail the processes used to determine that there was no wrongdoing committed with public funds – particularly given allegations surrounding the betting market – and would detail to whom money was paid, has been kept under wraps by the government.

The documents were acquired following a Freedom of Information request filed by the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation, however only 5 pages of it were granted – with the Ministry responsible, that of Carmelo Abela, denying access to the rest.

"The Foundation’s Freedom of Information request concerns serious accusations that public funds were used on bets to artificially inflate Malta’s odds of winning the Eurovision Song Contest. This is a matter of high public interest yet government has refused to grant us access to its full audit report. We’re taking the matter further. The FOI Act is meant to facilitate ensure transparency and accountability. It’s being weaponised to obstruct scrutiny," Corinne Vella from the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation told The Malta Independent on Sunday.

The review, carried out by RSM Malta, was commissioned by Minister within the Office of the Prime Minister Carmelo Abela after reports had emerged that the public broadcaster’s spending went over budget to the tune of over 650,000 spent, and that public funds had been used to place bets on Destiny in order to inflate her odds with bookmakers and make it appear that she was one of the favourites to win the competition.

Destiny was considered by bookmakers to be one of the favourites to win the competition, but ultimately finished in 7th place after failing to garner much support from public voting.

The scope of RSM’s work was described as a review of the expenditure connected to Malta’s participation in the Eurovision, and the aim was to establish how much had been spent and whether it was within the approved budget, to identify that the people involved or engaged in this process were the rightful ones, to make sure that public procurement legislations and regulations are adhered to, and to make sure that both PBS and the MTA complied to their internal procurement policies and procedures.

The report is described as a “review of expenditure”, and RSM in fact make it clear that it was not an audit.

“Our work has not included an audit or been carried out in accordance with auditing or other standards and practices generally accepted in Malta or other jurisdictions and accordingly should not relied upon as if it has been carried out in accordance with those standards and practices,” RSM wrote in their report.

The scope of the report also contains no specific point referring directly to allegations that public money had been used to inflate Malta’s odds of winning the competition.

The review started on 1 June, and was competed on 23 July – described as “the cut-off date” – which subsequently meant that RSM did not actually have all the necessary documentation in hand by the time the report had to be finished.

In fact, in the limitations and disclaimer section of the report, RSM said that they “cannot conclude on the completeness of such information as the possibility exists that not all relevant information and documentation was made available to us.”

For instance, the report later notes that no invoices were provided for 16 of the recorded expenses and were therefore still outstanding.

The company also states in the report that it did not subject the financial (or other) information within the report to any form of checking or verification procedures.

In their final disclaimer, RSM also stated that they do not express a “legal opinion” in the document and that anything stated should not be taken to be such.

That statement draws questions then on how much consideration should be given to RSM’s own conclusions, which states that based on the documentation provided it appears that both MTA and PBS “operated within their rights and limitations of the Public Procurement Regulations and adhered to said legislation” – a statement which can be construed as a legal opinion in and of itself.

Keeping up appearances: over 220,000 spent on social media promotion alone

The review looks into two entities connected to Malta’s Eurovision participation: the Malta Tourism Authority (MTA) and the state broadcaster Public Broadcasting Services (PBS).

In terms of the MTA, the report says that the authority had budgeted 171,000 for use on the Eurovision – use which appears to have been exclusively to promote Malta’s entry on different social media platforms.

Ultimately – at least as per the report – the MTA spent just over 140,000 of that money, but only because 40,000 laid out for search engine optimisation (SEO) was not touched.

73,262.39 was spent in Facebook and Instagram ads, another 22,001.98 in total was spent on Spotify ads and a Spotify agency, and a further 10,515.66 was spent on Twitter ads and a Twitter agency fee.

A further 32,002.30 was spent exclusively on “influencers.” The report given to this newsroom by the government doesn’t state who these influencers were or what the content they were paid to produce was.

Meanwhile, PBS allocated a budget of 500,000 to Malta’s participation in the competition, which includes the EBU costs to participate, costs related to the Maltese delegation, the staging of the performance, marketing, and the making of the music video.

RSM’s report found that a total of 422,712.85 was recorded to have been spent by PBS.

This includes another 81,071.72 on social media ads and marketing tools, over above the already whopping amount spent in this regard by the MTA.

Accommodation costs for the delegation also ran up to almost double the initially projected budget, with PBS spending 79,700.36 on this rather than the initially budgeted 40,000.

On the other hand, some things which were initially budgeted for were ultimately not used.  For instance, 60,000 was set aside for a “special event programme/concert” – but only 3,500 was actually spent on this.  13,300 was spent on a PR video which was not budgeted for instead.

15,000 meanwhile was set aside for “stage graphics” but this budget was left untouched, while 20,000 set aside under the marketing expenses for a “special programme” was also left untouched.

This allowed PBS to go over budget on other aspects such as the accommodation costs, social media ads (15,107.22 over budget) and the actual staging and props related to the performance (13,450 over budget) while still remaining within the parameters of its initial budget.

The total amount of money spent on Malta’s participation in the Eurovision by both entities was therefore calculated to be 560,495.18.

The report outlines that both the MTA and PBS utilised either negotiated procedures or contracts and purchase orders in order to acquire these services. 

Exactly who these contracts or negotiated procedures were provided to is not clear, given the government’s refusal to provide the full report.

  • don't miss