The Malta Independent 11 August 2022, Thursday

Malta Film Commission says it is ‘not in a position’ to identify how much Malta Film Awards cost

Albert Galea Monday, 1 August 2022, 09:35 Last update: about 10 days ago

The Malta Film Commission has said that it is “not in a position” to identify specifically how much the Malta Film Awards event cost, as it refused a second Freedom of Information request on the topic filed by The Malta Independent.

The Malta Film Awards were held on 29 January this year amid much fanfare, but the event’s extravagance raised questions from both filmmakers, some of whom even boycotted the event out of protest at its cost compared to the annual budget allocated to helping the local film industry, and in the political sphere.

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Multiple efforts to ascertain what the cost of the event was have been made since then, with all proving to be in vain as the government has steadfastly refused to identify the exact cost of the event.

The gala event reportedly went well over its €400,000 budget – which was already a source of irritation for those in the film industry who noted that Malta’s annual film fund only had a budget of €600,000.

Industry insiders have placed the actual cost of the event, which saw British comedian David Walliams be brought over to host it and saw a wide-reaching public relations campaign to encourage increased viewership, to be over €1 million and even closer to €2 million.

A Freedom of Information request was filed by The Malta Independent last February, soon after the event, asking what the initial budget for the event was set at, for the total government expenditure in relation to this evening, a breakdown of these costs by item, to whom they were paid, and through which means of procurement (direct order/negotiated procedure/tender etc) that each item was acquired.

That request was refused the following month, with the reason for refusal being that the documents were still being compiled at the time.

“The documents requested are still being compiled. The total expenditure and the breakdown of costs will be published, once all invoices are compiled,” the Malta Film Commission said in its refusal note.

Since then, the Tourism Minister and the Malta Film Commission have continued to refuse to say how much the event cost, with Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo eventually resorting to stating how much Malta Film Week – which included the Awards event but also included another 22 events besides that – cost.

An identical FOI request to that filed in February, seeking the same documents, was filed by The Malta Independent in June.

This too was refused two weeks ago.

“We inform you that the Malta Film Commission follows the Public Procurement Regulations, particularly para. 111(2) of the same rules and regulations and MFE Circular 09/2021,” the Commission said in its refusal.

No exact reason for refusal was provided, but the Film Commission directed this newsroom to a Parliamentary Question filed by PN MP Julie Zahra on 28 June asking for similar details, to which Bartolo answered with the total cost and breakdown of the Malta Film Week.

Bartolo said that the Malta Film Week – which he said included 22 events and the Malta Film Awards event itself – cost a total of 1.3 million.  He gave a breakdown across four categories of spending, saying that logistics cost 708,011, creative services cost 478,520.14, travel cost 81,328.07, and marketing cost 69,483.83.

A complaint against the FOI refusal was subsequently filed, with the newsroom highlighting that no valid reason for the FOI’s refusal was provided.

“The notion that – as per para. 111(2) of the Public Procurement Regulations, as cited by the public authority – the details requested will be published at some point in the future in the Government Gazette is not a valid reason for the refusal of a Freedom of Information request,” the complaint read.

Indeed, the Freedom of Information Act when setting out the possible reasons for a refusal of an FOI request does not cite this reasoning as a valid reason for the refusal for the provision of information.

It was also pointed out that the FOI request pertains specifically to the Malta Film Awards event and not the Malta Film Week as a whole, and that because the Ministry had provided the full figures for the Malta Film Week – which includes the said event – then it is understood that the Malta Film Commission has the requested figures in hand, but had simply chosen not to provide them.

The Malta Film Commission however did not accede to the request for the documents once again, stating that it was not in a position to apportion invoices paid for services in order to identify the costs for the Malta Film Awards alone.

“As per the reply dated 10th July 2022, the Malta Film Commission (“MFC”) directs the complainant to the full figures spent on the Malta Film Week. It is pertinent to note that the MFC is not in a position to apportion invoices paid for services provided during the Malta Film Week, in order to identify costs for the Malta Film Awards night only,” the Commission said in its reply to the complaint.

“The Malta Film Commission reiterates that Public Procurement Regulations, particularly para. 111(2) of the same rules and regulations and MFE Circular 09/2021, were followed in the awarding of contracts for services used during the Malta Film Week,” it added.

The Malta Independent will be filing an appeal with the Information and Data Protection Commissioner as contemplated for by the Freedom of Information Act.

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