The Malta Independent 20 May 2024, Monday
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Prime Minister’s office spent just over €160,000 in direct orders to promote Budget 2023

Albert Galea Friday, 30 June 2023, 08:11 Last update: about 12 months ago

The Office of the Prime Minister spent just north of 160,000 in direct orders in order to promote last October’s Budget, figures published in the Government Gazette last week show.

The Finance and Administration Directorate within the Office of the Prime Minister published the list of contracts it awarded throughout 2022, including five direct orders for the promotion of Budget 2023 last October.

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Ikona Artworks were awarded a direct order worth 19,615 for the “design of the information campaign for the Budget 2023” and another 45,000 for the “implementation of the post Budget 2023 information campaign on newspapers, radio, television, portals” – thereby totalling up to €64,615.

Ikona Artworks has been on the receiving end of a myriad of government direct orders for various PR campaigns and consultancies – including for a much-mocked artistic installation of jablo statues during Valletta18 – ever since the Labour Party came to power.

Sharp Shoot Media meanwhile was awarded a €37,800 direct order for the “production of adverts for the forthcoming Budget 2023 campaign.”

The company is co-owned by Justin Farrugia, who is the brother of former OPM head of communications and current Malta Enterprise CEO Kurt Farrugia.

Established in 2013, it too has been on the receiving end of several direct orders from government entities, while also producing television programmes for the national broadcaster TVM.

Webee Ltd was paid 46,610 for the “provision of post Budget 2023 advertising on social media”, and Border & Co Ltd were paid 11,100 for the “rent of Billboards for Budget 2023.”

The lavish promotional campaign, which came for a Budget in which Finance Minister Clyde Caruana ironically had emphasised that the government’s spending was being handled in a sustainable and prudent manner, had been mooted by the Opposition as early as last November.

The PN had claimed that the government had spent around 200,000 in its PR offensive to promote the Budget.

Caruana himself had told Parliament that his ministry had only spent 35 in social media adverts in order to promote the Budget.

He found himself in some hot water with the new Standards Commissioner Joseph Azzopardi in relation to the Budget after he was found to have breached ethics with an advert on social media.

The advert took the form of a sponsored post and according to the report cost €83.90. It included a photo of Minister Caruana, along with his name and position, with the words "While Europe threw the weight of four times higher energy costs on families and businesses, this government will spend €1.1 billion so that this will not happen in our country."

Caruana said that the post cost €83.90, including production and circulation costs, excluding VAT and the Commissioner found that the advert was in breach of the code of ethics for ministers because of his own prominence in the advert.

The minister ultimately paid the cost of the sponsored post out of his own funds and attached the receipt to a letter replying to the Commissioner, who subsequently closed the case.

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