The Malta Independent 26 February 2024, Monday
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TMIS Editorial: A bad week for the Tourism Minister

Sunday, 26 November 2023, 11:00 Last update: about 4 months ago

Our dear Tourism Minister was in the news for the wrong reasons again these past few days.

Three times, we add.

Clayton Bartolo first refused to table a full report compiled by the Malta Film Commission, arguing that he does not trust the Opposition with the full document. Naturally, this drew criticism from the Nationalist Party, with Bartolo’s counterpart Julie Zahra quipping that the government wants a “just” Malta but then it is not “just” with the people.

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The week got worse for the minister when he was caught passing on questions to a witness who was to appear before the Public Accounts Committee. His behaviour was ruled to be “incorrect” by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Anglu Farrugia.

It was then reported that the Tourism Ministry had claimed that there exists no list of names of people who were given complimentary tickets to watch Manchester United games as part of a sponsorship deal the Malta Tourism Authority has with the English football club. In a reply to a parliamentary question in 2022, Bartolo had said that the tickets are handed out to journalists, influencers, prize-winners, travel agents, tourist agencies and others. Why, again, Bartolo is being secretive is anyone’s guess.

Bartolo’s decision this week to hold back on information regarding the Malta Film Commission – which falls under his political responsibility – can only increase suspicions about the institution, which has already been under fire for years for not being forthcoming about the way it works and its financial operations.

So much has already been written about why the commission has failed to say how much it paid an entertainer who presented the Malta Film Awards. It has gone as far as resorting to the courts of law in an attempt to prevent access to this information which was found to be in the public interest by the Information and Data Protection Commissioner.

Transparency is apparently not a word Bartolo knows the meaning of. Last year, for example, he refused to publish details about beach concessions. The Malta Tourism Authority, also under Bartolo’s responsibility, had turned down a Freedom of Information request for a copy of the concession agreements to set up sunbeds on Comino. Another FOI request on who is getting Manchester United tickets was also turned down.

The passing of questions to a witness about to testify in a parliamentary committee was then “in breach of protocols”, according to the Speaker, a situation that should have led to a stiffer penalty than a simple reprimand. The Opposition is calling for Bartolo’s resignation from the PAC as a result of this.

We do not know if Prime Minister Robert Abela has made contact with the Tourism Minister to discuss both issues. They were seen together last Thursday at the opening of a refurbished hotel. But, judging by how Abela has reacted to other serious situations that have happened under his nose, we’re not too hopeful that there was some kind of rebuke from the head of government. After all, the Prime Minister found nothing wrong that Ian Borg passed on names of individuals who were going for their driving test, so it’s possible that Abela endorsed what Bartolo did too.

It is not the first time that Bartolo put his foot in it.

We all remember how he embarrassingly wore a Manchester United jacket when the English club’s women’s team was playing against Birkirkara. It is unjustifiable that a Maltese minister turns up for a football match wearing apparel of a foreign team that is taking on a Maltese side – one that represents a locality that, to make things worse, forms part of an electoral district the minister contests. No wonder he had been criticised so much, forcing him to say he regretted the incident.

More recently, he blamed the Nationalist Party administration when it became clear that road works at Ghadira were not going to be finished before summer. He apparently forgot that the Labour Party government he forms part of has been in power for 10 years.

On another occasion, he forgot to switch off his microphone in Parliament and was overheard saying he “can’t stand” Nationalist MP Rebekah Borg, a comment for which he later apologised.

Bartolo’s use of social media has also brought him problems. Such as when he boasted that Swieqi was one of the localities where the shore was being cleaned every day. Swieqi is a landlocked locality, and has no shore. Or when he boasted that a light bulb had been installed in the area known as Tal-Veccja in St Paul’s bay, at the same time that the country was alight with the news that the Court of Appeal had confirmed an original judgment that rescinded the deal to transfer three public hospitals to the private sector.

Bartolo is then absent where it matters. As minister responsible for a sector that is one of the major mainstays of the economy, he should be defending it when the value Malta has to offer is under threat. He should be the first to speak out, for example, against any development that risks causing damage to what Malta can offer to its 2.5 million annual visitors, such as the one approved in the vicinity of the Ggantija Temples.

But he doesn’t.

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