10 other government departments and agencies join forces to conceal payments to Sauveur Balzan

10 other government entities, including several government departments, have joined efforts to continue to conceal payments made to government spin doctor and owner of Malta Today, Savior Balzan, and have challenged the Data Protection Commissioner’s decision in court ordering the publication of this information. to The Shift under Freedom of Information (FOI) rules.

In the government’s latest coordinated effort to conceal taxpayer payments of tens of thousands of euros to Balzan and his media, the 10 additional government entities have followed the 30 others who have already appealed the commissioner’s decision.

The Shift is already fighting 30 calls from government agencies to block it from seeking information about how taxpayer funds are funneled to Balzan.

Using separate lawyers, increasing legal costs which are also taken from the public purse, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Economy, Ministry of Family, Ministry of Environment, the Department of Energy, the Department of Tourism, the National and Social Development Fund (NSDF), the Police Force and the Environment and Resources Authority have all asked the Court of Appeal of the data protection to rescind the commissioner’s order to make available data on all payments they made to Balzan and his companies, Media Today and Business 2 Business.

In their appeals, the state entities claim that they are not obligated to provide this information as ordered, arguing that the FOI law does not require them to compile lists but only to provide specific documents.

However, the Data Protection Commissioner defended his position, insisting that the Freedom of Information Act is about transparency and accountability and that since taxpayers’ funds are involved, the public has the right to access necessary information and to keep the government under control.

The Shift originally asked government departments and entities to make available copies of consultancy contracts and payments made to Savior Balzan and his media arms following reports received that he was acting as a as a public relations consultant for the government while posing as an “independent” journalist and media owner.

While most government agencies replied that they had no such information, an investigation by the Data Protection Commissioner found that this was not true and that the entities involved, including most government departments, paid Balzan and his companies for various services, including the writing of press releases by the staff of his companies.

Following the Commissioner’s Order requiring various government departments and departments to provide this information to The Shift, in accordance with the FOI Act, the 30 entities send a call, challenging the commissioner’s decision and continuing to refuse to release the information. They have now been joined by 10 others.

The Shift revealed in October that Sauveur Balzan and his companies had been paid more than one million euros of direct orders taxpayers’ money for various services rendered to the government that have nothing to do with journalism. These include contracts for the personal services of Balzan to help ministers deal with the media and respond to unfavorable political situations, contrary to the ethical rules of journalism. He was also paid to use his newspapers to publish “positive content”.

by Balzan habit of ‘begging’ government contracts was also exposed in court by his own former informant, Keith Schembri – the disgraced former OPM chief of staff currently facing a series of fraud and money laundering charges – who denounced Balzan as ” more a lobbyist than a journalist, regularly asking the government for leaflets, including through TV shows with the public broadcaster”.

Shortly after the Labor Party returned to power in 2013, Balzan was awarded a number of lucrative TV slots on PBS, from which he rakes in thousands of taxpayer dollars each week, to produce programs despite the fact that they consistently perform poorly in terms of audience results. in polls conducted by the Broadcasting Authority.

It also got prime time slots for a talk show, while other news programs with much higher viewership ratings, like Xarabank and l-Erbgħa Fost il-Gimgħa, have been removed, leaving Balzan to benefit from the best commercial TV slots available, while eliminating competition.

Recently, The Shift also reported that Balzan received a government factory in Mosta, supposedly to be used as a television studio. His intention was to produce television programs, subsidized by PBS. While the premises, originally intended for manufacturing, are not yet operational, the government has reduced Balzan’s subsidized rent to just 1 per month, excluding VAT, apparently as a mitigation measure around the Covid-19 pandemic. However, no other company using government factories appears to have received the same relief on its lease payments.

Ashley C. Reynolds