Alex Agius Saliba’s lavish rally at Tritons Square in Valletta would cost a private individual just shy of €32,000 in equipment rental costs alone, an exercise carried out by Times of Malta shows.

That is almost two-thirds of the €50,000 budget a candidate is allowed to spend on their entire European Parliament election campaign.

As campaigns gear up for the June European elections, questions have been raised about the money being poured into publicity events organised by individual candidates.

The rally on March 9 organised by Agius Saliba, a popular Labour MEP, sparked questions over the sheer size and extravagance of the event in one of Malta’s most prominent spots.

High-profile speakers including former prime minister Joseph Muscat took to the stage in a huge tent while Agius Saliba’s name was projected on to the Valletta bastions.

Alex Agius Saliba addresses supporters. Photo: Matthew MirabelliAlex Agius Saliba addresses supporters. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Times of Malta contacted three separate event production companies and asked for quotations for some of the services and supplies used at the Labour MEP’s event.

One production company quoted €21,430, excluding VAT, to rent out lights, audio, video, furniture, stage, transport and labour for such an event. This includes the cost of the projector used for projecting Agius Saliba’s name, which was quoted at €1,800 to hire.

Another company quoted €260 for the rental of a 4m x 4m tent, and €4,875 for a 25m x 10m tent. Agius Saliba had 11 tents of the smaller size and one large tent, bringing the total, excluding VAT and transport, to €7,735.

A final company was contacted to quote for the rental of two LED walls used to show a direct live stream of the event’s high-profile speakers. The LED walls cost a total of €2,800, excluding VAT.

The total amount came to €31,965, excluding VAT. But that only accounts for the cost of equipment hire.

Supporters wore Agius Saliba merchandise and were offered free food and drink at the event. Photo: Matthew MirabelliSupporters wore Agius Saliba merchandise and were offered free food and drink at the event. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

It does not include other costs such as catering, permits, branding, merchandise and further labour and transport costs, meaning the overall cost of the event would be much higher.

The event attracted a large crowd, who were all offered free wine, beer, soft drinks and pasta. Supporters wore Alex Agius Saliba branded sweatshirts and held aloft placards bearing his name.

When asked about the rally cost, Agius Saliba declined to provide the figures spent but said: “I will be publishing, as I did five years ago, the total cost as well as the fiscal receipts. And I hope everyone else will do so as well.”

Agius Saliba said he did not receive any donations for the event.

However, he added: “The only issue, which I recorded last time, was that some contractors provided sound, tents and the like. Since we organise several events they give us a more reasonable price than if we had just done the one. But that is totally normal.”

Joseph Muscat was one of the speakers at Alex Agius Saliba’s Triton Square rally. Photo: Matthew MirabelliJoseph Muscat was one of the speakers at Alex Agius Saliba’s Triton Square rally. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

According to the European Parliament Elections (Maximum Expenses) Regulations, candidates are limited to a spend of €50,000, “before, during or after an election”. They would also need to declare all costs during the campaign as well as any donations.

Questions have also been raised about the campaign launches of Labour MEP candidates Clint Azzopardi Flores and Steve Ellul. Azzopardi Flores used a dome marquee for his launch event while Ellul rented out a large tent for his.

Ralph Cassar, an MEP candidate for ADPD, who has been highlighting the lavish events of Labour candidates said: “The issue is there is a large loophole in campaign financing regulations and laws... They do not follow the spirit of the law but rather the letter of the law.”

In the last MEP election five years ago, Agius Saliba declared he had spent €38,182. The top spender of the 2019 MEP elections was Josianne Cutajar who declared €47,042.

Five of six of Malta’s MEPs said they had spent over €25,000 on their electoral campaigns.

The outlier in the group was Alfred Sant, who spent a total of €17,736.

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