More than 65 direct orders worth over €1.5 million were dished out by the Arts Council in the first half of the year despite the Auditor General highlighting financial shortcomings and noticing excessive use of such methods in 2016 and 2017.

Although the Arts Council, headed by Albert Marshall as executive chairman, said it “welcomed the [National Audit Office’s] recommendations” and that it would be taking action to remedy the situation, fresh information indicates the number of direct orders being allocated remains on the high side.

Information appearing in The Malta Government Gazette shows that between January and June, the council issued 69 direct orders for various services and the hiring of individuals.

Details show that the cultural entity, which falls under the political remit of Justice Minster Owen Bonnici, resorted to direct orders not only to procure inevitable artistic services, such as performers, artists and composers for its festivals and concerts, but also to hire staff, including a messenger, and to allot ‘small’ jobs to a number of individuals and companies, mostly connected to the governing Labour Party.

The Labour mayor of Żurrieq, Ignatius Farrugia, was hired to give “consultancy services on the council’s dealings with local councils on how to promote better their cultural activities”.

Labour MEP hopeful and dancer Felix Busuttil was given €9,360 to provide the Arts Council with “festival officer services”.

Actor Frederick Testa, artist Kenneth Zammit Tabona and the former conductor of the National Philharmonic Orchestra, Brian Schembri, were among a list of individuals getting direct orders for various jobs. The council, which already engaged former TV presenter Lou Bondì for communications services through a €56,000 direct order, also allocated marketing and communication jobs to other individuals through direct orders.

The Arts Council decided to issue direct orders for lighting equipment, stages, sound systems, filming and related services.

Companies that normally furnish Labour’s mass events, such as Tec Ltd and Nexos, were among the recipients.

The council also used a direct order to purchase paintings by the late Ebba von Fersen Balzan, MaltaToday managing editor Saviour Balzan’s wife.

In its report, the Audit Office had highlighted a number of issues, which, it said, indicated lack of good governance in the running of the Arts Council.

There was no financial reporting for two years, “habitual” use of direct orders and failure to hold board meetings as required by law were among the issues flagged by the Auditor General.

The Arts Council defended its use of direct orders stating that the majority were of an artistic nature “where procurement is typically carried out this way”.

Direct orders list

Subject Provider Value
Administration of social media Halo Pictures €7,800
Opening concert Spring Festival Brian Schembri €9,091
Service of cultural liaison officer Fredrick Testa €8,978
Set up of exhibition Kenneth Zammit Tabona €5,000
Consultancy on arts and local councils Ignatius Farrugia €7,200
Service of driver/messenger Gertrude Debono €7,910
Platform for Mintoff monument inauguration Istage Ltd €6,175
Festival officer services Felix Busuttil €9,360
Expertise service in social media Ikona Artworks Ltd €36,482
Acquisition of paintings of late artist Ebba von Fersen Balzan Saviour Balzan €15,000
Interior design consultancy IIC (Malta) Ltd €120,000
Composition, conduction of music projects Dominic Galea €36,000
Production of rock concerts NnG Promotions €141,000
Provision of musical Sean Buhagiar €50,000

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