The contract signed with Michelle Buttigieg as the Malta Tourism Authority’s representative in New York should be made public, the Information and Data Protection Commissioner has ruled.
Ms Buttigieg is a partner of the Prime Minster’s wife, Michelle Muscat, in an overseas jewellery business venture.
In a decision following a request by the Times of Malta, Information and Data Protection Commissioner Saviour Cachia criticised the MTA for refusing to give the information to this newspaper and ordered the decision to be reversed.
“Although in terms of her service contract, Ms Buttigieg is not an employee of the MTA but is only offering her service on a self-employed basis as a sole trader, since the salary attached to her engagement as a marketing and promotion representative of the Maltese islands is paid out of public funds, the Commissioner considers that, in this specific case, the public interest in better served by providing the applicant [the Times of Malta] with full access of the requested document,” Mr Cachia said in his decision.
The Commissioner told the MTA’s CEO, Paul Bugeja, the decision to refuse to publish the contract was“not justified”.
Both the MTA and Tourism Minister Edward Zammit Lewis have so far refused to give details on the conditions afforded by the tourism authority to Ms Buttigieg.
The Commissioner told the MTA’s CEO, Paul Bugeja, the decision to refuse to publish the contract was not justified
In their latest justification for keeping the contract under wraps, the MTA quoted “trade secrets” and “information of a commercial nature”. Both these reasons were deemed by Mr Cachia to be unjustified.
“The agreement does not contain any information having a commercial value that would be, or could reasonably be expected to be, destroyed or diminished if the information were disclosed,” Mr Cachia said.
Ms Buttigieg, a Gozitan who has long lived in New York, was appointed as MTA representative soon after Labour’s victory at the polls in 2013.
The business venture, known as the Buttardi Jewellery Collection, has been ongoing for a number of years, with Ms Muscat acting as the company’s head of the European sales office.
Although not forming part of the diplomatic corps, Ms Buttigieg has been given an office at Malta’s Permanent Representation in New York to conduct official MTA business to promote Malta.
Under normal circumstances, employees engaged at Maltese representations abroad and who have been living in the same country prior to their employment are engaged as “local staff” on a normal, local salary.
It is not known if Ms Buttigieg’s financial package follows the rules for locally engaged staff or is tied to higher rates normally reserved for diplomatic officers.
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