The government is challenging a decision by the Information and Data Protection Commissioner in favour of Times of Malta in which it was ordered to publish a consultancy contract awarded by direct order to former Labour candidate Alfred Mifsud.
Filing an appeal with the Information and Data Protection Appeals Tribunal, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs asked for the revocation of the Commissioner’s order, arguing that the government had already published “all that the public is interested about”.
Earlier in 2019, Times of Malta filed a request for a copy of the engagement contract of Mr Mifsud, a financial specialist, as a consultant to Foreign Minister Carmelo Abela under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.
The ministry twice refused to accede to this request arguing that the contract should not be disclosed as the services given by the former Labour media chairman were not regarded to be “of a top management role”.
Insisting on its request, Times of Malta asked the Data Protection Commissioner to look into and decide on this case, as it believed the ministry’s actions were against the provisions of the FOI law.
Second time government tries to reverse decision of the Commissioner
Times of Malta also argued that once Mr Mifsud was a public figure, was being paid by taxpayer’s funds and serving the public through his government contract, the public had every right to have the full details of what he was supposed to be doing.
In his final decision, after studying the case, the Data Protection Commissioner, Saviour Cachia, upheld Times of Malta's request.
Declaring that the ministry was “not justified” in denying the requested information, the Commissioner said that Mr Mifsud’s role “brings with it a degree of accountability, an element to ensure transparency, which is necessary in a democratic society, and therefore, the contract for service of Mr Mifsud shall not be exempted from the provision of the FOI act”.
He gave the ministry 20 days to hand over the contract to Times of Malta. However, in a rare move, the ministry is now challenging the Commissioner’s order.
According to the ministry, the Data Protection Commissioner should have also consulted Mr Mifsud before taking its decision.
This is the second time in a few months that the government has tried to reverse the decision of the Commissioner.
A few weeks ago, the Tribunal, presided over by Anna Mallia, threw out a challenge by the Economy Ministry which had been ordered to give Times of Malta access to the contracts of Economy Minister Chris Cardona’s consultants.
While the ministry argued that these were “private contracts”, the Tribunal found in favour of the Data Protection Commissioner and Times of Malta and agreed that the consultants’ contracts were in the public interest.