The government has turned down requests to provide information on solo visits abroad made by Economy Minister Chris Cardona, claiming such information is “classified” and protected according to Cabinet procedures.
Citing an article in the Freedom of Information Act, which protects official Cabinet documents, Mario Cutajar, who apart from being the Principal Permanent Secretary is also secretary to the Cabinet, said that he could not give such information.
In a request filed under the Freedom of Information Act, the Times of Malta asked Mr Cutajar to provide copies of e-mail correspondence sent to the Cabinet office by Dr Cardona asking for authorisation for his overseas travel, e-mails of the approval given by the Cabinet office and copies of the reports about these trips, which ministers are obliged to present to the Prime Minister on their return.
Despite the fact that the newspaper asked for administrative information and not policy Cabinet documents, Mr Cutajar still turned down the request, insisting that it fell under the protection given by the FOI Act to Cabinet documents.
The Times of Malta has now filed a request for a reconsideration of the decision, arguing that the documents requested are not protected by law, as is being cited by Mr Cutajar.
Complete invoice of hotel and other bills related to Monaco trip were misplaced
This is the second time in a few weeks that Mr Cutajar has refused to answer questions regarding Dr Cardona’s solo trips on official government business to various destinations, including Russia, Ukraine, Monaco, Dubai and Poland.
Recently, during a press conference on good governance, Mr Cutajar said he could not reply to questions on Dr Cardona’s trips, as “these will be replied according to a Freedom of Information request” filed by the Times of Malta.
He has now turned down the request altogether.
According to a Manual of Cabinet Procedures published by Mr Cutajar in August 2014, ministers are expected to seek approval in writing for every ministerial trip abroad, provide details of the meetings to be held and with whom, and give details on members of the ministerial delegation.
The manual also stipulated that ministers would only proceed with their travels if given the approval in writing by the Cabinet office.
The Office of the Prime Minister has, as of the time of writing, refused to say whether Dr Cardona followed procedures for his frequent solo trips and whether Prime Minister Joseph Muscat gave his consent.
The Times of Malta has reported that some of Dr Cardona’s trips coincided either with long weekends or seasonal holiday periods.
On one occasion, a solo trip to Russia and Ukraine was made by Dr Cardona during the end-of-year holidays, between December 29, 2014, and January 8, 2015. The trip was funded by taxpayers.
On another occasion, also highlighted by the National Audit Office, Dr Cardona spent €2,600 a night in an unnamed hotel in Monaco during a three-day visit on a weekend in 2015.
The complete invoice of the hotel and other bills related to this trip were misplaced, according to the NAO.
On his part, Dr Cardona has not said who he met during these visits but said that he travels alone “not to waste money”.