The tourism authority says its massive €20 million overspend is due to the coronavirus pandemic but it has not provided any figures to substantiate its claim.

Times of Malta last week reported the Malta Tourism Authority (MTA) was projecting to end 2022 €21 million in the red.

The authority has an annual budget of €108 million. Replying to questions sent, the MTA did not give any figures on its spending, instead saying it was “because of the unprecedented international situation during the past years”.

“The MTA had to drastically increase its efforts to attract more tourists to the island as we seek the recovery of the sector,” a spokesperson for the authority said.

The MTA has in recent weeks filed a request to be handed the additional funding, however, this has so far not been approved despite creditors starting to pile up for payment, sources said.

The entity has been told to give a detailed breakdown of the spending, which one senior government insider described as “difficult to justify”.

Insiders and industry sources have pointed to splurges on “events, luxuries and sponsorships” by the authority. The Malta Tourism Authority spokesperson, meanwhile, said that the first few months of 2022 had seen several post-COVID recovery schemes.

“These included assistance to tour operators and various event organisers, as well as other niches which the Malta Tourism Authority is working hard to promote such as family tourism, sport tourism and faith tourism,” the spokesperson said.

The MTA says it has also spent time and money on marketing and improving its presence in other European countries. The authority has repeatedly faced claims of financial mismanagement.

In April, Johann Buttigieg stepped down as tourism authority chief executive after three years in the role. No reason for his resignation was given, but it came at a time when the authority was facing criticism for the way it spends public funds.

The MTA’s former head of events – Buttigieg’s second-in- command – was effectively demoted in January after Times of Malta exposed how he had booked lavish hotel rooms using taxpayer funds. Lionel Gerada was stripped of all decision-making powers and his role was subsequently abolished.

The Tourism Ministry has not responded to a request for his comment.

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