Updated 11.26am with tourism minister's replies to questions.
The tourism authority planned to book rooms at the five-star Phoenicia Hotel just so that staff could be near a Christmas village, with taxpayers footing the bill.
The Malta Tourism Authority’s events team had made arrangements to stay at the prestigious hotel for the two-week duration of the Christmas attraction, Fairyland, which the entity has organised outside City Gate, Valletta.
It is understood that the MTA staff were told to change plans by the Tourism Ministry after Times of Malta sent questions about the matter earlier this week.
Still, “at present”, one room is booked at the Phoenicia Hotel, an authority spokesperson said. He did not say whether others had previously been booked and a request for information on cost is still pending.
The Phoenicia Hotel is one of the most expensive in the country.
Going by its own booking service, rooms at the Phoenicia can cost around €500 a night.
The spokesperson said the hotel room was to be used for unexplained “logistical support” linked to the nearby Christmas village. The expenditure has raised questions within the MTA, with one source privy to the details describing it as a “scandalous abuse of public funds”.
Another senior government official described the matter as “disgusting” and “excessive”.
If necessary, action will be taken without undue delay
Those responsible are expected to face disciplinary measures, the source added.
It is understood that the accommodation was given the green light by the MTA’s head of events, Lionel Gerada.
A canvasser of former tourism minister Konrad Mizzi, Gerada was recruited as head of events in 2018 when Mizzi was politically responsible for the entity.
He has faced allegations of awarding the lion’s share of public MTA contracts to a close network of individuals.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the ministry said the issue was being looked into.
While Minister Clayton Bartolo is not involved in operational decisions taken by the MTA, he “firmly believes in full accountability when it comes to public funds”, the spokesperson said.
He added that the minister would “not condone any unnecessary public spending”.
“Upon receiving your questions, the minister immediately asked for an explanation and, if necessary, action will be taken without undue delay,” the spokesman said.
In comments to Times of Malta on Thursday, minister Clayton Bartolo reiterated that he would not allow any squandering of funds and would not tolerate abuse, if any was found.
Fairyland was temporarily closed this week after rough weather caused damage to the stalls and attractions.
“Unfortunately, due to the heavy winds last night, Fairyland has sustained light damages to some structures and decor within the venue,” a statement uploaded on Facebook said yesterday.