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Finance Ministry ‘blocks’ information on direct orders

Says information can be withheld under provisions of the law.

Left to right: Pierre Cachia celebrating victory with Labour media personalities Alfred Zammit and Clint Bajada.

Left to right: Pierre Cachia celebrating victory with Labour media personalities Alfred Zammit and Clint Bajada.

The Finance Ministry is refusing to give information on the direct orders made in the second semester of 2017 despite a Freedom of Information Act request from the Times of Malta.

The newspaper asked the ministry why the direct orders were necessary, particularly since some of them involved the hiring of services from people very close to the party in government.

Read: Over 400 Freedom of Information requests in 3 years

However, the ministry twice rejected the newspaper’s request in terms of the Freedom of Information Act, insisting that the information sought could be withheld under the provisions of that law. Only in the case of one of the seven requests did the ministry point out which section of the law it was referring to.

This request related to a €27,000 direct contract with ex-One TV employee Pierre Cachia for “media services”. It said “the contract contains personal data”.

Information about the direct orders allocated to Mr Cachia were published in The Malta Government Gazette.

Cachia’s €27,000 contract ‘contains personal data’

Mr Cachia, who has also landed a number of direct orders with other ministries, including the Office of the Prime Minister, was responsible for “media services” between April and June 2017, during the electoral campaign.

That direct order was approved by the Finance Ministry in August 2017, when the term of the contract had already elapsed.

On the same day, Mr Cachia was awarded a fresh “media services” contract for a year.

The Finance Ministry has two full-time employees on its payroll who handle media, communications and marketing affairs. It would not say why the additional “media services” were required.

Nor would it say why other direct orders had been issued, including for the employment of three receptionists, recruited without a public call, and a €16,320 direct order to lawyer Pawlu Lia for legal work in connection with judicial and extra-judicial matters at Malta Shipyards.

Read: Government says 'no' to most Times of Malta requests for information

Dr Lia usually represents the Labour Party in litigation.

The ministry was also asked why its direct orders section, which handles all the direct order requests from ministries and government agencies, was managed by a person who was himself engaged through a direct order.

According to Finance Ministry guidelines, direct orders are only to be used exceptionally, where the work or services required are unplanned or limited to time constraints in their execution.

 

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