After six months of deliberation, the Information and Data Protection Commissioner has ruled against taxpayers and in favour of concealing the true extent of public money misuse by ministers.
His shocking decision means taxpayers will have to wait even longer to find out exactly how much of their money was illegally spent by ministers for propaganda on their personal Facebook pages.
Back in June of last year, Lovin Malta filed several Freedom of Information requests, after a Standards Commissioner report found the practice of misusing such funds and resources was “widespread” and the police confirmed they had launched a criminal investigation into potential misappropriation of funds.
All of Lovin Malta’s FOI requests were rejected on the grounds that the public authorities – in this case, the ministries – do not hold such information.
This is the basic information requested per ministry:
On appeal, the FOI requests were rejected once again, using the same reasoning.
So in August, Lovin Malta filed a complaint with the Information and Data Protection Commissioner to overturn these rejections, as is the procedure with rejected FOI requests, which have become the norm in Malta.
Here is our complaint:
To demonstrate an example of such rejected request, Lovin Malta attached one of the Freedom of Information requests – the one relating to the Office of the Prime Minister – and asked the Commissioner to determine why the authority does not have the requested information given that most of this information is readily available from the Facebook accounts themselves, and from the spending records of each ministry.
Now, almost six months later, the newly-appointed Commissioner Ian Deguara has decided to defend the veil of secrecy, declaring that the public authorities are “justified” in withholding the information since the public authority “does not hold the requested document”.
In a five-page decision, the Commissioner explains that after various written exchanges and physical meetings with the OPM, it was concluded that:
- “Neither the Office of the Prime Minister nor the Prime Ministers have ever had an official Facebook page during the timeframe indicated in the applicant’s request”
- “That no public funds have been committed or ever utilised to maintain the Facebook pages of the Prime Ministers since 2013”
- “That it does not have or had any employees on its payroll responsible for maintaining the Facebook pages of the Prime Ministers since 2013”
However, these three claims are all demonstrably incorrect.
Firstly, Joseph Muscat and Robert Abela have both had official Facebook pages as Prime Ministers, both of which were verified with Facebook blue ticks and which regularly share/d official government information.
Till today, the Office of the Prime Minister has its own official Facebook page @MaltaGov and this is the official page of the OPM, as demonstrated by its own description linking to the OPM’s website.
Secondly, the OPM itself had in 2017 admitted to spending more than €500,000 of public money on social media ads and could not have possibly done all that without using an official Facebook page.
Thirdly, the personal pages of the Joseph Muscat and Robert Abela must have – at the very least – been managed by themselves. Given as Prime Ministers they were on the official payroll of the OPM, it is an outright lie to claim that no employees on the OPM’s payroll responsible for maintaining the Facebook pages of the Prime Ministers since 2013. It is also highly unbelievable that the pages were not managed by their closest staff.
Instead of demanding the publication of readily-available documentation to prove the claims by the OPM, the Commissioner decided that the word of the public authority is enough, even when their claims are demonstrably untrue.
Plus, Lovin Malta’s request for information was not exclusive to the Office of the Prime Minister but to each of the ministries.
Questions sent to the Data Protection Commissioner to explain these discrepancies have not yet been answered.
Lovin Malta is seeking legal advice to challenge this decision at the Information And Data Protection Appeals Tribunal.
If you want to support this and similar campaigns by Lovin Malta, including our battle against illegal TV propaganda, please visit www.kaxxaturi.com
And if you’d like to refresh your memory about how this campaign began, revisit the most-watched episode of Kaxxaturi right here.