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NEWS | Sunday, 04 May 2008

All mum on Enemalta deal

David Darmanin

Parties involved in the deal clinched between Enemalta and two companies on the use of streetlight poles for advertising purposes are keeping tight-lipped with regard to the financial aspect of this agreement.
After a public call for tenders was issued in 2006, Enemalta granted two companies the right to re-sell advertising space on banners affixed to streetlight poles around the island.
Contacted by this newspaper, a spokesperson for Enemalta refused to state how much the government’s takings from this project are.
“You are asking for commercial information which the Corporation does not wish to disclose,” Enemalta PRO Ian Vella said.
When the Ministry for Infrastructure, Transport and Communications was confronted with the same question, the answer was more exhaustive, albeit equally reticent.
“It is appreciated that Enemalta’s finances are of public interest. Indeed, under the Enemalta Corporation Act, they are scrutinised yearly by Parliament no less. However your request concerns contracts with private interests that have entered into an agreement with the Corporation to re-sell advertising space on its assets,” a spokesperson for the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Communications said. “Given that you belong to the media industry as well you will surely understand that revealing such commercial information would prejudice the ability of the resellers to successfully negotiate the product in the market. Ultimately, apart from the impact on the re-sellers' businesses, such a situation would harm Enemalta's commercial position in this regard. We feel we would be wrong to place Enemalta at such a disadvantaged position.”
Enemalta also failed to provide the names of the companies to whom the contracts were awarded.
Through alternative sources, this newspaper acquired contact details of one of the two companies involved, a VF Group Subsidiary.
Managing director Kevin Vassallo told MaltaToday: “I cannot say that I do not know what Enemalta is earning because, I know what I pay them. What I pay is no secret because there was a public tender issued on this.”
Reminded that only the tender announcement was made available to the public, and that no details appear on the Contracts Department’s records, and that therefore the financial information is not accessible to the public, Vassallo said: “It is not in the interest of the company to let people know what I’m paying. I would have a problem with divulging this information. Enemalta is the one that should be telling you how much it is earning, and I cannot speak on its behalf. What I can tell you is that I pay enough. But then, for me it might be a lot of money and for Enemalta it may seem too little. You can never tell.”
“This is confidential information,” he added. “Why should we reveal what we are paying? We have competed for this tender and we won it, by far.”
Whether or not planning permits are required for the affixation of such adverts is not known either. While confirming that there was never any submission of application for the affixation of banners, a spokesperson for MEPA said that the authority is “seeking legal advice on this matter.”
On his part, for Enemalta, Vella specified that the companies awarded the right to advertise on street lighting poles have the responsibility to obtain clearance, including that of MEPA.

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