Reforming the book industry

Everything we have done at the National Book Council since 2013 has gravitated around one single and main objective: to boost the revenue streams of the publishing industry stakeholders, giving priority to publishers and authors.

In order to achieve this, we had to develop a roadmap which first of all involved rebuilding the entity itself. From a starting budget of €50,000 a year and one employee, we developed to a team of seven employees and an annual budget of €1 million a year, excluding salaries and capital expenditure.

The most obvious and immediate challenge was to renovate the annual book fair, which we rebranded into the Malta Book Festival. This was an outstanding success, as year after year the Festival went on to consistently hit all-time record sales.

Meanwhile, we started building a legal framework on par with EU standards, which was also meant to increase revenue streams. We introduced Public Lending Rights at our public libraries, and we are currently lobbying the University of Malta to adopt the same legal framework to introduce a PLR scheme at its Melitensia section. We are positive that an agreement will be found with the University of Malta and that they will comply with EU law under our direction.

Having built the entity’s financial and adminitrative foundations, we then started a legal process to reform the book industry and bring it into line with EU standards. We introduced a legal notice to formally regulate the National Book Council. This was only the start, as in 2018 we initiated a very long consultation process with our stakeholders meant to implement the necessary legal reforms.

After lengthy consultations with publishers, in 2019, the National Book Council convened the first ever National Congress of Authors, where more than 150 authors had showed their support to the bills being proposed. It is the first time in our history that book industry stakeholders mediated between each other to find a common ground and adopt a coherent policy on their legal and financial affairs.

This process was concluded in August 2020, when two bills have been drawn up and published: a bill which which would give the National Book Council the autonomy it deserves, and the copyright reform bill which will transpose the EU Copyright Directive on the Digital Single Market. The former bill is a consolidation of the already existing legal notice, while the latter will introduce new legal rights for publishers, authors and also press publishers.

Simultaneously, we drew up a legal notice, which has been approved by the Ministry of Finance, to introduce tax incentives for publishers and authors. This financial reform will give publishers a 100% tax break on all royalties paid to authors, while simultaneously make authors’ royalty payments tax free. The long-term plan is to eventually create a publishing tax-free industry, which would not only alleviate the local industry, but hopefully also attract foreign publishers to set up house in Malta and bring in foreign direct investment into our industry and our country.

As of now, the new post-Muscat government administration has refused to acknowledge the parliamentary bills. It is surprising how the government has taken this position notwithstanding the huge support of the industry’s stakeholders. The government should be reminded that it is the National Book Council’s legal obligation to adopt such positions publicly and push for the Government to act.

Additionally, the Ministry of Economy is not only ignoring the National Book Council’s position and requests (through which we represent the publishing industry stakeholders), but it is also forging ahead to arbitrarily impose the transposition of the EU Copyright Directive without our consultation.

Our position on this matter is clear. The Ministry for the Economy, with its politically appointed copyright board, does not have the legitimacy nor the expertise to arbitrarily impose any legal reforms on the publishing industry.

Instead, what should happen for the sake of the industry and the arts industry in general is very clear: the copyright board should be disbanded and the National Book Council should take the lead in transposing the EU Copyright Directive.

This is the only way to create the appropriate structures for the Directive to be implemented through our bureaucratic system.

It would be wise to avoid an approach similar to the conservative government in the UK where the art industries are treated with an unrealistic and detached approach. The government should be aware that the publishing industry is not only providing a net contribution to the economy, but it is crucial for the educational, intellectual and cultural development of our society.

Allowing legal reforms to be implemented by bureaucrats who have no expertise in the field will spell disaster not only for our industry, but ultimately for our society.

I sincerely hope the government comes to term with the necessity of taking the matter at hand with the serious approach it deserves.

We have made our demands in a diplomatic and amicable manner, so the government has no excuses or claims of being under fire by our industry. It is actually us who are currently under fire, without the government’s support and with no recognition whatsoever during the hardest-ever economic crisis in our industry’s history.

https://www.maltatoday.com.mt/comment/blogs/105385/reforming_the_book_industry_during_the_hardestever_economic_crisis_in_history#.X46_bNAzaDI

The great wealth transfer from poor to rich. The great reset.

We are going through a wide-systematic reset where the current capitalist system is changing to the extent that a new world-order will be formed. Unfortunately, this won’t be like the previous resets in history. Previous systematic changes to the political-economic structure of the world were of great benefit to common people. When feudalism started collapsing in the 14th century, serfs were getting freed and the right to private property began to be shared by an increasing number of people. Capitalism had brought riches and opportunities, but eventually common people challenged the system once again to usher in socialism and build a society which is more just to them. We have seen since the Second World War in Western Europe the rise of socialist policies which had subdued the excesses of capitalism and created a fairer society thanks to free healthcare, free education, meritocracy, social mobility, decent working conditions, anti-rent-seeking measures etc…. Today we are experiencing a historical phenomenon in the other direction, that is a reset which will benefit the elite rather than the common people. This reset is effecting one of the greatest wealth transfer events from poor to rich in recorded history.

It’s all in the banks

The European Central Bank is following on the footsteps of the Federal Reserve in handling the economic crisis: quantitative easing. It’s the magical solution. Just like an intern in her first days of work, the European central banker, clueless, bewildered, and overwhelmed with the juggernaut of history, opted for the quick, copy and paste solution of the big boss. It’s what everyone does in the first days of a job after all. When in doubt, do the same thing your peers are doing. Then Merkel and Macron came up with their 750 billion Euro bazooka and the Euro broke its years-long downward trend and is now shooting up as if the sky is the limit. At face-value, everything seems to be working. Europe has made it.

But we know how this story ends because we’ve been here already. With the previous quantitative easing programmes initiated by Draghi “whatever it takes to save the Euro”, Europe did not lurch back into economic growth, on the contrary, the economic cycle upwards quickly ran out of steam and as of last year we were wondering whether Germany will remain an economic power-hub as its industry faltered and economic growth in Europe subsided. The peripheral countries such as Greece, Italy and Spain remained loaded in debt and austerity and their youths fled to other countries  scrambling for jobs. Only Eastern Europe which most of it had not yet joined the Euro was picking up some steam as factories and manufactures rushed there for the cheaper labour. Now, we add to the debt and artificially inflate stock prices higher while hoping that economic growth will surge organically given an increased money supply and higher liquidity in the financial system. The only thing missing from this equation is reality itself. If we would have had some empirical evidence which showed a strong correlation between job creation and quantitative easing then it would have been easier. But we will have the new Green Deal for that. Ok. So the jobs are coming with investments in energy and infrastructure which we will fund with more debt, and which we would then have to pay for with more jobs that are created by the multiplier effect. It’s like playing a poker game which never ends, given you can buy-in again every time you lose your money, hoping that one day you’ll get a royal flush and go home a total winner. Debts cancelled and austerity ended. We’ve won. The only snag in this game plan is that poker players who keep losing will probably keep losing even more.

Put it simply, Italy, Greece and Spain will not pay their debt. So if we can get a free buy-in, why can’t we take the money and stop playing, instead? This is exactly what private banks, central bankers, big corporations want to avoid. You’ve got to play the game with their rules. Small manufacturers who had their cash-flow dried up are getting 2.5% interest on their emergency loans delaying by default, any capital investment they would do in the future. Small businesses are stuck in a rut while the big boys get to play with free money. Subsidising a failed European banking system to keep a dysfunctional system afloat. Why would central bankers and government officials change the game-plan if there are no riots in the streets and everyone seems to be happy in the Euro’s gilded prison?

But at the end of the day, we Europeans will get the thinner end of the stick. Amazon has devoured the retail space and crushed the profit-margins of many. Google, and Facebook suck up the advertising revenue and the culture and press-publishing industry is decimated. Will manufacturing make a comeback? Maybe, but if the whole world is in tatters and their currencies are debased who will buy our stuff? But maybe we are asking the wrong questions because the problems are innate in a system. From seeking to build meritocracy and social mobility as prescribed in in the European Social charter of the 1960s, the system now feeds money to the rich and locks the masses in austerity and a jobless economy. So much for the overblown balance sheet of the Central Bank: small businesses still have no cash-flow. There’s no rabbit coming out of the hat. If we want an economy which creates jobs we have to make cheap capital available to small businesses, but we’re not doing that. Lower-interest rates come only if you are big enough and then we put all the risk on the ordinary mortals eventually suffering mos of the consequences of austerity and a slow-growth economy. So why don’t we change the game then?  Let’s play chess instead of poker. Drop the quantitative easing textbook, restructure the debt-spaghetti monster and unlock capital for a productive economy with 0.1% interest rate to small businesses and households.

Who will change the system?  

The left in Europe was mostly represented in the international media by Jeremy Corbyn. The new wave of millennials who were dejected by the capitalist machine with university fees and property prices too expensive to own and live in. Sadly, the millennials will not get a break. Corbyn’s project was a rotten failure and was as bad as to lose votes from core Labour constituents who had voted Labour on a generational basis. What a fucking mess. We knew how it would end up, but we were too hopeful and high on idealism to admit it. Corbyn was the left’s biggest disappointment after Tsipras. But the British left seems to have learnt nothing at all from this experience and remains stuck in this fantasy-reality of 1970s anti-US imperialism. So, now they’ve got Keir Starmer and they hate him because he is not an Israeli-basher. We’ll see how this plays out.

On the other hand, Macron represents the European’s left compromised status-quo version. France with its overly-bloated government-spending system can keep its population afloat in this very difficult economic period, the question is for how long? Macron has no interest to change the system as long as France will have its cake and eat it. Then there is Sanchez who is too busy wheeling and dealing the internal divisive shenanigans of Spanish politics and has little time on his hands to even think about broad change in Europe. So, there’s no one out there fighting to change the system, and the dejected Southerners are turning to the far-right and populist politicians. They want to change the system themselves and the left is nowhere to be found.  Fascism rears its ugly head once again.

The left needs to remake itself. The fact that there is no progressive force in Europe mobilising and fighting for the plight of the ordinary and the dejected is terrifying. After-all we’ve seen this happening in the US already. The Democrats failed to relate to the working-class and here comes Trump – the real-estate moghul who can speak to the working-class. Bring back jobs. Open those oil and gas taps and pump it full-speed ahead. People don’t want to think what is going to happen to the environment and to the world in ten or twenty years time, for fuck’s sake they need to pay their mortgage in thirty days. Get those jobs running. And the left keeps hounding on universal basic income as if that was going to be relatable to the working-class. Basic income you say? Sure. Let’s automate all the jobs, and ship the rest to India and give to the dejected a universal basic income doing an unproductive job. No wonder make America great again. The left is speaking discourse of the socialism of the early nineteenth century and Marx has become a mere symbol. Forget about complex economics and finance. And what happened to the philosophy of economy? Fundamentals, fundamentals and fundamentals. The main fundamental philosophical and economic point of Marx in all of his work was that humanity is intelligent enough to distribute natural resources in a way in which everyone can work and earn value for their work in a meritocratic manner. Isn’t this the European Social Charter speaking? Everyone should have the right to achieve one’s ambitions, to eventually work the job they desire and earn a just and decent amount of money for that job. And the social-mobility? Where is that? No, now, we have universal basic income. The economy is too broken to fix. People’s hopes are being diminished and they feel that their previous lucrative jobs are not coming back again. Then go to these people and explain about the privilege and importance of staying in the EU.

 Trump was right 

Trump reduced taxes to the rich and bloated government debt to astronomical proportions. The US has become the epicentre of quantitative easing, pulling all other central banks into its orbit. The fact that global trade is transacted in Dollars, gives the US carte-blanche to print as many Dollars as they like. Trump did in fact make America great again, but of course, it’s not ordinary Americans who are benefiting from the largess of the Federal Reserve. More automation, universal-basic income cheques, and low-paying jobs coming your way. The US has now become the unstoppable Dollar printing-machine sucking in all the foreign currencies into its fold and creating immense amount of wealth to a very small number of people. Outside the US, those who don’t have Dollars or at least Euros, will lose the game. China has lost the new Cold War before it even had the opportunity to rev-up its engine. Now, its bullishness and excessive authoritarian behaviour will only make China’s fate even worse. The debate now is not who will out-run the US, but who will out-run China. It seems that India has a very good chance to do this, but in a longer-time-frame, I think Mexico has also a very good chance of catching up.

So, Trump did actually fulfill his promise. He made America great again and broke China’s back. There was only one big snag in the whole plan – it ignored the basic fundamental economic reality and Trump now risks losing the votes of his constituent working-class base. Are the George Floyd riots a turning-point? Maybe, but literally no one knows what is going to happen and what comes next may be even worse than what we already have. I find Zizek’s theory of inertia quite irresponsible and reality shows this. Trump hasn’t opened the gates for progressive radical change in the US on the contrary – he has created an unequal society at home which is more solidified than before and internationally he has brought the whole world into an uncharted-territory which we Europeans tried to avoid for many years by creating stability mechanisms, single-currency, multi-national political institution promoting world peace etc… etc…. Now we are in the abyss of uncertainty and there are no leaders to look up to. Make America Great Again has come at the price of the whole international financial system.

And they are not going to let it collapse. They are going to Draghi it to whatever it takes.  And as long as they issue the UBI cheques, they will hope that the system will keep floating and people don’t take to the streets with the pitchforks.

Why Fight Club Matters 

As a historian, I see works of art in their historical context. Literary critiques give literary and aesthetic interpretations. Fight Club to me is a work of art which represents the contemporary struggle of the dejected in the times of hyper-finalised-capitalism. It’s not about the cult of Tyler Durden, but rather a struggle of the dejected who have no leaders, no ultimate plan, no ultimate end – just pull everything down and start from ground 0. Then we will see. Ins’t this the same spirit which lead people to vote for the far-right? Donald Trump is the real Tyler Durden, maybe a right-wing version of him.

So, if we are lost on a political level we have to start from ground 0 and that is why we have to start with ourselves. We have to take care of each other and build our communities. And we have to ask ourselves many questions. Do we want to live in a world where Amazon is the retail oligopoly of the world? Do we want to live in a world with UBI or with an economy which produces productive jobs and enables social mobility? Let’s cut to the chase. The left doesn’t seem to be a player in the political game. It’s either the quantitative-easing status-quo or the far-right which may bring the whole system down or make it even worse. We don’t have many options.

So, what’s next? No one knows, but it will only take a very small flame to light the huge powder-keg of social problems which we are accumulating over time. We’re not ready for that. One, new and unexpected black swan to wobble the ship once more.

So what’s next? 

I don’t know why you ask, I don’t know. I am just a slave like you. I can only write as a historian. And I may be totally wrong of course. I hope so.

What’s the point of it all?

What’s the point of paying taxes and interest payments on loans if the central banks can print unlimited amounts of money with supposedly no consequences at all?

When Lehman Brothers crashed in 2007, they told us that bailing out the banks was not an acceptable solution.

Then they did just that and bailed out the banks.

Then they told us that debts and deficits had to be sustainable. Quantitative easing was here only temporally and the central bank’s balance sheet would eventually contract. No one would have to be bailed-out ever again.

Then they did just what they had been warning against for many years on end and went full-on Zimbabwe with quantitative easing, this time round, even buying junk bonds of private corporations.

Small businesses are still paying their interests on their loans and ordinary workers are out of work or living on unemployment benefits.

Meanwhile private banks keep making a profit, corporations get free money, and government’s get loaded up on debt paving the way for the new austerity.

Next time round they will eventually admit that all this debt is unsustainable and can not be paid. Bonds, like oil may become a liability eventually. But, even in this hypothetical scenario, it won’t be ordinary people who would be receiving the debt-jubilees I suspect.

More than 200 years after Karl Marx’s birthday it is still outstanding to see how the financial and banking system is strongly biased towards the haves, while the have-nots are locked-out from the largesse of central banks.

Why Karl Marx would have liked Bitcoin

imagesBitcoin was launched in 2009 as a Peer-to-Peer monetary network with a blockchain technology which can be used to send money to another party without going through a middle-man such as a bank or a money-institution.1 Many young people were back then familiar with the P2P concept thanks to programmes which enabled users to share files. A P2P network is independent from a central server and its existence relies on the network of its users. It is in this way that Bitcoin gets its value. When someone says I’m buying Bitcoin, they are actually buying part of the Bitcoin network – the more money is put into this network, the higher its value. At the time of writing, the Bitcoin network cost €114.3 billion which equates to the total amount of value of all Bitcoin held. This does not include the multiplier effect of this Bitcoin network which includes brokerage companies and Bitcoin financial institutions, but includes the value of the miners who produce Bitcoin by mining it through complex mathematical equations. The value of Bitcoin can only increase if more money is added to the network because the supply of Bitcoin is capped at 21 million units. The Bitcoin digital network itself is by its own nature a security-function against digital attacks known popularly as hacking, however online brokers and financial institutions storing or owning Bitcoin may be more prone to hacking and digital attacks.

Karl Marx would have liked Bitcoin. Marx is one of the most misunderstood economists and philosophers in the world. Unfortunately, the theories and philosophy of Marx have been mostly understood and interpreted across the world through the lens of the Bolsheviks, namely Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky. This polemic may be the subject of another essay some other time.

Andrew Kliman is one of the few Marxist economists whom I prefer against the mainstream Marxist traditions. Kliman offers a very rational and literal interpretation of Marx’s Capital. Das Kapital is Marx’s magnum opus, but it has often been obfuscated with Marx’s own political work such as the more popular The Communist Manifesto which was commissioned by an international political association of workers called The Communist League. Readers of Capital should simply take it as it is: a deep and technical critique of the capitalist system, and when one reads Capital in this unbiased way, one can only be fascinated with Marx’s insights on the abstractions of capitalism.

As Kliman rightly points out, in Capital, Marx did not say that capitalism was to implode, and neither did he say that the rate of profit would gradually decrease to the extent that capitalism would stagnate permanently. Marx put forward the case that when technological innovations decrease labour-costs and increase productivity, surplus-value may increase and the rate of profit decreases.2 It is logical that if you want to make profits, you need customers, and customers are possible only if wages are paid and workers have money to spend. Furthermore, as Kliman correctly points out, Marx’s distinction between commodity-value and the price of the commodity was theoretical and in the real economy the two are interchangeable.3 Marx defined the value of a commodity according to its labour-time, and Marx’s contention with capitalism was that labour-value is artificially suppressed to create surplus-value.4 When one takes this logic in a literal manner, most of the economic stuff written about Marx’s theory of value which argues that capitalism produces two distinct values of the commodity is irrelevant. The second most important critique Marx makes of capitalism is that the concept of supply and demand in capitalism is not natural, given that demand is only conditioned by the supply and velocity of money and not by real and tangible demand. One can logically explain this by saying that if people had more money, they would spend more.5 The supply and velocity of money in the system is regulated by various means – namely credit, banking and interest-rates which in turn help regulate commodity prices and wages.6 When the general conditions of the economy reflect increasing commodity prices and people do not have any money to spend, an economic crisis is created which requires a readjustment in the system so as to increase the rate of profit. One way of adjusting the system is by issuing cheaper credit by lowering interest-rates.

Marx criticised the general notions and concepts adhered to the capitalist system, and clearly, Marx had a contention with how labour was valued. Marx’s contentions were made when workers lived very grueling lives and their wages were only meant to supplement their most basic needs. Those were the times of the industrial revolution, the child-workers, the dirt and disease, the poverty and hand-to-mouth subsistence life.7 Marx saw that the way the monetary and financial systems were constructed in capitalism favoured first and foremost the capitalist class. This does not mean that Marx was against the concept of money as a universal measure of value, in fact Marx made fun of Proudhon for proposing a system based on bartering.8

Briefly, what Marx saw was a gigantic financial and monetary system, run by a capitalist-class and regulated by a compromised government which enabled the same capitalist-class to accumulate even more capital and appropriate more resources. The private bankers and financiers were for Marx some of the most powerful players in the system so much so that in many cases they appropriated the resources of the capitalist, industrialist and merchant himself. On the other hand, the labourers were unable to determine their own labour-value let alone decide how this gigantic financial system worked. Marx never proposed any practical solutions for the creation of a society based on what he described as the “mode of production of associated labour”.9 Politically, Marx believed that the system had to change in its entirety, but after spending those years producing his lengthy critique of capitalism, Marx did not have enough time to creatively explore new and practical alternatives.

The founders of Bitcoin have, unwittingly, addressed one of Marx’s greatest contentions with capitalism – that of creating artificial values based on the needs of profits of one particular class rather than on natural and intrinsic values. Given that the value of Bitcoin is inherently based on the amount of money put into it, there can be, in theory, no artificial manipulation of the price of Bitcoin, in contrast to fiat currency, for example, where quantitative easing or other measures may influence the value of the currency. Simultaneously, Bitcoin is a monetary instrument inside another monetary system and is co-dependent on the mother monetary-system. Bitcoin is measured against fiat currency, like anything else, and one needs a bank account to extract the value of the Bitcoin but it is also this fungibility that makes Bitcoin potentially valuable. Founders of the blockchain technology have emphasised the argument that the monetary success of crypto-currency, namely Bitcoin, is simply that of buying the value of social scalability.10 This basically means that when I buy Bitcoin I believe that more people will buy it later and therefore its worth would increase.

One could argue that given that the price of Bitcoin has increased exponentially during the last ten years, being currently worth €6,242 at the time of writing, Bitcoin has been a massive success in social scalability. Indeed, many people made money from Bitcoin, but today it seems that Bitcoin has become a speculative instrument, so much so that in the recent weeks it has been correlated to the stock-markets.11 The excessive volatility of the Bitcoin price makes it unattractive to people who would want to use it as a store-of-value, and a safe-haven asset, and in fact, gold as of now, marching slowly once again to its all-time-high, seems to remain the preferred safe-haven asset to investors. Bitcoin has proved that it could create value by itself due to social scalability and without direct interference from government institutions, however Bitcoin as of now remains an exotic financial and/or monetary asset. The number of total Bitcoin owners in the world f have been estimated at 20 million12 to 25 million people.13

Could Bitcoin serve as a financial asset in a similar way to the traditional concept of bonds? Due to quantitative easing, and low interest-rates we have seen bonds turning into a speculative instrument and savers have been punished. Ordinary people no longer have the opportunity to receive some returns from their savings unless they risk their money in the equity market. It would be very difficult for Bitcoin to be considered as a safe investment if speculative capital drives up and down the Bitcoin price so violently in a short amount of time. Speculative capital in Bitcoin can only be counteracted in Bitcoin by exponential scalability which can either occurorganically or by strategic government use of Bitcoin itself.

Governments could make strategic use of Bitcoin to increase consumption in the economy and increase wages. For example, governments can buy Bitcoin units and then allow their employees to be paid from government’s Bitcoin supply in Bitcoin units. If European governments coordinate such schemes together and thus simultaneously attempt to stabilise the Bitcoin price, the large scalability of such use would exponentially increase the value of Bitcoin and the money held by people. Similar methods can be applied to financial aid packages and social relief payments during the current economic crisis. Naturally, such an international and strategic effort could only be made by an institution such as the European Union or the US Government.

Marx would have liked Bitcoin because he would have probably considered it as a way by which to appropriate value from a monetary-system which first and foremost served the interest of the capitalist classes. Bitcoin does not solve Marx’s dilemmas on value, but helps address it by offering a window of opportunity into an alternative monetary-value system which may rely only on the network of its users rather on large institutional or financial entities. Marx would have probably called Bitcoin “an associative way how to appropriate value from the capitalist-monetary system”. It is with great irony that most of the issue that Bitcoin maximalists complain about, namely the central-banking system, the debasement of currencies and inflation, the government’s appeasement of big financiers and the banking industry, were all targets of Marx’s deep critique of capitalism. I have no doubt that if Marx was alive today, he would have bought Bitcoin.

Disclosure: I own Bitcoin

1Satoshi Nakamoto, Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System, 2008. Downloaded from http://www.bitcoin.org

2Andrew Kliman, Reclaiming Marx’s “Capital” (Lexington Books, 2007), 30-31.

3Ibid, 32-38.

4Capital Volume 1, Chapter 3.

5Capital Volume III, Chapter 10.

6Ibid.

7Readings which may provide details on the economic conditions of the working-class in the 19th century include Friedrich Engles, The Conditions of the Working Class in England, Henry Mayhew, London Labour and the Poor and E.P. Thompson, The making of the English working-class.

8Capital Volume III, Chapter 36.

9Ibid.

10Nick Szabo, Money, blockchains and social scalability, 2017 http://unenumerated.blogspot.com/2017/02/money-blockchains-and-social-scalability.html

It looks ugly for Europe

Now, first of all let me make some things clear. I’m not an economist, but a historian who studied economic history. And that is very different from being an economist.

As historians we are trained to look at things from the viewpoint of long stretches of time.

While politicians scramble to come up with knee-jerk reactions which are also acceptable to the public, historians have the privilege to sit back and analyse matters in depth and in this way, I have the privilege to write things which may not necessarily go down well with the public or anyone at all for that matter.

Secondly, I’m not here as a prophet of doom. I sincerely hope that in everything I say, I will be proved wrong. History can help us understand what is going on, but it can also help us understand the probabilities of the future. I will share with you what I see as a historian and try to provide the probabilities of the future, in the briefest way possible.

So, in order to be brief and simple as possible I will say very clearly that things look very ugly for Europe.

This is not an economic crisis like any other and it is, without any shadow of a doubt, the biggest crisis we have experienced so far in our lifetime, and may probably have adverse political, economic and social impacts that exceed those of even the 1930s Great Depression.

Since the 2008 economic crisis, both the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank addressed the economic crisis by injecting more liquidity into the financial system in various ways. Banks were saved, financiers and traders made easy money, big companies could take cheap loans and governments could keep on spending. Governments in Europe continued loading up on debt but the man in the street seemed to be missing out on the big financial packages being thrown away so easily to save the financial system. Young people were faced with new challenges, such as exclusion from the property market with soaring home prices and austerity politics hitting the most vulnerable, such as pensioners and single-parents.

When Greece imploded, the EU failed to provide it with a sensible programme of economic support and Greece remains today in economic shambles. Italy, with alarming levels of both private and public debt, looks like it’s heading into a similar Greek scenario.

Then there was the Brexit rebellion. The Euro keeps losing its value as does the geopolitical clout of Europe itself. As of last year, Germany’s export drive lost steam as China’s economic growth subsided and signs of a looming economic recession were all over the place.

At the same time, while all of this was taking place, the far-right in Europe has become mainstream once again.

Last, but not least, the immigration crisis is challenging our moral and rational principles. It looks like the 1930s, but hopefully I am wrong – bad politics, bad economics, the rise of the far-right and an increasing number of disenfranchised workers.

This doesn’t mean that history repeats itself. First of all, Europeans are by far much less trigger-happy than they used to be. We are now much more aware of the dangers of war and racism, and no one foresees the probability that Europeans would go to war with each other again.

But what we are clearly seeing, is this: since 2008 our politicians have been using a textbook economic and financial response to economic crises that crop up, supposedly, unexpectedly.

This time around, we will be using the same text- book measures again, only on a much bigger scale than previously.

I suppose it’s naive to think that if we apply the same measures we have applied during the last economic crisis, we will be getting a very different result, but maybe, eventually all the liquidity in the system will stick and things will stabilise on a permanent basis. They may well do for some time, but what will happen if say, in ten years’ time we are faced with another economic crisis?

Shouldn’t we also get used to the idea that when we come out of lockdown and the pandemic is over, we are going into economic recession and Italy will be at risk of imploding? It is not in our political and economic interest that Italy goes into an economic crisis, but it seems that risk is being underrated, and this should not be the case given the potential political risks if such a scenario occurs.

We are taking huge risks without knowing exactly where we are going to land. We are in uncharted territory and we need a very elaborate and definite navigation plan. Truth is: we don’t have it and politicians themselves do not necessarily know what they are doing. We are in a very tough bind here.

Malta should not be so averse at the idea of the Eurobond, but we should also start looking for more practical solutions. It’s pointless to toe the line at this point when the whole house is on fire. While we put out the fire, we should also start coming up with very well-structured plan for the future.

I’m not saying we need to be idealists. Yes, we should take in more debt to issue much needed economic relief, and even increase public spending, but in the meantime, we should also start planning for the future and have the capability of having more options at hand, given that the world tomorrow is going to be a very different place and we don’t know how is it going to be.

In Malta, specifically, we are exclusively using a European textbook solution. This European textbook is a crisis-by-management system where the ones most benefiting are big companies and banks, while small businesses get crushed and workers feel most of the pain.

Is the system broken? Most probably. Malta, apart from taking ownership of the risks and effects of the Euro’s financial system, is also risking having its financial services industry shut down by the EU – sounds like a very bad deal if this happens. This is a particular crisis and we need surgical solutions for it.

For starters, locally, we can minimise most of the damage by temporally conditioning banking policy: introduce debt jubilees, reduce existing interest rates, clean up the balance sheets, and yes, why not? Let building contractors and big property speculators default on their loans to flush out rent-seeking capital from the system.

At their current state, no one wants to own Maltese banks any way, yet they are a strategic asset which are essential to provide much needed relief to small businesses and workers at this critical stage.

And without any doubt we should also move in to cancel contracts with Electrogas and Steward and immediately appropriate all public assets which have been given off through corrupt government contracts.

Although I write all my words here with healthy scepticism and self-doubt, I write this next postulation with a lot of conviction: the legalese we are told about being unable to appropriate public assets given off under corrupt contracts is total bullshit.

Any driven lawyer can create strong cases for the right political decisions in these cases, however the problem is that our professional and academic class is totally compromised in a system of jobs, networking and government contracts.

I’m afraid there will be hardly any economists or lawyers who will compromise their careers with solutions which may hurt someone in office or on the board of a big company.

I digress. Once the liquidity was out and the financial relief enacted, Maltese politicians are more interested in holding meetings with Sandro Chetcuti and discussing the opening of spring hunting, so they aren’t going to save you.

And in ten years’ time, we’ll be doing a big disaster clean-up by ourselves.

May I be proved totally wrong.

https://www.maltatoday.com.mt/comment/blogs/101484/it_looks_ugly_for_europe?fbclid=IwAR1iAL3Hmh5uvTFSBUAs7AdWsx2cC00X-0HjF5V-s7Y6PHwj43rtncVmcqs#.Xor6mJ9fgqo

Redrawing the Maltese economy in the time of Corona

There seems to be no in-depth discussion on what is actually going on with Malta’s economy, so Minister of Finance Edward Scicluna can count on the obliviousness of his cabinet colleagues to draw up schemes unilaterally.

Now, I have nothing personal against depositphotos_14661611-stock-photo-learn-to-drawScicluna, and this is not meant to offend him. This is simply my analysis and personal opinion of the situation. If you don’t like it, you can move on to the next thing. It should not be considered as financial advice and you should formulate your own opinion about the situation.

The biggest problem with Scicluna is that he comes from a very different world and background to my generation, the so called “millennials”.  Scicluna has lived in a world where the stock-market has always gone up, and where the gradual inter-connectedness of the global-economy increased market opportunities, capital and jobs. Back then, if you wanted to make money you could simply put unvest in a stock-market index fund like the S&P 500 and one fine day sell it at a hefty profit. The millennial generation has lived in a period where it witnessed this mega-capitalist edifice crumbling down, first with the 2008 crisis and with the current crisis today. The millennial  generation has also experienced significant challenges to get ahead in life, especially given the fact that they have been mostly excluded from the property market. So, it is obvious, that the millennial generation has a very different perspective of capitalism from Scicluna and the boomer generation. 

The generational perspective is probably why Scicluna genuinely believes that this economic rut is temporary and everything will get back to normal after the pandemic is over. It is also probably the reason why central bankers, most of them octogenarian males and baby boomers, keep pumping liquidity into the financial system in the form of quantitative easing genuinely believing that some day this liquidity may stick and things return to normal again. 

Scicluna has drawn up a liquidity package of bank guarantees for commercial credit, despite the fact that Maltese banks still charge high interests in a negative-rate environment. The aim of this package seems to be to provide local companies with loans to survive the economic rut. But the obvious questions is, why would companies take more loans at this stage if they don’t know when the economy will start picking up? Why would anyone want to take the risk right now, especially with Maltese banks still charging high interest rates? The biggest and obvious problem right now is that companies have no revenues, and if they have existing loans to pay, they are going to get crushed. 

I am not criticisng the liquidity-package either – it may actually be useful to many companies who need quick credit-lines to keep on going, but there seems to be one very common method shared by boomers in their solutions to economic problems: debt. Debt, debt, debt and more debt. 

The Central Banking system is incentivising and encouraging this debt with its quantitative easing and low interest-rates – governments can sell bonds easily with the easy credit provided to big banks – this system ensures that both government and banks are liquid. And who is paying for and sustaining this system? In Malta’s case, the ultimate payer is us, the companies and the working people who have to pay more than 3% over our loans. In this bizarre system, which sounds like a sophisticated Ponzi-scheme, the banks get a small profit and their shareholders get an insignificant dividend-payment as their stock price keeps crashing. Meanwhile, the Euro against the US Dollar is losing its value and some predict it may keep depreciating significantly.

Admittedly, Scicluna has to work in this environment and there seems to be very little he can do as Minister of Finance of a small EU nation-state, but that doesn’t mean we should be complacent and fail to look at the bigger picture. 

One obvious solution to our problems is to halt bank-loan payments and restructure the debt, and/or provide debt jubilees to companies and individuals excluding building companies which have been grossly irresponsible in their excessive speculation and irregular construction all over the islands. Now, this may require the government to step up its ownership in local banks and take a strategic lead. Such a strategy may be unimaginable to a baby boomer who has got so accustomed to a certain perspective on capitalism to the extent that’s an equivalent to a dogmatic and a religious approach: if we have problems in the economy, we’ll simply pump liquidity into the system by increasing debt, and which we will pay tomorrow. Another big risk we are ignoring is the exposure of the local banks to a highly-leveraged construction industry. We still don’t know the extent of bad debts our local banks have. Meanwhile, we have to think about vulnerable people and we need to quickly provide them with necessities: food and shelter. There is an unprecedented number of lay-offs going on at the moment and many workers have problems paying their loans and their bills. Instant relief in the form of debt-jubilees and direct social payments are needed to help these people. 

It is not I, an insignificant soul in a miserable rock (Napoleon’s description, not mine) that is asking for radical measures to be taken. At this point of our political process in the world, there is an inevitable discussion going on about the fundamental social and economic relationships of the economy’s participants. The Republicans have turned to socialist measures as they scurry to provide helicopter money in the form of 2,000 dollar cheques to every individual – a measure which had been derided by most of the liberal technicians and economists. So, right now, the Republicans and the Democrats have come to terms with the idea that one of the ways to help ordinary people during a time of crisis is to literally hand them over some cash to spend. 

There are many things we can do in Malta to redraw our economy to ensure that everyone is protected and build a more just economy in the process. We have to survive this pandemic and this economic lock-down, but we also run the risk of waking up tomorrow with an array of problems which would cost us even more money if the current structural problems are not addressed. Once again, it is also important to stress that it is delusional to believe things will ever be the same again. These are turbulent times of historic proportions and we will be waking up to a very different tomorrow after this pandemic is over. We still don’t know where we are heading.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What will happen to the Maltese Economy?

kisspng-question-mark-computer-icons-exclamation-mark-desk-question-mark-emoji-5b4bb794264216.8330599815316888521567

We’re witnessing history in real-time with a world going into economic crisis. The idea of helicopter money, previously derided by the liberal technicians and academics is now mainstream politics. The global-economy is literally closing down as governments across the world try to contain the pandemic. Central banks are pumping endless supply of money into the financial system assuming all this liquidity will someday stick and stabilise the system. The Maltese government issued a liquidity mechanism providing new credit to commercial companies backed by government guarantees, tax deferrals and social payments such as quarantine leave subsidy to employers.

What’s going to happen?

No one knows. Eventually the pandemic will be contained and things will normalise but things won’t be the same again. Those who sell you the idea that things will be the same as they were before have absolutely no idea what they are talking about. The economic, monetary and financial implications of the current events are wide-ranging

What could happen?

There are various outcomes and scenarios which may probably happen. First of all, we have to assume that we are in uncharted waters. Although past historical experiences can have a lot of similarities to what we are experiencing today such as Spanish Flu and plague epidemics, debasement of currencies and increasing deflation, what we experience today has it own distinctive and particular features such as rapid economic shutdown accompanied with rapid stock market crash and despite monetary stimulus from the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank.

One of the probable outcomes with regards to Malta is that property prices will go down significantly – this will be great for young couples who couldn’t afford to buy in the last couple of years when property prices sky-rocketed. It will also be good for renters. There is also another important aspect to this situation. How many building companies are over-leveraged and what is the exposure of the banks in case the building industry collapses? This, I think may be one of the risks ahead.

The other probable outcome is that jobs will not be as plentiful as previously and wages would go down as well. Before the pandemic broke out, the Maltese economy was by-far much more robust than it was in 2013, but we still don’t know the extent of the economic damage being done. Anecdotal evidence from foreign companies and foreign investors in Malta is very negative and they are trusted much more than the local business-class which has a strong tradition of rent-seeking and notorious for buying out both political parties with donations (disclaimer, there are also many good people in the same business-class as well, but facts can’t be denied). Anecdotal evidence from personnel of gaming companies may be different. I was once told by an igaming professional that 2008 was actually good for them since people gambled more during the crisis. Obviously, the tourism industry is devastated, as is retail, publishing and printing. Medical companies seem to be doing well. Any feedback with left in the comments are welcome.

What is happening?

There are many questions and arguments being made about government’s liquidity scheme. Some are arguing that the scheme ultimately benefits local banks. Maltese companies are claiming that the liquidity provided for new credit won’t be enough and need direct helicopter money. Social activists are arguing that helicopter money should be given directly to everyone to subsidise purchases of necessities: rent, food and other necessary expenses.

On the other hand, some argue that if the Maltese government is using the National Social Development Fund to guarantee bank loans when Maltese banks are still lending with rates of 3% and above, why doesn’t the government simply use the money from the said Fund to buy Bank of Valletta outright and issue the loans right away without having to build a complex leveraged-financial instrument? Maltese banks have given us big interest-rates compared to interest rates given in other European countries and as of now, nobody wants to own them any way.

What should happen?

Everyone wants money and people have to go on living even if the economy is shutdown. What is clear to everyone now is that the State has a very important role to protect society as a whole but especially to defend the vulnerable. The idea that Central Bankers can simply print more money to save the financial system is getting quickly outdated. Political leaders across the globe seem to be mostly incompetent in their handling of the crisis, starting from Trump who failed to recognise the gravity of the situation, to EU commissioner Ursual Von der Leyden who is completely clueless without any ideas to stem the potential ramifications of what is coming for the Euro-zone.

Clearly, the world is going into reset, but we lack strong and convincing political direction. It’s been quite a while since the world was in such a crossroads. Liberal technicians and academics have clearly failed us and their solutions will be suspicious given their track-record. There is also a very important factor which will determine the outcome of the reset. Generally, in history we see that when people were collectively experiencing a severe crisis, social solidarity increased – we’ve seen this taking place during the Second World War. It was only after the Second World War that the idea of socialism was then taken very seriously and universal health care was set up, the social and economic charter, strong pensions and minimum wage, social mobility, the right and possibility to own your own domicile, but also to do business in a free market without rent-seeking and the kleptocracy of oligarchs. Such a balanced outcome would have to be found yet again. I am rather skeptical on whether the Maltese government and the Labour Party right now is really interested in coming up with deep social and economic change, including the reforms we need to curb rent-seeking.

Edward Scicluna’s €1.8 Billion Liquidity Bomb

These are indeed interesting times. Government has recently announced a package of measures which will provide up to €1.8 billion in liquidity to the economy in what probably is the first of its kind in Maltese history. Funds for this guarantee will come from government’s piggy-bank, the National Development-Social Fund which has been funded by passport sales, and originallyFalling euros on white background meant for investments, capital and social projects.

€1.6 billion will be provided to commercial companies in the form of €700 million tax deferrals and €900 million in bank guarantees over commercial loans guaranteeing a total of €4.5 billion in commercial credit. A further €210 million will be spent directly into the economy in the form of unemployment benefits, quarantine leave and further funding for the health-care system amongst other items.

It is yet unclear how the government is structuring this funding, but it seems that we will be borrowing to 1) sustain government’s recurrent revenue to offset tax deferrals and 2) and borrowing to fund commercial debt-payments in case companies default. It is unclear how many companies are currently at risk of missing their debt payments and also unclear who will be eligible for these guarantees. Government would have to borrow against capital from the NDSF to fund these guarantees. By 2019, government claimed that the Fund had acquired up to €544 million from passport sales of which €91 had been spent on capital and social projects while up to €200 million were spent on foreign securities and local shares such as BOV and Lombard Bank.

The package looks just a fraction of our total GDP which totaled around €13 billion last year, while government debt (mostly in bonds) amounts to €5.6 billion. It is unclear how much potential debt we will incur, but the bigger problem, even if we exclude this rescue package, is that we were previously sustaining debt-levels with significant economic growth, and it is of course not clear at what levels economic growth will come back. There are also many questions which the journalists at the press conference failed to ask, yet credit to Times of Malta and MaltaToday for asking the right questions on debt and interest rates. For example, will building companies who are already highly leveraged get these guarantees as well? Last thing we want in this country is for building magnates getting a bail-out.

The Minister of Health was then on national television explaining the pandemic and the measures being taken to contain it. Unsurprisingly he then got a little bit cocky and said that when in January Trump was still saying the situation was not serious, we in Malta were stocking up on ventilators. Trust the Maltese with survival and health-care. We have been surviving epidemics, famine and wars for most of our history now, so it may be no coincidence we appreciate some good health-care. Probably we have survivor genes too.

Now, some news from where I come from. Publishers have postponed the launch of their new books so basically they have stopped printing books. Book-shop sales have completely dried up and they are running on thin ice just with online orders. For the publishing industry the situation was already bad in the best of times, but now it’s a disaster. Over-all the situation seems and feels worse than 2008.

Xiż-żikk qed jiġri?

kisspng-question-mark-computer-icons-exclamation-mark-desk-question-mark-emoji-5b4bb794264216.8330599815316888521567Bħalissa d-dinja għaddejja minn żmien ftit turbulenti hekk kif faqqgħat pandemija tal-virus Covid-19 li aċċellerat ir-reċessjoni ekonomika globali. Kien hemm sinjali kbar li kienu qed jgħidulna li d-dinja dieħla f’reċessjoni ekonomika: it-tibdil fiċ-ċiklu tal-kreditu, id-dejn fl-Amerka u f’pajjiżi fl-Ewropa bħal-Italja li kiber b’mod mhux sostenibbli, il-majnar tal-ekonomija Ċiniża li prattikament ippumpjat it-tkabbir ekonomiku dinji ta’ dawn l-aħħar għoxrin sena u r-reċessjoni ġenerali fl-Ewropa peress li l-Ewropa qisha kienet għadha ma irkupratx mill-kriżi tal-2008 u l-2009. Issa qed naraw l-ekonomija tad-dinja prattikament tingħalaq gradwalment minħabba l-epidemija u r-reċessjoni waslet iktar malajr u iktar vjolenti.

Malta hija ovjament ikkundizzjonata minn forzi esterni ekonomiċi u biex tgħaxxaq, eżatt qabel bdiet tinfirex l-epidemija tal-virus il-ġdid u faqqgħat ir-reċessjoni globali, Malta kienet għadha kemm ħarġet minn waħda mill-akbar kriżijiet politiċi fl-istorja tagħha.

L-isfond tal-kriżi lokali

Taħt il-Prim Ministru Joseph Muscat, Malta kienet għaddejja minn tkabbir ekonomiku sinifikanti li għal xi żmien kien iktar minn 6%. Kienet rata ta’ tkabbir fenomenali meta tqis minn kif kienet baqgħat għaddejja l-Ewropa, iżda ma’ dan it-tkabbir kibru wkoll il-problemi ambjentali bil-bini bla rażan li żdied ukoll grazzi għal-laxkar ta’ regulazzjonijiet. Kellek ukoll il-problema tal-prezzijiet għoljin tal-propjeta li wassal biex ħafna Maltin spiċċaw jew bla saqaf u ħafna żgħażagħ ma jistgħux jixtru post. Il-korruzzjoni baqgħat għaddejja wkoll u meta faqqgħat il-kwistjoni tal-Panama Papers, persuni fuq ix-xellug bħali li b’xi mod nagħmlu parti mill-istruttura politika tal-gvern u attivisti fil-Partit kellna dilemma.

Muscat kien ħareġ jgħid li Egrant ma kienetx tiegħu u l’anqas ta’ martu u sejjaħ elezzjoni bikrija. Lil Keith Schembri u Konrad Mizzi żammhom u qabeż għalihom u ħafna minnha fil-Partit konna infurjati b’dan. Konna nafu, ovjament, li Schembri u Mizzi kienu involuti f’korruzzjoni kemxejn kbira u għalkemm ma kienx jinteressana ħafna fid-dettall ta’ min eżattament kienet Egrant, uħud minnha konna wkoll ċerti li r-raġuni li Muscat żamm lil Schembri u Mizzi miegħu kien għaliex Muscat kien korrott daqshom jew magħhom. Kienet idea stupida li Schembri u Mizzi kienu indispensabbli, anke jekk kienu korrotti, u tant u hekk, li sezzjoni ta’ nies fil-Partit li kienu qed jirribellaw kienu ġew imwiegħda li wara l-elezzjoni, Schembri ma kienx ser jibqa’ Chief of Staff u kien hemm saħansitra anke isem ta’ persuna imsemmija li kienet ser teħodlu postu. Muscat ma żammx kelmtu.

Meta Muscat kien sejjaħ elezzjoni bikrija, ħafna minna li ma blajnix il-gideb ta’ Muscat, għal kuntrarju ta’ dawk li kienu konvinti li Schembri u Mizzi ma kienu għamlu xejn ħażin, konna rassenjati għall-fatt li l-Prim Ministru kien imdaħħal fil-korruzzjoni ma’ Schembri u Mizzi. Muscat kien sejjaħ elezzjoni bikrija biex juri u jikkonsolida s-saħħa tiegħu u konna nafu li Muscat kien wisq b’saħħtu biex it-tmexxija tiegħu tiġi sfidata fil-Partit. Fl-aħħar minn l-aħħar, it-tkabbir ekonomiku li sar ġab ħafna ġid lil ħafna persuni komuni u Muscat kien ġenwinament maħbub minn ħafna nies għal raġunijiet validi. Muscat kien sar Prim Ministru f’reċessjoni ekonomika li żammet il-maġġoranza tal-ħaddiema fil-prekarjat. Dawk l-apoloġisti ta’ Lawrence Gonzi u l-PN li dejjem jikwotaw ir-rata baxxa tal-qagħad, b’mod konvenjenti jħallu barra ċ-ċifri li juru li l-maġġoranza tal-ħaddiema kienu fil-fatt f’kundizzjonijiet ekonomiċi prekarji. Fejn qabel kważi l-biċċa l-kbira tal-pagi kienu daqs jew inqas minn €15,000 fis-sena, ħafna minnhom dawn bdew jiżdiedu għal €20,000 filwaqt li faxxa kbira ta’ ħaddiema li kienu jiddependu b’€750 fix-xahar f’idhom, beda jkollhom f’idhom €950 u €1,000 minflok. Kellek ukoll miżuri soċjali bħaċ-childcare b’xejn, żidied fil-pensjonijiet u x-xogħol kbir li sar biex terġa titqajjem is-sistema tas-saħħa fuq saqajha. Illum qed ingawdu sistema tas-saħħa li tista’ tiffoka fuq epidemija li waslet issa minflok qed tipprova tlaħħaq ma’ waiting lists ta’ operazzjonijiet ma jispiċċaw qatt. Jien naf min għama peress li dam tliet snin jistenna operazzjoni sempliċi tal-kataretti, imma dawn in-nies fis-soċjeta ftit li xejn kellhom vuċi taħt il-gvern ta’ Gonzi u l-istejjer tagħhom ġew injorati.

Kien hemm fattur importanti ieħor li anke għalija personalment kien importanti ħafna taħt it-tmexxija ta’ Muscat. Muscat appunta numru sostanzjali ta’ żgħażagħ tal-ġenerazzjoni tiegħi f’postijiet fil-gvern u anke fil-Partit, u bejn ħafna minnha, għalkemm ma konniex dejjem naqblu flimkien, kellna ħafna affarijiet u ideat komuni u konna nitkellmu u naħdmu ħafna flimkien. L-istorja tagħna tmur lura għas-snin meta konna norganizzaw l-oppożizzjoni kontra l-gvern ta’ Gonzi. Apparti minn hekk, kien hemm ħafna attvisti ta’ ġenerazzjonijiet eqdem li fil-Partit u fil-gvern ta’ Muscat li kienu qed jagħmlu xogħol sinjinfikanti u dawn ukoll kellhom l-ideat progressivi tagħhom. Joseph Bartolo, l-iSloopy, li miet milhux, kien wieħed minnhom. Għalina, fl-aħħar minn l-aħħar il-Partit Laburista ma kienx Joseph Muscat biss, u għalkemm Joseph Muscat kien il-mexxej, u probabilment korrott, aħna qatt ma konna lesti li nagħtu r-riedni f’idejn l-avversarji tagħna u li tant iġġilidna kontrihom qabel il-Labour daħal fil-gvern.

Fl-aħħar minn l-aħħar l-avversarji tagħna kienu l-istess nies li kien jippersegwitaw lil Alfred Sant talli kien jiġġieled kontra l-korruzzjoni. Il-lista twila ta’ skandli kbar ta’ korruzzjoni taħt il-PN hija storja miktuba u l-mantra tagħhom fuq dan is-suġġett kien aċċettat ukoll: il-korruzzjoni ma fijha xejn ħażin ladarba l-ekonomija sejra tajjeb. Gonzi tilef l-elezzjoni meta din il-mantra ma baqgħatx tanġibbli hekk kif l-ekonomija marret il-baħar. Muscat kien ukoll prodott ta’ din il-kultura, bla dubju. Għalina, l-ġenerazzjoni tiegħi li tant ipprotestajna fit-toroq kontra Gonzi u l-gvern, Simon Busuttil kien jirrappreżenta dak kollu li iġġilidna kontrieh minn żogħżitna: dak il-lagħaqi SDMjan li l-prattika fit-taħwid tibda mill-Kunsill tal-Istudenti, imbagħad jiggradwa mill-universita biex ikompli t-taħwid fuq skala ikbar mal-gvern.

Imbagħad, xi ħadd joqtol lil Daphne Caruana Galizia. Minn dak il-punt, l-affarijiet jibdew jinbidlu iżda għad ma konniex nafu eżattament kif bdew jinbidlu. Xi ħadd kien qabeż il-linja imma ma konniex nafu min. jien kont wieħed minn dawk li ħassejt ċert li Muscat u sħabu, Mizzi u Schembri qatt ma seta’ jkollhom x’jaqsmu mal-qtil tagħha. Kienet tkun xi ħaġa inkredibbilment stupida li toqtol lil Daphne biex taħbi każ ta’ korruzzjoni politika – konna ngħidu. Apparti minn hekk, konna nassumu wkoll li Muscat kien ser jipprova jsolvi l-każ malajr biex ikun jista’ jkompli bl-ambizzjonijiet politiċi tiegħu fl-istrutturi tal-Unjoni Ewropea.

Ir-revelazzjonijiet li bdew joħorġu minn Novembru li għadda, fejn Schembri kien f’kuntatt ma’ Fenech sal-aħħar mumenti tal-arrest tiegħu, l-ittri li provaw iwaħħlu l-qtil fuq Chris Cardona, u l-aħħar waħda li Silvio Valletta, l-eks assistent-kummissarju tal-pulizija li kien jsiefer personalment ma’ Fenech, fost ħafna oħrajn, jagħtu l-impressjoni li kien hemm xi ħadd fil-gvern u/jew mill-OPM li kien qed ifixkel jew jgħatti l-investigazzjonijiet fuq il-qtil ta’ Daphne. Dan dejjem jekk nassumu li Silvio Valletta ma kienx qed jaġixxi waħdu (u li ma kienx double-agent-super-hero 007). Il-fatt li Mizzi, Schembri u Fenech qatt ma ġew mtella’ l-qorti fuq korruzzjoni juri biċ-ċar li l-istituzzjonijiet, inkluż uffiċjali għolja fiċ-ċivil bħal-Avukat Ġenerali u l-pulizija stess fallew milli jagħmlu xogħolhom u saħansitra ikkontribbwixxew għall-atmosfera ta’ impunita. Allura, imbagħad kien qisu li l-mafja ħakmet mhux biss il-gvern iżda anke l-istituzzjonijiet tal-pajjiż.

Sa ma qabel qatluha, dawk bħali fil-kamp tax-xellug, qatt ma’ ħadniha bis-serjeta lil Daphne. Taħt il-gvernijiet Nazzjonalisti Daphne ma kienetx tieħu l-korruzzjoni ta’ dak iż-żmien bis-serjeta, imma anke jekk Daphne bdiet tikteb kontra l-korruzzjoni għax kellha konvinzjonijiet politiċi kontra l-Labour, ma konna naraw xejn stramb b’dan l’anqas. Ovjament, kienet klassista, u kienet tumilja n-nies bil-ħxuna tagħhom u l-fattizzi personali tagħhom u ovjament għax kienu Laburisti. Sħabi u jien ma konniex nieħdu għalina personalment bħal ħafna qerrieda tal-parlament u qas biss konna narawha bħala xi ħadd importanti fix-xenarju politiku. Kellha l-ideat tagħha u kienet tiktibhom. U kienet fuq in-naħa l-oħra tal-logħba politika wkoll. Kienet titħallas biex tagħmel il-PR minn Anġlu Xuereb li ried jibni Golf Kors fl-għelieqi tar-Rabat u tikteb kontra l-Moviment Graffitti fl-istess ħin, u kienet tagħmel il-PR ta’ Bertu Mizzi li l-kumpanija tiegħu kienet qed tarmi it-terrapin ta’ Tigne Point fil-baħar ta’ Tas-Sliema. Kienet fl-aħħar minn l-aħħar l-aktar kittieba moqrija fil-pajjiż kollu probabli biss wara Trevor Zahra. U l-blogg tagħha konna naqrawh u ġieli konna insibuh ta’ gost bħal meta kienet fetħet ġlieda kbira ma’ Consuelo Herrera li kienet magħha l-iskola; f’gost u gossip li kien jistimulana b’mod ekwivalenti b’kif Sgarbi kien joqgħod jikkummiedja u joffendi lil kulħadd fuq it-televiżjoni bl-intelliġenza kollha tiegħu. B’daqshekk ma jfissirx li naqbel ma’ Sgarbi jew ma’ Daphne. Fuq dan kollu ma kien hemm xejn spettakolari u kienu affarijiet normali għall-aħħar f’xenarju politiku liberali: offensivi jew mhux. L-attakki li sofriet Daphne mill-faxxisti bħal meta ħarqulha il-bieb tad-dar soffrejnihom aħna wkoll dak iż-żmien. Kien hemm tassew ukoll ħafna rabja eċessiva għal Daphne u din nammetti tirrefletti ħażin fuq il-Partit Laburista, għalkemm minn naħa l-oħra, il-Partitarji Laburista qatt ħadd ma ried jifimhom l’anqas u dejjem ġew ikkundannati ta’ dak li huma milli ta’ dak li jkunu qed jaħsbu fuq dik il-ħaġa speċifika jew mill-attitudni tagħhom.

Daphne bidlet l-istil u t-ton u s-serjeta tal-kitba tagħha bil-gvern ta’ Joseph Muscat. Użat ir-rizorsi u n-networks li akkumulat tul ħajjitha biex tiġġieled kontra gvern li hi kienet taħsbu korrot u fuq hekk kellha raġun biex tbiegħ. U anke għalkemm il-konvinzjoni tagħha setgħat kienet politika, teknikament spiċċa biex xorta kellha raġun fuq il-fatt li l-gvern ta’ Muscat kien korrott, imma mhux hekk biss. Spiċċat maqtula talli kixfet il-korruzzjoni tal-gvern u l-kollaboraturi tiegħu. Minn mewtha irnexxiela tgħeleb lil Muscat u ġġiegħlu jirreżenja – xi ħaġa li ħadd ma seta’ jagħmel qabel. Mara waħidha b’laptop bidlet l-istorja tal-pajjiż b’mod fenomenali u għalhekk biss ħaqqha monument. U fl-aħħar minn l-aħħar huwa veru li storikament huwa iktar importanti dak li għamet Daphne f’dawn l-aħħar ħames snin milli fis-snin ta’ qabel. Żgur, iżda li l-monument u l-wirt ta’ Daphne ser ikun diffiċli li jiġi aċċettat minn sezzjoni wiesa tal-pubbliku jekk il-proponenti tiegħu jkunu nies bħal Manuel Delia jew Jason Azzopardi. In-Nazzjonalisti qatt m’huma ser inaddfu darhom u ħafna minnhom qed jagħmlu użu mill-wirt tagħha biex huma wkoll jgħattu xturhom. Fl-istess ħin, jekk il-Partit Laburista ma jitnaddafx waħda sew mill-elementi kriminali, għandu ċ-ċans li jsir irrelevanti daqs il-Partit Nazzjonalista.

Post-Muscat

Fil-laqgħa infami tal-kabinett tat-28 ta’ Novembru li baqgħat għaddejja sas-sagħtejn ta’ filgħodu, Muscat intalab biex jirreżenja minnufih. Muscat kellu l-maġġoranza tal-ministri miegħu u b’hekk seta’ jibqa’ f’kontroll. Muscat dejjem baqa’ juża l-partitarji Laburisti favurih u kull min jiksiriha minn miegħu seta’ jitlef il-fiduċja tal-membri tal-Partit Laburista, li wara kollox ħafna minnhom kienu għadhom iħobbuh. Il-ġlieda għal xi wħud bħali kienet ċara f’dak il-mument, imma aħna fuq ix-xellug m’aħniex lesti li naqsmu din il-ġlieda ma’ bażużli ta’ Austin Gatt, ovjament. Il-pajjiż u l-istituzzjonijiet ma bdewx jiġu maħkuma mill-klikek kriminali għall-ewwel darba taħt Muscat. Il-bikja ta’ Godfrey Farrugia għand in-Nazzjonalisti hekk wara kif irriżenja mill-Partit Laburista kienet att ta’ flaġellant – l-agħar ħaġa li wieħed jista’ jagħmel fi stat ta’ kriżi. Jekk ma tgħallimna xejn konna, mill-injoranza tagħna, tgħallimna allinqas li x’jiġri x’jiġri, dejjem hemm ġurnata oħra meta nistgħu niġġieldu.

F’dak il-jum infami tal-laqgħa tal-kabinett kien qisu li l-gvern kien maħkum mill-mafja. Yorgen Fenech jidħol f’korruzzjoni ma’ Keith Schembri u Konrad Mizzi bil-patroċinju ta’ Joseph Muscat, Daphne tkun ser tikxifhom u eventwalment tinqatel b’karozza bomba. Hemm mod ieħor iktar sempliċi kif tpoġġiha għala l-pożizzjoni ta’ Muscat ma kienetx tenibbli? Muscat ġie jitnejjek mill-kriżi li kien għaddej minnha l-pajjiż u kien iktar moħħu biex jgħatti xturu u dak ta’ sieħbu Schembri. Grupp ta’ ministri baqgħu jaqbżu għal Muscat sal-aħħaru insistew miegħu biex jibqa’. Muscat kellu l-maġġoranza kemm ġewwa u kemm barra.Xi wħud minn dawn il-ministri li qabżu għal Muscat, illum għadhom ministri imma b’portafoll differenti.

Muscat kien jaf li l-pożizzjoni tiegħu ma kienetx tenibbli imma hu kien għad kellu wisq influwenza fil-partit. Eventwalment, kull min kellu joħroġ għall-mexxej seta’ biss isir mexxej jekk lil Muscat jagħtieh eżitu onorabbli – kif fil-fatt għamel Robert Abela – u dak huwa il-vera patt mxajtan. Kien impossibbli issir mexxej tal-Partit jekk ma tkunx f’termini tajba ma’ Muscat – kieku l-membri ma kienux jivvutawlek. Imma dan konna aċċettajnieh aħna wkoll, li appoġġjajna lil Fearne għat-tellieqa – allinqas aħna konna qed inkunu iktar onesti fil-ħsieb u l-motivazzjonijiet tagħna. B’hekk Muscat baqa’ mexxej u Prim Ministru sakemm issir elezzjoni mill-Partit Laburista għall-mexxej ġdid.

Il-fatt li kienet bdiet it-tellieqa għall-mexxej tal-Partit u Miriam Dalli ma ħarġitx għat-tellieqa kien xi ftit ta’ soljiev għalina li bdejna nappoġġjaw lil Fearne. Dalli kienet il-favorita ta’ Muscat minn xi żmien ilu u Muscat kien jipprova jinvolviha ħafna fix-xogħol tal-Partit biex ikompli jgħolli l-istatura tagħha. Il-fatt li ħareġ Robert Abela għat-tellieqa kien soljiev ukoll. Konna niftakru poll tal-MaltaToday ta’ xi sena ilu fejn lil Abela kien tpoġġa l-aħħar wieħed b’diġitu wieħed biss. F’Fearne rajna tama ġdida għall-pajjiż u bidu ġdid. Wegħdna li ħa jnaddaf il-ħmieġ u l-korruzzjoni u jsolvi l-kriżi nazzjonali fi żmien mitt jum. Wiegħed ukoll li kien ser ibiddel l-Avukat Ġenerali għalkemm m’għamilx hekk b’mod espliċitu u pubblikament. Apparti minn hekk wiegħed numru ta’ riformi soċjali, u kien Laburist li ġej mit-tradizzjoni soċjalista taż-Żgħażagħ Laburisti.

Kien hemm aspett importanti ieħor għala jien appoġġjat lil Fearne. Kien ċar diġa dak iż-żmien li r-reċessjoni ekonomika fid-dinja kienet reġa ġejja, apparti li kien ovju wkoll li Malta ma setgħatx tibqa’ tikber bis-6% u dan in-numru kien ser jerġa jibda jonqos eventwalment. F’reċessjoni ekonomika globali, Malta tintlaqat ħażin ħafna u b’hekk żgur u mhux forsi li min kien ried isir il-Prim Ministru ġdid kellu bżonn perspettiva u għarfien profond ta’ kif taħdem id-dinja. Dalgħodu, l-Federal Reserve ħarġet miżuri ta’ emerġenza fejn fost dawn il-miżuri niżlet ir-rati ta’ interessi għal żero fil-mija u ħarġet $700 Biljun f’għajnuna kwantitattiva biex l-infieq pubbliku tal-Gvern Amerikan jibqa’ għaddej bir-rata tiegħu u u s-suq ma jikkrollax. Il-problemi enormi u strutturali fl-ekonomija dinjija bħalissa qegħdin jiġu solvuti billi xi ħadd fil-bank ċentrali jagħfas buttuna u jżid il-volum tal-flus fis-sistema monetarja. Minkejja dawn il-flus kollha li jiġu ippumpjati fis-sistema monetarja, miljuni ta’ nies jibqgħu bla dar u bla aċċess lejn servizzi bażiċi bħas-saħħa. Qisna qegħdin nerġgħu ngħixu l-kriżi tal-2008-2009 mill-ġdid. Bħalissa għaddejjin minn żminijiet ekonomiċi turbulenti u saħansitra storiċi. Malta, pajjiż żgħir u bla riżorsi naturali, trid tara kif ħa tillapazza x-xogħol f’din is-sistema kapitalista globalizzata ultra-finanzjarja.

B’hekk tistgħu timmaġinaw xi ħsibt hekk kif Robert Abela kien bis-serjeta qed jipprepara biex itellaq għat-tmexxija tal-Partit Laburista. Abela kien persuna li dejjem baqa’ fil-kwinti. Qatt ma’ ħa r-riskji li ħadna sħabi u jien biex nipprovaw immexxu, anke fi gvern korrott, aġenda progressiva. Abela kellu karriera komda b’konsulenzi mill-MEPA u mexa ‘il quddiem bil-biljett ta’ missieru, George; bħal aristokrazija politika. Qisu xi ħadd li daħal mill-filati tal-kriżi politika inkiss inkiss jew bniedem prużuntuż li mexa mar-riħ bħal windsurfer li qed jilħaq l-ambizzjonijiet tiegħu. B’sorpriża enormi,Abela jirnexxielu jagħmel rebħa enormi fuq Fearne u dan probabli wara li Fearne kien għamel numru ta’ gaffes kbar fejn wera nuqqas ta’ gravitas u anke arroganza fid-diskorsi tiegħu. Jien ġejt demoralizzat. Uħud minn sħabi żgħażagħ fil-partit tal-ġenerazzjoni tiegħi u jien komplejna niġu demoralizzati wara kollega tal-ġenerazzjoni tagħna, Randolph Debattista, tkeċċa minn CEO tal-Partit biex ġie mibdul minn persuna qrib ta’ Abela.

Probabli, l-ikbar problema fuq Abela kienet u għadha din: ma nafx x’jemmen u x’jaħseb u xi jrid jagħmel u jien naħseb li r-raġuni hi li għax l’anqas hu stess ma jaf. Forsi inkun provat ħażin u tajjeb għal pajjiżna kieku. Tajjeb ferm, li meta tqis li teżiżti evidenza ċara li Mizzi u Schembri kienu korrotti, dawn jittellgħu l-qorti. Tajjeb ferm jekk l-assi ta’ Fenech jiġu friżati u jibdew jinħarġu wkoll akkużi fuq artikli ta’ terroriżmu ladarba dan seta kien involut f’att ta’ korruzzjoni u uża l-assi tiegħu biex jikkommetti dak li probabli huwa att terroristiku. Tajjeb ferm ukoll jekk l-Economic Crimes Unit jibda jagħmel xogħlu. Tajjeb ferm ukoll li l-Ministru tal-Finanzi Edward Scicluna jibda jammetti li hemm problemi serji fuq dawn il-kwistjonijiet u fuq id-danni ekonomiċi li jħalli r-rent-seeking. Tajjeb ukoll jekk Joseph Muscat jiġi investigat għax ħadd m’hu iktar għola mil-liġi, imma tajjeb ukoll li jiġu investigati anke skandli ta’ korruzzjoni li huma involuti fihom Ministri Nazzjonalisti għax fl-aħħar minn l-aħħar mhux Schembri u Mizzi biss kellhom kontijiet moħbija barra minn Malta imma anke Austin Gatt, Ninu Żammit, John Dalli u Michael Falzon. Kull min jgħidlek li l-pulizija jagħmlu xogħolhom mingħajr indħil politiku u ma nistax jikkumenta qed jigdeb u probabli qed jigdeb b’intenzjoni malizzjuża. L-evidenza tal-korruzzjoni ta’ Schembri u Mizzi hija ċara u m’hemx għalfejn tkun ġenju. Li l-pulizija ma aġixxewx meta kellhom jaġixxu huwa fatt loġiku – m’hemmx ma’ fejn iddur magħha.

Il-kunċett ta’ Hannah Arendt: il-banalita tal-ħażen jispjega perfettament is-sitwazzjoni politika ta’ dawk il-ministri li fit-28 ta’ Novembru baqgħu jappoġġjaw u jaqbżu għal Muscat. In-Nazzizti li ġew prosekutati fil-każijiet ta’ Nuremburgu iddefendew lilhom infushom billi qalu li huma kienu biss qed jobdu l-ordinijiet minn ta’ fuqhom – il-banalita tal-ħażen – meta inti ma tieħux responsabbilta tal-azzjonijiet tiegħek għas-sempliċi raġuni li tiċħad lilek innifsek l-aġenzija u l-possibbilta li tiddeċiedi għalik innifsek. Ovjament, il-lagħqiżmu u s-serviliżmu mhuwiex skuża għall-atti kriminali. Fuq skala żgħira u lokali, din hija l-istess skuża li Michael Falzon (tal-Labour) ġab meta lil Mark Gafferna tah palazz fil-Belt b’xejn – jien ma kont qed nagħmel xejn ħażin, jien sempliċiment kont qed nimxi mas-sistema u dak li talbu minni dawk ta’ fuqi. Illum, dan Michael Falzon huwa ministru (b’portafoll differenti). U hija wkoll il-banalita tal-ħażen li qed titkellem kull darba li xi ħadd iġib skuża għala Schembri u Mizzi qatt ma ġew imressqa il-qorti fuq korruzzjoni.

Lli kieku il-pulizija qed tagħmel xogħolha mhux ilha li resqet parata ta’ politiċi l-qorti. Nafu li l-pulizija mhux tagħmel xogħolha għax għadha qatt ma saret ġustizzja fuq korruzzjoni politika. Iva, vera, hemm min fil-pulizija jagħmel xogħlu sew bħalissa. Iva, vera, hemm min b’mod ġenwin qed jaħdem ħafna fuq il-każ ta’ Daphne u jrid jsolvieh. Hemm min ukoll fil-pulizija li apparti li għandu edukazzjoni għolja u integrita kbira, ġie skarzat minflok ġie mgħoti l-possibbilta li jaħdem u jikkontribbwixxi għall-korp tal-pulizija u s-soċjeta. U r-revelazzjonijiet ta’ Silvio Valletta jiftħu l-probabilta li l-pulizija hija infiltrata b’mod profond mill-mafja u organizazzjonijiet kriminali.

Għadu jibda. Tieh ċans. Imma mill-ġdid. Il-problema hi li s’issa għadna m’għandna l-ebda idea vaga ta’ x’jemmen u x’jaħseb Abela. L-unika ħaġa li jien ċert fuq Abela huwa li hu makkak, imma anke b’dan it-talent qed jiżbalja hekk kif bil-mod ippronuċja ruħhu fuq il-krizi tal-pandemija tas-C-19. Meta Abela kien qal li s-C19 mhuwiex il-pesta u m’għandnix għalfejn ninkwetaw u lanqas inħassru l-vjaġġi bejn Malta u l-Italja, l-għada kellu jkun ftit iktar umli u jisma mill-esperti. Reċentament Abela ta x’jifhem li beda jiġġieled kontra l-eventwalita li l-esperti jitolbuh jagħlaq il-pajjiż meta qal li għeluq bħal dan ikun agħar mill-pandemija innifsha. Abela qed jagħti l-impressjoni li għadu mhux jifhem il-kuntest tal-irwol tiegħu ta’ kap ta’ gvern u għadu qed jirraġuna bil-mentalita ta’ sindku.

Ovjament, jien ma nifhimx fl-epidemiji. Nifhem iżda, b’mod emperiku u sempliċi li l-epidemija qed tinferex b’mod esponenzjali u tista’ tkun ta’ periklu għal min hu fiżikament vulnerabbli. Ma nafx kif għandu jiġi mrażżan dan il-virus, u inħalli f’ifdejn l-esperti biex jagħtu s-soluzzjonijiet, imma naf ukoll li tkun irresponsabbilta kbira li nieħdu riskji fuq xi ħaġa li ma nafux eżatt x’inhi u ma nafux kif ħa tiżvilluppa. B’kif ippronuċja ruħu Abela fuq il-kriżi tal-epidemija qisu qiegħed jagħti x’jifhem li lest jieħu riskji għax mhux jifhem eżattament l-estent tal-periklu s-sitwazzjoni. U dawn kienu eżattament l-preokuppazzjonijiet tiegħi għala Abela m’għandux isir il-Prim Ministru il-ġdid għax m’għandux il-profondita biex jifhem il-komplessita tal-problemi enormi li potenzjalment nistgħu niffaċċjaw f’dawn iż-żminijiet turbulenti. Jien nippretendi li jekk hemm bżonn isir għeluq tal-pajjiż, dan l-għeluq għandu jsir u l-kap tal-gvern għandu jieħu l-aħjar soluzzjoni għal ġid tal-pajjiż, irrespettivmanet kif ser jidher politikament minn għajnejn il-votant. Forsi qed nitlob wisq.

Forsi m’għandix raġun ukoll, u forsi Robert Abela eventwalment jagħmel colpo di scena memorabbli u storiku: jkisser ir-rent-seeking u l-korruzzjoni, jitfa lil Keith Schembri l-ħabs (jew kif inħobbu ngħidu bir-realpolitik, “nagħmlu riformi biex inħallu l-pulizija jagħmlu xogħolhom sew”), jagħmel bidliet strutturali kbar fl-ekonomija, jimplimenta miżuri soċjali u jgħolli l-batut, u jbiddel lil pajjiżna f’soċjeta ultra-moderna fejn l-ambjent hu konservat, is-servizz pubbliku huwa eċċezzjonali, l-ispazji miftuħa jiżdiedu u l-kultura, l-arti u l-letteratura tikber u titkattar u tesporta b’mod profuż. Forsi fl-aħħar minn l-aħħar min jien biex nagħmel dawn il-ġudizzji kollha? Forsi Abela jaf jippompja ġid u ġustizzja fil-pajjiż daqskemm ippompja muskoli fl-eta ta’ żgħożitu – tant l-aħjar.

Ma tantx jien ottimist sa barra, imma l-ġlieda tissokta. Jekk ma jkunx Robert Abela li jmexxi l-bidliet u r-riformi neċessarji fil-pajjiz, jista’ jkun xi ħaddieħor. Il-bidliet kbar li jridu jsiru fil-pajjiż ma jistgħux jistennew ħafna l’anqas. Litteralment qed imutu n-nies bit-taħwid u l-impunita li hawn fil-pajjiż. Ġimgħa u nofs ilhu mietet mara mirduma fid-dar tagħha stess hekk kif ħdejha kien qed isir tħaffir b’makkinarju kbir. Sandro Chetcuti u l-lobby tal-kostruzzjoni li xtraw il-Partit Laburista bid-donazzjonijiet tagħhom qed jagħmlu ħerba mill-pajjiz u mis-soċjeta. Il-gvern qas hu nieqes mir-rent-seekers u l-merċenarji. Robert Musumeci, li kiteb l-poliitika tal-Awtorita tal-Ippjanar, liema politika imbagħad gawda minnha personalment għadu jikteb il-liġijiet għall-gvern. B’mod assolutament assurd, Robert Musumeci, dan l-aħħar kien involut fil-liġi tad-dekriminalizazzjoni tal-prostituzzjoni. Ħlief għall-fatt li Robert Musumeci kien il-qaħba ta’ Joseph Muscat, ma nafux x’għandu x’jaqsam mal-prostituzzjoni u xi kwalifiki u relazzjoni għandu ma’ dan is-suġġett.

Jiġifieri xiż-żikk qed jiġri, fil-verita ma nafx biċ-ċertezza, imma naf biċ-ċert li s-sitwazzjoni mhux tajba – mhux tajba mill-aspett ta’ gvern, istituzzjonijiet, ekonomija u ġustizzja. Is-sitwazzjoni globali mhux tajba l’anqas. Hemm ċans li negħlbu dawn l-isfidi? Ovjament, iva imma l-affarijiet qatt ma kienu faċli.

National Book Council: Annual Report 2019

KunsillNazzjonaliKtieb_logo2017-49-150The Chairman’s Message

2019 was an eventful and challenging year in which the Council kept growing, receiving as much as an 80 per cent increase in its public funding for its recurrent expenditure over the previous year totalling €910,000, and an additional €600,000 in capital funds for the restoration of its newly acquired government premises in 8, Old Mint Street, Valletta.

We closed the year with a national crisis of historic proportions, which has deeply affected all aspects of the Maltese society, including its economy – and the book industry. The National Book Council cancelled its National Book Prize ceremony at the Auberge de Castille, the seat of the Prime Minister, where the ceremony has been traditionally held. The decision was made after officials in the Office of the Prime Minister were implicated in the investigations of the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. The decision by the Book Council was unanimously supported by the book industry stakeholders, despite its potential negative economic repercussions. The National Book Council was  also the first public entity to formally celebrate the legacy of Daphne Caruana Galizia in an event at the 2018 Malta Book Festival.

One of our main aims is to increase the industry stakeholders’ revenue, mainly when it comes to publishers and authors. Last year’s substantial increase in funding allowed us to further invest in marketing and audiovisual productions, as well as to increase the value of the National Book Prize prize money – which will have been disbursed by the time this report is published. The execution of our strategy is progressing very well thanks to sustained public funding support. Admittedly, I had strong qualms about some decisions made by newly-appointed bureaucrats in the finance department of the Ministry of Education. My qualms were made public in order to strengthen the autonomous position of the National Book Council. I can confirm that the disagreements have since been resolved.

For a few years now, the book industry has been struggling with a drop in sales in brick-and-mortar stores. The increasing sales at the Malta Book Festival along with purchases of books for schools made by the Literacy Agency have been offsetting these losses.

The Malta Book Festival has sustained an exponential increase in book sales ever since 2014. Sales during the 2019 Malta Book Festival matched those in 2018, partly due to reduced exhibition space in Sacra Infermeria Hall as a result of emergency restoration works. Restrictions notwithstanding, we adjusted by utilizing the MCC Republic Hall (that has a capacity of about 1,200 people) for the main school shows. We also organized shorter visits as compared to previous years.

The Malta Book Festival may face further challenges in the next few years. The Republic Hall, which usually hosts big theatrical shows, will be taken up by Cirque de Soleil – an event publicly subsidised by the former Ministry for Tourism, under the direction of the now disgraced Minister Konrad Mizzi. Our position is very clear on this matter. The National Book Council has been the most regular and consistent client to the MCC along the years, even during times of severe recession. For this reason, we expect the MCC to remain loyal to the National Book Council and provide access to all halls at the MCC during the first two weeks of November, during which the Malta Book Festival has traditionally taken place. The Malta Book Festival is an event of national importance and the government should support it further by enacting a subsidiary legislation to allow for these dates to be permanently booked on an exclusive basis. These particular dates – right after the mid-term school holidays – have been set following many years of market analysis. Our aim is to keep them secure on a permanent basis. We also have informal agreement with Żigużajg, in order not to clash with their shows on the same dates.

2019 was increasingly busy for us in terms of our legislative and policy work. For the first time ever, we have convened a National Writers’ Congress and presented a charter of authors’ rights which was unanimously approved by at the congress. During the writers’ congress we have promised publishers to introduce tax-incentives so as to incentivize royalty payments. Our promise is in the process of being fulfilled: the legislation for the tax-incentives has been drafted and we are awaiting its publication by the Ministry of Finance.

The National Book Council has also been trusted by the government to redraft Malta’s copyright laws to bring them into line with the recent European Union Directive on copyright and related rights in the Digital Single Market. This EU directive will significantly impact on the book industry, and it is in our interest to ensure that the transposition of the Directive is beneficial to our industry. There is already an informal agreement between publishers and the Ministry of Education over the Education Exception, as brokered by the National Book Council, and the agreement between both parties and the National Book Council is set to be signed in 2020.

In 2019 the National Book Council has also received the first capital allocation to restore its newly acquired premises in Valletta, the 16th century baroque building. We have successfully prevented the further deterioration of the building (the timber beams supporting the upper roof were giving way and as a consequence stone slabs were collapsing on the building). The restoration of the roof is progressing quickly and is due be completed by early 2020. One of our biggest constraints with the project is a bureaucratic lag in the Contracts Department and the Procurement Department of the Ministry. We are also challenged by the fact that two small basement level rooms of the building are still to be transferred to the Ministry of Education. The Lands Department and the Housing Authority are currently coordinating this process (an old lady lives in one of those rooms is to be provided with alternative accommodation). We hope that the said departments keep cooperating with us to ensure that the process is finalized. Our ultimate aim is to turn the palazzo into a new point of sale with a culturally-oriented bookshop, a literature museum and the National Book Council offices: a functional book centre in a beautiful historical building.

We have retained our momentum in other operations such as literary exports and translation. Maltese literature is ever-spreading across borders. Lou Drofenik has been one of the most promoted authors in 2019, together with other National Book Prize winning authors. Further public funding will enable us to expand our export work, a field where we are experiencing ever increasing success. Additionally, for the first-time ever, the National Book Council has commissioned its first-ever feature film based on a prize-winning Maltese novel.

I am also proud to say that in 2019 I have consolidated the final stages in building a strong team of employees and associates who are highly skilled and can guarantee continuity and growth. Further investment in human resources will be made in 2020 so as to keep consolidating and developing our team.

Looking back from 2013, I am incredibly proud we have come this far. The National Book Council has grown from a minuscule entity with hardly any funds, into a strong and influential organization which sustains the book industry, and protects the interests of publishers and authors. We will keep implementing our vision by expanding our stakeholders’ revenue opportunities through our public projects, and by ensuring that the book industry keeps growing and sustaining itself. We look forward to 2020. We will be working on the required and significant legal reforms, to keep sustaining growth  for the book industry despite the challenges we face.

Annual Report for 2019