On books and circuses

One of the current problems afflicting the book industry right now is the same problem afflicting all of Maltese society: jungle rules. The rampant disregard to the law and to good governance by many public officials is outstanding not because it happens in the first place; we all know that greed can make people act in a very destructive manner, but because it is being allowed to be perpetuated by the same government which supposedly is cleaning out the house.

Allow me to be brief and spare you with the details which may only be relevant to our industry. The Malta Book Festival, previously the Malta Book Fair, has been held at the Mediterranean Conference Centre for more than thirty years. Since 2013 we re-branded the event and made it bigger hitting consistent record sales year after year. As the Festival grew over the years we started taking more space at the MCC to add more capacity until we practically started booking most of the MCC, including Republic Hall in 2019. Then we were suddenly told that we were not able to book Republic Hall anymore because the Malta Tourism Authority had front-run our booking for an event they are sponsoring which will host the Cirque de Soleil circus.

I was flabbergasted. It was just right after the end of the Festival in 2019 that I received the news. Eventually, the pandemic arrived and Cirque de Soleil went bankrupt. MCC contacted us and told us that Republic Hall was available once again. In 2021, we then received the news the Cirque de Soleil show was to go ahead anyway and that we were not able to make use of Republic Hall any longer. I protested against this with the Minister of Tourism Clayton Bartolo and the Prime Minister himself and all I got from the government was the request to help myself by changing the dates and location of the Malta Book Festival. So, practically, the book industry is expected to take a bigger hit in sales by further changing the arrangements of its event for the sake of a foreign circus subsidised by our own government.

The Minister of Tourism has just recently released a document outlying the importance of promoting indigenous culture as part of MTA’s new strategy. Despite the fanfare to launch this document, the Minister and MTA are doing exactly the opposite of what this document says – they are subsidising a foreign circus at the expense of a local culture industry. And the expense is on our side is at least €100,000 less in book sales and a long-term negative impact on our brand. Great way to help small businesses. So, it’s not just about the money. And we don’t accept bribes either just to make it clear.

But there is also a very obvious reason why we are being front-run like this without any consideration to our industry and to the families who depend on it. The Cirque de Soleil show at Republic Hall is a corrupt contract handed over to 365 Entertainment Group by MTA official, and ex-Konrad Mizzi canvassar, Lionel Gerada. Gerada, who is a convicted fraudster, was given authority by the disgraced Konrad Mizzi to allocate MTA events funds and 365 Entertainment is amongst MTA’s favourite recipients. 365 Entertainment Group has been allocated a substantial, but yet undisclosed amount of funds to organise the Cirque de Soleil circus, but the government-suibsidised payment to Cirque de Soleil is undoubtedly in clear breach of EU-State Aid rules especially given the context. Gerada has also committed perjury when testifying with the Public Accounts Committee saying he has no connections to 365 Entertainment Group when he was caught representing them and dining with its owners in the Netherlands. And guess what? 365 Entertainment is one of those companies which last year promoted Malta as a safe-party destination to British tourists and directly contributed to the re-emergence of the virus pandemic in the country.

Why do I say it is a corrupt contract? Because a contract effected with the provision of funds by a convicted fraudster and public official who is associated with the same company he is giving the funds to, is simply nothing else but a corrupt contract. These are jungle rules. A corrupt contract will subsidise a show by a foreign and bankrupt company at the expense of a local cultural industry of national importance. You would expect people to resign over this scandal in ordinary European States, but this is not an ordinary European State. And, despite all of this, the government expects us to remain silent, complacent, and at best help ourselves by taking on bigger hits in sales by changing our arrangements. I’m not sorry. The older I get the less intolerant I become of corrupt bullies and infantile behaviour by supposedly-grown men. In our jungle rules, corrupt idiots are being allowed to bully their way around in the country, wreaking havoc on society and our businesses indiscriminately. It is my job and my duty to defend the interests of the local book industry and I will keep doing so as long as the law allows me to.

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