ONE and the Rent-Seeking Apparatus

One of my major arguments in my historiographic work is that Malta’s economic development was strictly and solely due to foreign direct investment. This means that the local elites, who traditionally where in cotton, imported most of the food and served the occupiers with services, had a very little role to play in the economic development of the islands. Practically, since the island had no resources at all other than limestone, lacked water and land, the only economic activity it could generate was by direct investment coming from abroad. The mono-crop economy by itself did not survive the test of time either. On the other hand, local elites were not entrepreneurial and as they ended up investing most of their capital in property and foreign stocks, as reported consistently with British Commission Reports in the late 19th century and early 20th century, the local elite never generated any productive value in the economy which created enough jobs and economic development. Ironically, and many miss the point in basic Maltese history, this is why the Mintoffian years were crucially significant in the history of economic development, first and foremost not for its socialism but the inflow of foreign capital.

Now, such historical work, which I haven’t practiced for some years, is rather laborious to produce (right now, I’m working on different material). So, I’m going to stick to the present rather than get all convoluted with the past. The point here is that some things haven’t changed. Rent-seeking is still the rule of the game for local business and this hurts honest businesses and entrepreneurs who compete fairly. We are lead to believe that these rent-seekers are important, when in fact they aren’t, as most of the economic activity generated today is generated by foreign companies while the local rent-seeking apparatus bleeds the economy of its resources. Albert Mizzi made a killing off Tigne Point because he got it practically for free not because he paid a fair price for the real state. Similarly to Silvio Deobono who got the ITS property for a discounted price. This practice has been replicated in history many times over leaving the rest of the people without jobs and housing. No wonder the British Admiral had god-status in Malta, and was by far, much bigger in the imagery of the people than any other well-dressed Maltese. Today, the end result of this long-historical process of rent-seeking is visually apparent to everyone. The country is flush with horrible over-priced buildings and an infrastructure which is continually clogging the country with cars and traffic jams. Some contractors could even get away with knocking down the homes of people in the course of their works until the practice ended with the death of a woman in Hamrun. No wonder many members of parliament want to send their kids abroad, but they will not tell you this, of course.

The Labour Party was supposed to turn the tide on Malta’s rent-seeking apparatus but Joseph Muscat ended up being a fraud, after all because that’s what you would call a politician who would dupe his party and most of the country with his pseudo-benign intentions. Rent-seeking didn’t end under Muscat – it exploded literally with a dead journalist. And we, who supported him, are all to blame for this in many ways, but being self-pitiful has never been my way of life (despite my rare and sporadic, emotional outbursts which I may have had like any other human being), so I agree in trying to look forward and try and build a better country. Not many would agree with me, however, especially the Labour Party which is currently in denial over its responsibility for Malta’s state of affairs.

See, the rent-seeking economy is all about the greed and selfishness of a very small number of people who are abetted and aided by a bunch of political morons whose only talent in life is to scam their way into a political career. That’s right. There is no incentive to get into politics so most who do, do so because they are incompetent to provide a valuable service to anyone in real life. There are exceptions of course. Chris Fearne, for example, was a very successful surgeon before he entered politics. Others are or were criminal lawyers who legislate on laws that may often directly benefit their clients. Same with architects. This is why you don’t see engineers, scientists, historians, or mathematicians in politics – these kinds of people would not bother and they don’t need to get a €40,000 kickback from Yorgen Fenech covered as a property-deal commission to get by in life. Politics is an open outlet for corruption.

How about Keith Schembri going to prison? Isn’t that a good sign? Here’s the thing, however. Keith Schembri is the first high-profile figure in Maltese history to be investigated over corruption and thrown to prison and was only sent to prison thanks to Daphne Caruana Galizia’s work who had collected enough information about him that could potentially send him to many years in jail. It was unusual that for the first time one single journalist had made such a rupture in local journalism, so much so, that it lead to her assassination. The reality is that everything that is being unraveled today is owed to Daphne Caruana Galizia while the Labour Party refuses to acknowledge its part in setting up the stage for this macabre situation.

The political parties’ TV stations hold a very important key to the answers we seek from the rent-seeking apparatus, mainly because they are the front of this apparatus itself. Let’s start with the most important conditions. ONE TV is not the Labour Party – it is the OPM. Jason Micallef is simply the person who signs the cheques and cheerleads the gross maleficence of the station’s editorial line. Joseph Muscat created a system whereby the political propaganda is dictated by OPM which is then handed over to the parliamentary group the Party and its media. Everyone toes the line on the reply given which supposedly would be universal. Now, who dictates this line?

It is the people who would go to the Party Headquarters and donate substantial sums of money to the Party with the promise that they would be supported in their projects, government tenders and land deals. Look, this is not just with Labour. It’s the same with PN. What Joseph Muscat did was simply to copy PN’s playbook and adapting it to the extreme. Previously, PN had Żaren Vassallo. Labour has Joseph Portelli and the Zammit-Tabonas who all of them gave donations to the Party which exceed the legal-capping. Sandro Chetcuti was another donor. These people give money to the Party intending to get something back from the government with the Party fully aware of the intentions behind their gifts. Permits are mostly sought, but so is government-land and contracts. It is also why James Caterers and Silvio Debono got a 274-million Euro surprise contract from the government to expand its old people’s home.

And guess where this money goes? It doesn’t go to the Party either. It goes to ONE. Similar to how Silvio Debono used to subsidise the Stamperija. Why? Because party TV stations are not economically feasible. Who gets the top seat at Malta’s economic policy kitchen cabinet? It’s the guys who slosh their money away to the Parties and that is why we hear politicians speaking mostly of construction and tourism projects. It’s a very simple game if one gets it. But I’m not saying anything new, ain’t I, we all know the game is rigged and that’s how it rolls. But guess, what? This whole primitive operation is illegal from top-to-bottom and it only takes enough resources allocated meticulously to bring it all down by independent authorities. It is not only illegal due to corruption, bribery laws and political financing, but it also illegal because it often contributes to cutting some of that tax bill of the donor. What not to like? A political donation can cut down tax if booked creatively in the accounts with the potential reward of getting a nicely signed government permit for another project. Bargain.

And what does ONE do with this money? It propagates the OPM’s propaganda which is entangled in this spiral of rent-seeking. Again, this is why one of the most popular figures on ONE is Robert Musumeci. Given that the construction industry, despite being one of the smallest industries in size amongst most other industries, is perceived to be so important. So, it is no coincidence that the guy who prostrates at his masters and showers praise over the dictator even when the crowd is knocking the door over the dictators-head is the same guy who designed Malta’s development regulations – Robert Musumeci. So, it’s one big racket, you say? And one big scam? Yes. The donors donate their money to the party and they have their economic policies shoved down the people’s throat with a televised broadcast. That’s how the game goes. The cheerleading presenter to all of this, is, of course, another fraud.

Indeed, if you corroborate the money trail of a political party TV station and corroborate it with official government land deals, permits and tenders, you may get surprisingly very interesting results. Naturally, that of a tangled web of illegal behaviour and corruption. And this shouldn’t only apply to ONE, but also Net TV. This is not about a bunch of individuals who made a couple of mistakes, but rather a self-perpetuating system where the sharks keep preying with impunity. Empty the water of the aquarium and let the sharks die. Start with the political-party TV stations because that’s where most of the answers lie. Better and healthier fish will come along later.

Words have little meaning when they come without any action. Failing to realise the real state of affairs of the country is the biggest relapse the Labour Party is making into old habits. We are being fed the lie that if we pass the Moneyval test and make some Venice Commission reforms, everything will be all right and business will be fine. The reality is that the historical problems of our society will remain. Unless rent-seeking is addressed structurally we will preserve our economic, social and civil problems.

1 thought on “ONE and the Rent-Seeking Apparatus

  1. Luke

    Great article! Just one thing, can you clarify exactly what “rent-seeking” means? It’s the first time I’m coming across the term and I’d rather understand the correct definition than try to guess what it means from context.

    Also, if you have any ideas of what we as normal voters of the populace can do, I’m all ears. So far the only concrete actions I can think of are to vote for a party other than PNPL, and to donate to organizations that try to keep the government on the straight and narrow, like Moviment Graffiti.


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