Author Archives: camillerimark

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?

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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

The National Book Council Cancels the National Book Prize Ceremony

The National Book Council regrets to announce that the 2019 National Book Prize Ceremony planned for 9 December cannot be held under the heavy shadow of the Office of the Prime Minister having been implicated in the investigation of the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Whilst this does not constitute an endorsement of the views held by Daphne Caruana Galizia, her role as a writer and harbinger of momentous political changes must be acknowledged.

These times are testament to the strength of the written word; the celebration of literature is given a stronger voice if we participate in the historical events unfolding nationally. The current national crisis deserves our undivided attention.

The National Book Council hopes to be able to announce the results of the National Book Prize in January next year under circumstances meriting the celebration of our fellow writers and their works.