The Malta Independent 23 July 2019, Tuesday

Creating Value

Tuesday, 25 June 2019, 10:39 Last update: about 27 days ago

Martin Vella, Managing Director of MBR Publications Ltd, analyses the local political situation, discusses corruption and how to beat it, defines ‘leadership’ and sums up his corporate social responsibility beliefs. George Carol writes

Given the recent developments in Maltese politics, are you optimistic that  organisations can change the status quo of the political landscape?

There has to be movement, because people have been waiting a long time to get this issue resolved. Labour built a strong and promising movement prior to 2013 and continued strengthening it. In Malta, we cannot have two states for two peoples. We should be able to make progress on this and it is desperately necessary, because Malta - and the Maltese as a whole - deserve better.


It is important to recognise that this embodies this small bit of land where one people live, intermingling side-by-side, and we need to create the circumstances in which everyone enjoys fundamental human rights, no one is super-privileged and everyone is treated on a level playing ground.

I have been living here all my life, in good times and in bad. I was educated at De La Salle College, where we were taught how to create value and, above everything else, how to earn and show respect to our fellow students. Right now, we do not have a truly functioning democracy, even more so when there is no really active Opposition party, which is in total disarray and lacks strong leadership.

It has been easy for many people to say that the whole of Malta is corrupt. In reality, it is not and it hurts good, decent Maltese people to hear foreigners - as well as locals - say that the country is corrupt and it is even more worrying to see no action being taken to address such situations.

That corruption is evident at the political level is no secret. Institutionalised corruption is even more dangerous, as this is how corruption undermines society as a whole. Corruption does not exist only in Malta - take the recent case involving ex-UEFA head Michel Platini as an example. While a country may be in conflict in terms of values, corruption has been permeating and penetrating every aspect of our society and we cannot allow a country to be commandeered by people who operate like leaders in organised crime circles. Sadly, these people are in the minority and sleazy corruption, greed and selfishness are regrettably ascendant - which is also evident at mass social level.

The important thing is to talk, to get back on track as quickly as possible and to combine that with real change on the ground that improves the lives of the citizens, lifts the weight of sleaze and the 'anything goes' mantra from them, and gives Malta the genuine sense that its concerns regarding the rule of law and corruption are being taken into account and that genuine action is being taken by the authorities.


You have been clear that political leadership is the key to driving much of what is taking place in Malta, especially around conflict resolution. But how difficult is it to find that leadership when there is such uncertainty?

The great challenge for leaders is to make difficult decisions in circumstances where the consequences are unpredictable. This is why leadership is such a challenging business right now.

But one of the things that you learn about leadership is that inaction is also a decision: it's just a decision not to act and it also has consequences - which are often more predictable. If the PN does not move this situation forward within its own support base at the moment, it will move back, and the consequences of that will be greater tension and uncertainty for the country.

There is absolutely no culture of resignations in Malta and leaders who fail to get results should be decent enough to accept responsibility and resign. Poor leadership is poisonous and, as the saying goes, a bad apple spoils the whole barrel. A leader is only as good as his team and ego, pride and arrogance are not part of a leader's traits. No matter how difficult it is, real leaders take the blame and give the credit to others.

Give peanuts to your monkeys. Keep them happy and feed them when you think is the right time. No matter how you see it, if you only give peanuts, you will only deal with monkeys. We have come a long way since independence in terms of a more stable political situation - and we don't want to go back to where we were 30 years ago.

Leaders need to be honest, great communicators and have a 'serve those they lead' attitude. It is not easy to identify good leaders in advance, but founders need to take action when bad ones are in key positions. Not doing so, will lead an organisation into rough waters and your boat will eventually sink.


What is your vision for your charity?

The MBR Foundation for Charity is an initiative working alongside the Malta Community Chest Fund and Puttinu Cares, to create the ability to help children in need. The great challenge for Malta today is not charity alone - although charity is important, particularly in areas such as combating killer diseases - but also in solidarity, in good governance and enjoying equal treatment. It is not just the creating of transparent and honest fund-raising activities; it's also about effective engagement with society - the challenge for us today being efficacy.

So we, as responsible citizens, should prioritise and track the performance and delivery of the various projects in which we are engaged. The important thing for governments is to create the circumstances in which basic areas such as energy, power, agriculture and infrastructure are working at a level where people see the benefit, which gives them greater faith in politics.

Malta has an enormous opportunity now with the new EU Parliament, which desperately needs to be reinvigorated. Malta can stand up and put its house in order but how that is done will crucially affect whether it moves forward or not.

In this regard, my vision for my charity is to see that wealth is equally distributed and that those in need receive more than those who are rich.


What was your vision in creating the MBR Foundation for Charity and what are you trying to accomplish through those efforts?

The biggest challenge we have toward stability in the 21st century is not fundamental clashes of political ideology but fundamental clashes of cultural or religious ideology. If you look not just at what is happening here but across the world, there are groups of people who are using religion to encourage extremism and are creating huge political, cultural and religious divides. Even in Europe, you now have political parties starting up all over the place that are based on a view that the identity of Europe is under threat; and some of those parties are openly Islamaphobic - and that is a huge problem.

The trouble is that politicians want to say this is a political problem, but these people think it is about religion, so if you don't deal with the religious aspect you are not dealing with the problem. Our foundation is about practical mutual respect and compassion for others - something that we, as true Christians, should practice. This does not mean that we should not protect our identity, our culture, our religion and our heritage, and be proud of who we are.

We now have an action programme that acts as a fund-raiser for charities and we provide financial, material and professional support to people experiencing difficulties because of severe chronic illness, including cancer. We also support people with disability, people in poverty and NGOs. So it's a programme based on the notion that we need to encourage harmony amongst all people and that we do so through a practical approach.


Is it sometimes tough to be patient with all the challenges you have faced?

It can be frustrating, but what I am trying to do in each of these areas is demonstrate that there is a different - and more effective - way of looking at things and I am trying to mobilise our leaders behind that different view. I am under no illusion that I can single-handedly change the situations. But what I can do is demonstrate, through my philanthropic work, a new idea or a different way of doing something.

My theory is that you have to build new systems of approach from the bottom up through the economy, through what happens on the ground, as well as a negotiation from the top down. You have to make business a partner in this, not an enemy. It can be very frustrating, but I am trying to show that, conceptually, we can all work together and do this differently and better.


You are known as somebody who gets things done. Many people today feel that there is a lack of that kind of leadership. What makes a successful leader today and how were you able to bring people together and make such an impact?

Leadership has never been tougher than it is now, particularly with the prevalent economic, financial and political scenario. Leadership involves two things: understanding that the world is changing fast and understanding that we have to change with it. There is no leader today who is not an agent of change; and leaders need to understand this, because change is so difficult. When you try to institute change, you face resistance and sometimes the things you suggest will not be popular, at first. But the essence of leadership is taking responsibility for engaging in that process even though you know you are going to be pushed back and it's going to be tough.

Leadership is about understanding that we live in a world in which the defining characteristic is change and being prepared to make the difficult decisions to translate that change into reality.


How do you feel about your life?

The great thing about my new life is I can take subjects about which I am passionate and devote real time, energy, and commitment to them. When you are in a key position, or whether you are on the outside, although you might have less power, you sometimes have more influence. And in my life, it is worth influencing people positively by creating value and showing respect.

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