The Malta Independent 18 June 2024, Tuesday
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Out of control

Kevin Cassar Sunday, 1 October 2023, 09:00 Last update: about 10 months ago

In November 2022, Minister Clyde Caruana told parliament that Malta would fork out 11 million euro on film incentives.  In the first part of 2023, Clayton Bartolo already squandered €69 million of our taxes on film incentives. And that’s just what we know about.  There’s probably far more that we don’t.

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The Times of Malta reported that Malta spent 143 million euro on film incentives since 2019.  Those figures weren’t provided by the secretive Clayton Bartolo, or his megalomaniacal Film Commissioner Johann Grech. The Times found out about those millions from the European Commissioner’s State Aid website. That website however only publishes State Aid grants over €500,000. Grants handed out by Bartolo worth less, didn’t feature on the EU website.

If it were for Bartolo and Grech the nation would know absolutely nothing about the millions they’ve squandered on lavish parties, gala dinners, glitzy events to which they invited Labour Party officials and personal friends. The two have been desperately concealing information about the amount of taxpayers’ money they’ve spent. Despite repeated promises Bartolo never revealed how much the Malta Film Awards cost. He promised he’ll reveal how much the Mediterrane Film Festival cost by end of September. He still hasn’t. Grech is challenging in court a Data Commissioner ruling that information about David Walliams’ pay package for the Malta Film Awards should be released.

Bartolo and Grech are now on the offensive.  When those obscene figures were revealed, the whole country was aghast.  Bartolo called a press conference to present an economic impact assessment that “proves” that every penny spent on the film industry is worth treble.  With one caveat - they won’t show that “report” to anybody. They’re keeping it to themselves. But, they promised, they will hand it over to the NAO which is investigating their profligate spending.

Bartolo got Labour’s Maltatoday to back him up. Saviour Balzan’s newspaper deceitfully reported Bartolo’s claims, that every euro spent generated three euro for the Maltese economy, as fact without seeing the report or at least mentioning that the “report” was being kept secret.  Maltatoday reported`: “Bartolo mentioned that the economic impact assessment will be sent to the NAO…in hopes of (sic) indicating the government’s commitment to transparency”. This is nothing but doublespeak.  Bartolo’s decision to keep the report secret shows his transparency! How can the public believe this nonsense? Who is hoodwinked by such rubbish? The sad answer is very many.

ONE news chimed in to bolster the Minister’s indefensible position. It reported that “Cyprus increases cash rebates for films. You see, even Cyprus is doing it, and so should we. ONE proclaimed that Cyprus is increasing its tax rebate for films from 40 to 45%.  It broadcast the Cypriot’s government’s statement emphasising “the importance of the cash rebate and the benefit to the country”.

What ONE didn’t mention is that since 2019 Cyprus spent €575,000 on film rebates.  Malta spent €143 million.  Cyprus’ economy is far bigger than Malta’s. Its annual GDP for 2022 was 28.5 billion dollars.  Malta’s was only 17.8 billion.

What ONE didn’t mention was that although Cyprus is increasing its incentives for the film industry, its finance ministry announced that for 2023 it earmarked €5 million.  Compare that to Malta’s 69 million for just the first few months of 2023.

ONE didn’t mention that Cyprus’ film incentives are capped at a maximum of 25 million per year. Malta’s are uncapped and will be three times higher than Cyprus’ by the end of the year. Cyprus gets Parliament’s approval for money spent on films. Bartolo overspends five times over what Clyde Caruana allocates, without advising Parliament let alone getting its approval.

But there’s more that ONE hasn’t told you.  Cyprus’ cash rebate is for the amount spent in Cyprus - consisting of hiring local crews and renting local facilities.  Malta gives production houses 40% cash rebates on the entire expenditure “while” they work in Malta. That includes millions spent on wages of foreign actors and foreign crew which will be siphoned out of the country. It includes equipment and services rented from foreign companies.

Bartolo and Grech were challenged at their press conference to state how much of those millions spent in cash rebates actually stay in Malta. They refused to reply. They claimed the information is in the “report” that they won’t publish and won’t answer questions about.

That economic impact assessment report was commissioned by the Ministry and paid by taxpayers. But taxpayers won’t get to see it. Media reports didn’t indicate which company conducted the assessment or who drew up the report.  A completely unknown economist, Jessica Camilleri  who only got her Masters degree in 2019, presented the findings of that report at the Minister’s press conference. Why would a reputable company send a relatively inexperienced junior “economist” with only a Masters degree to present such nationally important data? The truth is that Jessica Camilleri is a director at Malta Enterprise and has been since 2022. Simultaneously she is a Manager at KSI Malta, a tax and legal advisory firm. So who was she representing at that press conference - KSI Malta or Malta Enterprise? Or Clayton Bartolo?

Bartolo is pulling all the stops to try and convince the nation that tens of millions he’s draining into the film industry is money well spent. That’s a tough nut to crack. France with an annual GDP of 2,958 billion - that’s 166 times bigger than Malta - spends a maximum of 30 million on film tax rebates.  Spain with a GDP of 1,427 billion - 79 times more than Malta - caps its film tax rebate at 20 million. Greece with an economy 12 times bigger than Malta has a 12 million cap.  But Clayton Bartolo spent over 69 million - that’s more than France, Spain, Greece and Cyprus put together.

That’s not because Cypriots are idiots and Clatyon is a genius. It’s because Cyprus invests its money wisely.  Cyprus spent two hundred times less on films between 2019 and 2023 (0.57 million) than Malta did (143 million). But it spent double what Malta spent on health (2.38 billion vs 1.08 billion) and education (1,300 million vs 627 million). That may be why so many swallow Clayton’s crap so easily.

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