The Malta Independent 21 April 2024, Sunday
View E-Paper

TMIS Editorial: Bartolo, Grech forced to surrender

Sunday, 18 February 2024, 10:28 Last update: about 2 months ago

Finally, after two years of secrecy, foot stamping, resistance to the obvious and court action at the expense of the taxpayer, the Malta Film Commission – hand in hand with the Tourism Ministry – has been forced to surrender.

At the end of January, a court rejected an appeal filed by the commission to deny the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation access to information regarding a payment made to an entertainer who hosted the 2022 Malta Film Awards.

The commission had asked the court to annul a ruling given by the Information and Data Protection Commissioner (IDPC) and to revoke a decision taken by the Information and Data Protection Tribunal that upheld the IDPC ruling. Both had ruled that information on how much entertainer David Walliams was paid for the event is a matter of public interest and should be divulged.

The commission, with the benediction of the ministry, refused to comply and took the matter before the courts, which ruled against it. Now we know, thanks to the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation, that Walliams was paid a whopping €120,000.

In its ruling, the court came to the obvious conclusion that the commission was a public authority that is financed by public funds and therefore must adhere to the principles of transparency and accountability. The commission – read commissioner Johan Grech with the blessing of minister Clayton Bartolo – did not want to be transparent and accountable.

It was forced to do so by a court of law, and the very fact that the commission resorted to such tactics to hide information that should be made public should be enough for both Grech and Bartolo to resign and, if not, to be kicked out. There have been ministers and top officials who have been set aside for much less, even recently.

Both have, so far, remained in their place, and what happened in this incident will remain a blotch on their career and that of the government as a whole, as Prime Minister Robert Abela seems unable or unwilling to take a stand as he did with other ministers and the people who fall under their (the ministers’) responsibility.

We can debate at length on whether the fee that was paid to Walliams was astronomically too much, even given the fact that local film producers complain that the financial support they receive is paltry, or fell within the parameters of what artists today demand for their services.

The point is that the commission and the ministry did not want to say how much the fee was, and went to great lengths to avoid doing so. That they needed to be forced by a court to give the details should be enough for them and their egos to go.

It is not the first time that the commission has been at the centre of a controversy. Last year, it was harshly criticised when it became known that Maltese taxpayers were to pay nearly €47 million in rebates to the company producing the Gladiator sequel. Again, the difference between what foreign producers get in respect to what the local film industry is receiving was highlighted.

The Minister of Tourism himself has been involved in situations which were embarrassing to him and to the government as a whole. When he wore a Manchester United shirt during a game of the English club against a Maltese side, when he wrote that the Swieqi promenade was being cleaned (Swieqi has no shoreline) and when he boasted about the installation of a light bulb in St Paul’s Bay are incidents in which the minister behaved naively. But there were more serious occasions for him, such as when he passed on questions to a witness who was to appear before the Public Accounts Committee, or when he was caught saying he “can’t stand” Nationalist MP Rebekah Borg.

That, then, it was reported that there exists no list of names of people who are given tickets to attend Manchester United games as part of the sponsorship deal with the English club takes us back a full circle to the lack of transparency that was brought to the fore in the Walliams’ payment case.

Likewise, his decision to table in Parliament an abridged version – not the full document – of a Malta Film Commission economic impact assessment shows the minister’s aversion to what should be an open government.

There is a serious concern on the way that lavish activities related to the Malta Film Commission are shrouded in secrecy.

When there are calls for more openness, the answer is that the industry is bringing in money and generating employment. But that is no justification for overspending or, worse, unnecessary extravagance.

Neither is it a justification to retain information on how public money is being used. There should be no need for a judge to rule that the public has a right to be told how its money is being spent.

  • don't miss