The Malta Independent 19 April 2024, Friday
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TMID Editorial: A la carte transparency

Monday, 4 March 2024, 12:20 Last update: about 3 months ago

While everyone’s eyes were focused on the publication of the public inquiry into the death of Jean Paul Sofia, another awaited and important report was – at the same time – published by the government.

Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo tabled an economic impact assessment detailing the spending and the "direct, indirect and induced" economic impact of the Mediterrane Film Festival in Parliament on Wednesday.

This was the same day that the board which led the public inquiry into Sofia’s death published its report, and the same Parliamentary sitting in which that report was going to start to be discussed by the country’s political forces.

The timing of the publication of this report is at the absolute best a coincidence, but at the absolute worst a disgusting attempt at weaponizing a discussion about a tragedy in order to cover up how the Malta Film Commission yet again did away with any concept of financial budgetary restraint in favour of glitz and glamour paid for out of the public coffers.

The report – which has been the subject of parliamentary questions by PN MP Julie Zahra since July 2023 – showed how the government spent €3,790,776 on the event.

The largest expenditure was on unspecified "Creative Arts & Entertainment Activities," which totalled €2,439,245. The second largest spend was on advertising and marketing research, which cost the taxpayer €376,402.

€304,930 was spent on accommodation for guests, while the cost of air transport to bring them to Malta cost €344,175.

The report says that a total of 249 international guests were brought over to Malta at the expense of the taxpayer.

It does not detail to who this money was paid or how the people the money was paid to was selected.  So, we now have the figures, but we don’t know specifically what they were spent on and who the beneficiaries were, and how they were chosen.  Were suppliers selected on the basis of tenders, or was this another festival of direct orders and taxpayer’s money for the select few?

Simply lumping 64% of the total spending under the ambiguous and vague moniker of ‘Creative Arts & Entertainment Activities’ – which for a film festival, could be pretty much anything – doesn’t offer much in the way of transparency.  Quite the contrary, this is selective – a la carte – transparency.

The report found that on the flipside, the festival's potential economic output amounted to €7,026,621 and, "created or enhanced a total employment impact of 53 jobs at the Direct, Indirect, and Induced levels."

But there is an important proviso to this: the report only details the “potential” benefits that this event brought.  In fact, the word potential features 31 times throughout this 92-page document. 

Even when it comes to the 53 jobs detailed in the report, it uses phrases such as “could have” as a proviso.  For instance: “it may be observed that a total of around 19 full time equivalent positions could have been created because of economic activity generated by the Mediterrane Film Festival.”

This means that while there is no doubt a science as to how the numbers pertaining to economic output were calculated, they are on the most part hypothetical.

There is a sustained and strenuous effort to justify the Malta Film Commission’s big spending but at the same time a clear and concerted effort to make sure that as little people as possible know exactly how it is spending money.

This report gave us the bare minimum: a set of numbers. It took a legal battle to obtain how much the same Film Commission paid David Walliams to present the equally over-glamorous Malta Film Awards.

It appears that when it comes to the Film Commission, the glitz and glamour are a given, and the transparency is optional.

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