It shouldn’t have surprised anyone that Johann Grech addressed the nation a few days ago and used Joseph Muscat’s and Robert Abela’s rhetoric that anyone criticising government policy is “attacking Malta”. Johann Grech is a veteran propagandist of the Labour Party. Just because he’s in photos with famous actors who are effectively paid out of Maltese tax money to pose with him does not make him anymore than what he came from. He’s a Joseph Muscat crony who has survived the demise of his first master by campaigning for the election of his first master’s successor.
Johann Grech knows full well that no one is suggesting incentives to the film industry should be abolished. No one is suggesting we should stop funding upgrades to tourist areas. No one is suggesting we should stop funding training for staff needed by aviation maintenance companies. No one is suggesting the state should stop renting out factory space to manufacturing companies at below commercial rates.
We help industry prop up jobs and we use tax money to do that. That’s fine. We just don’t shit money from a great height like it’s never going to run out.
Johann Grech was allowed to spend money the way he has because Joseph Muscat’s regime was created around personal loyalties not around impersonal policy structures. No sane finance minister on earth would allow millions of hard-earned tax euro to go towards paying some of the millions Denzel Washington earns to be an actor in a film partly made in Malta. That just shouldn’t happen. It’s basically siphoning tax money collected in Malta to the US IRS.
It happens here because it doesn’t matter what Parliament has approved for the Film Commission’s budget. No internal spending controls in the government could stop someone like Johann Grech who derives their power directly from the prime minister.
Johann Grech is perhaps the highest incarnate representation of the abysmal quality of governance of our public administration. In place of budgeting, spending checks, accountability, and review we have Johann Grech’s unadulterated will. His stomach rumbles and on he proceeds to defecate millions of euro of tax money.
Some wise guys mocked criticism of the film incentive scheme by pointing out that “the Nationalists had introduced it”. I was there. I flew to Brussels to persuade the (European) Commission that our film incentive scheme was compliant with EU law. I was part of the introduction of the incentive scheme and I certainly do not object in principle to the notion. But the scheme the nasty Nationalists introduced was a cash rebate on money spent in Malta. That’s based on the economic logic that if our incentives generate spending in Malta (4 euro of foreign money spent here for every 1 euro funded by us) our incentives would be coming back in value added to the economy (including tax).
These guys are paying two-fifths of what the film company spends with little to no regard of how much of that money is spent outside the country.
And incidentally when we introduced those policies that was still “Malta”. When Johann Grech says that an attack on the present film incentives amounts to an attack on Malta and on the film industry he presumes Malta and the film industry only exist as a result of the present film incentives. But we had different film incentives before, we had a movie industry, and it was still Malta.
Johann Grech studied in the Joseph Muscat school of megalomaniac geography. It bears repeating, however, Johann Grech is not Malta and Malta is not Johann Grech. His ego may be larger than the country but that doesn’t make it or him the country.
Also, we set up the (Film) Commission through law so that the Commissioner would have an oversight committee of non-executives to make sure the spending is justified. And the money they spent was pre-approved and overseen by the Treasury because that’s just the way things should be done if you’re running a village boċċi club, let alone a city of the size of this country.
We could never justify to ourselves or anyone using tax money to pay some famous Malibu-beach front actor some of the millions they made. Nor could we justify hiring some Commissioner and giving them discretion on spending millions with no form of independent oversight.
I’m not trying to suggest there was no room for improvement on the schemes we introduced two decades ago. That would be silly. But Johann Grech has been living like a prince using Malta’s tax money and spending it like there’s no tomorrow. That’s an improvement on nothing.
And Johann Grech should stop congratulating himself for spending this sort of money and pointing out Gladiator 2 as proof of his genius. He wasn’t around, nor indeed where his incredibly expensive incentives, when the first Gladiator was shot in Malta. Just saying.
Professor Simon Mercieca has lately been spinning tales on his blog about the brief time I spent helping then Minister Austin Gatt drive policy in the film industry area. One can only presume that Johann Grech had something to do with those stories because you can smell the shit on Muscat’s propagandist’s footprints days after they’ve walked by.
So yes, Johann Grech has been unhappy about the criticism and he’s been indulging in some covert and overt operations from the handbook he had written for the crisis-addled Joseph Muscat. That’s no reason to stop pointing out the grotesque waste of money he’s been. Maybe one day we’ll find a finance minister with enough self-respect to dare to say no to a favourite of the prime minister. Even one who has Russell Crowe in his family album.