One of the grievances raised in the beginning of the French Revolution was the (buy then rare) use of the ancient procedure – though the word ‘procedure’ may be misleading – of lettres de cachet. These were letters signed by the king and sealed with instructions to put someone in prison or in a mental hospital. If you were condemned by one of these letters there would be no court in which to defend yourself, no authority to appeal to, no process to give you the opportunity to give your side of the story.
How could anyone justify such grotesque unfairness? This power given to kings, to throw anyone in prison without question or response, was not perceived by its upholders as some tyrannical injustice. Kings are inspired by God, they believed, and God can do no wrong. If the king thought someone needed to be incarcerated he would have his good reasons to do it. There was no reason to doubt those good reasons. If the king wills it, it must be right.
Fortunately, we live this side of the French Revolution and we no longer go along with that crap. There are irrational vestiges of it, barbaric notions like Papal infallibility or royal prerogative, but otherwise, in democracies, decision-making power must be grounded in justification and justification must in turn come from facts that can be examined.
When that bone-dry twat Johann Grech, and his clueless bitch Clayton Bartolo, tell us they have “evidence” that their expenditure through the Malta Film Commission is justified and is of benefit to us, they should either publish “the proof” they say they have or they should else shut up about it. Evidence that remains in a sealed envelope cannot be presumed to be right, or even useful.
If we can’t examine their research, question the questions they asked, test their assumptions and methodologies, review their findings, and consider alternatives to their conclusions, then their claims are worth less than the paper they’ve written on. Their claims are worth the paper they didn’t publish.
They’re no better than those people who put muppets in a glass box last week and assured the Mexican parliament and the rest of us that they have evidence those were thousand-year-old aliens. Show us the evidence or fuck off.
At a press conference yesterday to justify their expenditure, Grech and Bartolo claimed they have been given legal advice not to publish the study they claim proves the expenditure by the Malta Film Commission is justified. They didn’t publish the advice either so we don’t know why ministers are now asking lawyers if they should fulfil their basic obligation to justify to the public the utility of public expenditure. We know even less why any lawyer might think they shouldn’t do it.
Legal advice to shut up is usually given when full disclosure would reveal incriminating evidence. The only context I can think of where a government is justified in keeping secret details of its expenditure would be defence and national security. If you’re spending money developing a new weapon, say, you don’t want to publish that fact for the benefit of your enemies. That’s got nothing to do with “legal advice”.
The public is entirely entitled to have access to all financial information about the spending of its money. If any part of that information is going to be placed under seal, we cannot be asked to accept what we’re not allowed to see on the basis of trust. If we think Johann Grech was profligate with public funds and if we think Clayton Bartolo was positively blind to its expenditure, they are the last people we’re going to trust with assurances they’ve acted responsibly.
Standing there, on a platform carrying a slogan from a Labour Party event on any given Sunday morning, protesting way too much that what we’re being told is for our own good, Grech and Bartolo behave like the numbered kings from before the French Revolution. If they say so, then it must be right. If they are the ones doing it, whatever they’re doing must be fair and just.
Well, that’s just bullshit.
It’s also bullshit that they have legal advice not to publish the report. I’ll believe they are lying about that until they actually publish the legal advice. And frankly when and if they do publish the legal advice, it will turn out to be an ex-post fabrication anyway.
What’s really happening here is the film commissioner is asserting that no one can spend public money more effectively than he does.
Let’s be absolutely clear about something. The claim that the more money they spend in film grants the more money percolates in the economy is both accurate and irrelevant. Of course, the more they spend the more money goes in the economy. That’s the most bleedingly obvious statement ever.
What a proper economic study would tell us, though, is at which point increased expenditure is floored by the law of diminishing returns. Forty-seven million euro on Gladiator Two would leave more money in the economy than 27 million or 7 million. But every additional million beyond a certain point will be yielding less to the economy.
And good public policy would demand that you find the point of diminishing returns so that you can redeploy the balance into more productive expenditure. I’m as happy as the next guy that the government is willing to spend so much money in the creative arts because I happen to agree that the creative arts have the potential of becoming productive employers and sustainable economic contributors.
But surely a million euro going to Denzel Washington’s bank account in LA is likely to add less value to Malta’s economy than a million-euro co-financing indigenous audio-visual productions worthy of exportation to other markets, for example. Show me a study that says otherwise, Johann Grech. Ah yes, right. You have advice not to show it to me.
I acknowledge that I am making blind claims based on supposition grounded in what I consider logical. My comments would be far more useful if they were grounded in empirical evidence, statistics, economic studies, and hard, indisputable numbers. I would be commenting on the numbers if the numbers were public.
But unnamed lawyers apparently told Johann Grech that we need to be protected from seeing the numbers. I think it’s Johann Grech who’s being protected here. God forbid anyone might realise that anyone living might reach a different conclusion from those numbers than Johann Grech did, and might therefore demonstrate that Johann Grech is not the only man alive that can do his job.
Secrecy in government (unless it’s a matter of national defence or security) is the product of insecurity. The kings of the ancien regime used lettres de cachet to take out of the way people they could not be confident of proving had done something wrong. There was no divine inspiration that ensured they were justified in acting secretly. What justified secrecy was the fact that they couldn’t otherwise transparently justify their actions.
Johann Grech has no answers to the questions being asked about his diarrhoeal outlay of the public’s money. All he can come up with is ‘trust me’.