Earlier this month, I wrote to some government ministers requesting that relevant EU laws be used to facilitate investment in local filmmakers and artists. Their opportunities remain scarce, their funding limited,and the room to grow restricted by neglect.

The letter was inspired by the glitzy Mediterrane Film Festival, even before the rebates made headlines. The festival’s tag line, “a Place of Opportunities”, was brutally ironic for the local workers who are cast aside for lack of Hollywood prestige and cold, hard capital. More irony abound: it was a festival for which the Malta Film Commission spent (far more than) its annual budget in a week.

If the benefits to our economy are obvious, then Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo need not be bending over backwards to make sure that those figures remain hidden from us. For now, we’re meant to believe that, in his infinite wisdom, the flashy spotlight on his wide grin and tuxedo are great for the Maltese.

And, then, when news broke that the taxpayer would be forking out almost €47 million for the Gladiator sequel, outrage rightfully ensued. People are demanding to know whether it was proportionate to spend that amount of money on obscure benefits. It simply isn’t clear that any benefit to the Maltese is commensurate.

Nobody has claimed that the rebate scheme is redundant. It was introduced by a Nationalist administration in 2005 and was designed with caps and safeguards. Each of them were done away with by the Labour government in the past years. It is a dismantling strategy with the refinement of a gladiatorial barbarian: dish out more and more cash than other supposedly competing countries.

There are better uses for such a large sum of money. With an infrastructure under heavy strain, a summer marred by blackouts in sweltering heatwaves and worsening traffic, I doubt that there are many Maltese thinking that handing out tens of millions of euros on a foreign blockbuster was wise in the slightest.

Financial accountability of our own taxes is not treason

Times of Malta says €47 million breaks the record for the biggest amount of State aid given to cinema, not to mention the biggest rebate to a single production. Bigger countries in the EUhave capped rebates at figures a fraction of the amount given to the Gladiatorsequel.

Nor were we told convincingly how the €47 million would benefit the Maltese more than an investment where it is more pressingly needed, say, addressing climate change and its impacts on an infrastructure that is barely keeping up. Anybody you ask will happily name more worthwhile causes than our own movie star minister posing around in front of cameras with Russell Crowe and the like.

At the very least, our local talent deserves a slice of the pie. We know now, extravagantly, that there is more than enough money to invest in local talent, even one wad of cash from the sackfuls hurled at foreign productions.

If we truly want Malta’s name on the map, give local filmmakers a chance to shine.

Just because a film was partially shot in Malta does not mean it is an effective advert for the country’s film industry. All it does is advertise the Maltese workforce as cost-effective stagehands and stifles their opportunity to grow beyond that.

The response to the criticism has been pitiful. Even before the criticism turned acerbic, Johann Grech summarily advised people not to question the ways their own money is being spent.

Financial accountability of our own taxes is not treason. This type of bizarre language is not new for Labour. If “patriotism is the final refuge of a scoundrel”, it has become the first card pulled from the sleeves of ministers and their apparatchiks to address the frequent circumstances when they handily duck beneath the cover of our flag to get away with murder.

Nothing stopped them from answering queries about the wisdom of that expenditure.

Between the yachts and the snazzy red carpets, Labour ministers no longer have the patience to remain accountable to their electorate.

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