Two weeks ago, the commission headed by Nationalist leadership contender Raymond Bugeja presented its report on the financial sustainability of the party’s commercial entities. PN general secretary Chris Said talks to Keith Micallef about the way forward.
Why did you decide to contest this post, given that the Nationalist Party is practically bankrupt?
Politically, the PN has huge challenges ahead as highlighted by the fact that it suffered its biggest defeat since Independence.
It also needs to overhaul its organisational structure. In this context I can rely on my experience in government and at the helm of various organisations.
The PN is not bankrupt since it has a strong asset base that runs into millions. The problem is to achieve financial sustainability while cutting the debt accumulated over the years.
I am determined to address these challenges with the support of the new administration.
How would you describe your first month in the job?
The new administration has got off to a very encouraging start since we are gelling very well as a team.
I am also impressed by the number of people who have turned up at the headquarters offering their help.
It’s now our responsibility to utilise their potential to the maximum.
Last week you were handed the sustainability report on the party’s financial situation.
The report was compiled in a very short time due to the urgency of the situation and has very good recommendations on the way forward.
We have already taken some decisions to achieve short-term sustainability and our target is to break even by the end of September.
Eventually we will be aiming to go a step ahead and make a profit.
From the report it transpires that the biggest problems are related to our media since Eurotours (travel agency) has been making a profit.
As part of a cost-cutting exercise we have decided to outsource the printing of our newspapers.
Does this mean that the party will close down its printing press?
What made commercial sense 40 years ago is no longer sustainable in this day and age due to competition and technological advancements.
The offset printing press is being phased out everywhere. It will be much more cost effective to print our newspapers elsewhere.
So has the party has decided to keep its daily newspaper?
For now we have decided to keep In-Nazzjon as well as the Sunday paper Il-Mument. Even if we maintain the current level of advertising, we can still register a profit.
Nevertheless, we will try to boost revenue through a revamped design and better content.
It is also important for our media to shift its frame of mind from a party in government to one in opposition but at the same time to be fair and state the facts.
What about Net Television?
Undoubtedly the television station accounts for largest chunk of our losses.
The decision was either to close down the station or restructure it completely, including its content.
Does this mean more outsourcing?
Yes, as well as better in-house productions to convey the party’s message in a fair manner.
Further decisions will be taken in the coming days to have a leaner organisational structure and increase revenue streams.
One of these decisions was to strengthen the sales department as there is room for improvement, in spite of the competition and limited size of the local advertising market. Early signs are encouraging.
What made commercial sense 40 years ago is no longer sustainable in this day and age
The figures in the media about the party’s debt varied between €8 million and €16 million. Is the financial situation so dramatic?
This is sensitive commercial information, but of course there are debts.
Are we talking millions?
Yes and we have to tackle this debt through a number of recommendations made by the commission.
In a short time we will be creating a fundraising unit that will have to meet ambitious but realistic targets each year.
In recent years the party has been significantly lacking in this aspect. Apart from generating some income this initiative will also serve to meet the grassroots.
We are also exploring how to maximise the potential of our asset base, which is mainly the clubs.
We estimate that their commercial value is by far greater than our debt, but at the moment they are not being utilised to their full potential.
Will the party lease some of its clubs or even part of its headquarters?
Various options are being considered but each case has to be considered on its merits.
Recently we reached an agreement with a commercial bank through which we sold part of our club in Siġġiewi and apart from the money, the bank also agreed to rebuild the club.
As for the headquarters that were inaugurated five years ago, there is still a substantial amount that has not yet been paid.
In the coming days we will issue an expression of interest for a cafeteria at the HQ, as part of our drive to create new streams of revenue.
So will the party retain its entire media structure?
The decision is to strengthen them, including our news portal, which has to be more appealing and attract a greater number of hits.
The only way forward is to restructure them. These changes will start coming into force from October.
Is the party considering laying off some of its employees?
Such an option is not being ruled out, but only as a last resort.
For a start, we are not replacing those who are leaving.
We are exploring how to maximise the potential of our asset base, which is mainly the clubs
Are early retirement schemes being considered?
Yes, apart from the fact that a number of employees are due to reach retirement age. Having a leaner structure would mean more job security for our employees.
My ultimate concern is to safeguard their future and the wellbeing of their families.
But some media employees are still at risk of losing their jobs. Do you fear the backlash from such a decision?
I reiterate that such a decision will be taken as a last resort but on the other hand we are determined to take these decisions.
We have already reduced the workforce without actually laying off any staff.
The report on the party’s electoral defeat had recommended the appointment of a CEO for the media. Will you be taking this recommendation onboard?
In the coming days we will be finalising an organisational structure, which will including the post of CEO.
So far, nobody has been identified for the post but we will first try and fill these vacancies from within the organisations before looking outside the box.
Why did the situation need to reach such a point to take action?
There were circumstances that may have prevented previous administrations from taking certain measures. This situation has been developing since 1998, when the party decided to have its own television station.
How can the party reconcile its financial targets with its political mission now that the MEP campaign is looming?
The decision is not to overstretch ourselves financially to roll out the campaign.
This will also apply for the forthcoming Independence activities, which have to be self-sustaining.
We will be raising funds through a number of activities but we will definitely be spending within our means.
On the other hand, the defeat report said that the party lacked a polished campaign. Is there a risk that the chances of reaching out to the people be will be jeopardised by the new financial model?
I disagree. In contrast with recent years when the party was in government, we can now rely on a huge pool of volunteers. Since March we have experienced a revival.
These people have huge potential that we can tap to reach our goals within a set of financial parameters.
What is your position regarding the law on party financing?
We are waiting for the Government to put forward its proposals, which we assume will be based on the legislation drafted in the previous legislature.
The bottom line is whether political parties receive some degree of funding from the State.
We are also open to discussion with NGOs.
The party will also be keeping its word and by the end of next month will be publishing the balance sheets related to the election campaign.
Is the PN ready to commit itself to publishing a detailed annual financial statement even in the absence of such a law?
I have no difficulty in doing this, regardless of any obligation dictated by law.
At present we are restructuring our audit system to make it easier to monitor the party’s finances.
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