“There needs to be a level playing field,” says Howard Keith Debono, president of the Malta Entertainment Industry & Arts Association, in response to a National Audit Office report which revealed that the Malta Tourism Authority granted a single organiser €2.69 million to organise a local festival in 2022.
The festival in question is SummerDaze, which took place between 10-17th August last year.
According to the report, the agreement between the MTA and the organiser said that the funds were used to cover the cost of the organisation, management and promotion of the event.
The festival boasted a line-up of several well-known names in the international music industry, such as Jason Derulo, G-Eazy and Bastille.
This newsroom caught up with Mr Debono to get his impression on the report’s findings and what impact the use of taxpayer funds granted to some companies over others has had on the industry. While commenting in his capacity as MDEIA president, Mr Debono is also involved in event organisation.
“There needs to be a level playing field, whatever cost is borne by the Government, this needs to be justified,” stated Mr Debono.
“What I mean by justification is, why is it given to some firms over others, and does it actually get foreigners to come to the country?”
The MTA’s intended objective is to advance the economic and social activity of tourism by working with all stakeholders to develop the national tourism industry.
In recent years it has come under fire for distorting the market through the manner in which it distributed public funds.
“As an industry, we have been voicing the same mantra over and over again, we need a level playing field for the private sector, the public sector, and how the public sector deals with the private sector,” reiterated Mr Debono.
“We are very mindful of the fact that ultimately there’s a pie, and it needs to be divided accordingly within reason, without giving anyone an advantage.”
He added that there needs to be transparency when public funds are involved, more so when there’s such a large amount. He said that the Government should not hide behind claims that the information is of commercial sensitivity or secrecy.
“The Government needs to make sure that, when making such an investment, the return on investment is fully transparent,” he added.
“When the sum is so large you expect the returns to be high.”
Mr Debono also touched on the fact that a large portion of these funds are sent out of the country in order to bring foreign talent to perform locally, instead of fostering a Maltese product by investing locally and developing Malta’s brand of tourism.
“I’m not saying the artists don’t deserve it, but we’re not building local brands or visibility on a long-term basis.”
Ultimately, he added, “it all boils down to common sense. It’s certainly not rocket science to book an A-list or B-list artist with that budget.” Here, he went on to say that without taking anything away from anyone, the country needs to be smart with expenditure.
Indeed, at a time when it is paying expensive fuel and electricity subsidies, and after almost three years of pandemic-related support.
Furthermore, he commented on the fact that the MTA’s agreement with a single organiser has given them a massive advantage over other promoters.
“Then there’s the crazy thing we call the free-entrance model,” added Mr Debono.
In 2022, the two headliner days which featured the bulk of most of the well-known artists performing in SummerDaze were free-access for attendants. The only fee was for a €3 reusable cup which was given on admission.
“It’s fine that it’s done on Christmas and maybe one other time of the year as a way of giving back to the community, but it’s not okay to bring all these artists and attendants pay close to nothing.”
“Other promoters can’t do these things, so it’s very unfair.”
He concluded that he understood the current Ministry inherited this problem, and industry representatives were told this practice was going to stop.
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