UPDATED: ‘No action has been taken’ against Film Commissioner

Updated to include support statement from the Chamber of SMEs

A judicial protest was filed on Monday by the Malta Producers Association against Johann Grech in his personal capacity as well as his official capacity as Film Commissioner, arguing that despite revelations that Grech was “abusively promoting” a select group of service providers to international film producers, no action was taken.

The Shift published the list of select companies that the Malta Film Commission was sending out to foreign film producers, which shows seven companies out of a list of 22 companies in 2018.

Foreign film companies are required to engage a locally registered production company when filming in Malta. They are eligible to receive a government rebate when filming in Malta only if they use the Malta Film Commission’s official directory.

“Labour costs relating to local crew and trainees will only be eligible if the qualifying company ensures that the recruitment of crew members and trainees in Malta is conducted from the MFC’s official directory,” according to MFC guidelines, explained in a public document called Financial Incentives for the Audiovisual Industry: Cash Rebate Guidelines.

If international companies are not provided with a list of all service providers in Malta, their choice is limited to those on the list the Malta Film Commission is sending them. The list used to be online – the directory listing all the companies was public. But this was inexplicably removed, forcing foreign producers to request the list from the Commission.

The MPA has said the Film Commissioner’s actions were “a blatant violation of the rights of all producers to be given an equal opportunity to work”. The association demanded his resignation and requested a meeting with Tourism Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli.

“The MPA once again appeals to those in power to do their job, to stop the malpractice, to remove Grech without delay and to launch an immediate and comprehensive independent investigation,” the association said in a statement.

“Despite the shocking news revealed last Monday by The Shift News that the Film Commission has been caught abusively promoting a select group of service providers to international film producers, no action has yet been taken,” the association added.

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A meeting has been set up next week with the Tourism Minister responsible for the film industry who “responded promptly”. The association said it wanted to discuss how to ensure this kind of wrongdoing could be prevented in future.

Yet the association said it remained extremely concerned that the Film Commissioner remained in office. “Evidently any meaningful investigation cannot take place until he is removed, and every day that passes is another day when corruption goes unchecked and impunity continues to reign.”

The MPA insisted that now was the time to restore a level playing field and reassure the local and international film community that this abuse of position would not be tolerated under this administration.

Support from Chamber of SMEs

The Chamber of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (formerly GRTU) issued a statement supporting the action of the MPA, saying that zero tolerance to corruption was the only acceptable stance.

“As an SME Chamber, we expect our politicians to have learnt their lesson on how to deal with corruption. Zero tolerance is the only acceptable stance. The more time passes the more cases of businesses that have suffered discrimination, unfair treatment and driven out of business at the hands of those that misuse their position and power are surfacing,” the Chamber said.

It insisted that “corruption was bad for business” because only the elite few can gain and the rest suffer the losses. The tools made available by the State were there to support the local industry, the Chamber insisted.

“It is unacceptable and highly deplorable that they are used for individuals and entities to take advantage of the situation and undermine others. The Malta Chamber of SMEs calls on Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli to take the matter seriously and take immediate measures necessary to stop the harm being done to the industry, which is dependent on foreign investment.”

Safeguarding Malta’s reputation was a priority, the Chamber said, stressing that Malta was at a very delicate juncture.

“The messages we can send out are two: Either our politicians have zero tolerance for corruption or that they are weak and unable to tackle it as necessary.”

                           
                               
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