Register for SMS Alerts
or enter your details manually below...
First Name:
Last Name:
Sorry, we couldn't find that email.
Existing users
Sorry, we couldn't find those details.
Enter Email
Sorry, we couldn't find that email.

[WATCH] To be in politics is ‘to serve’ | Adrian Delia

PN leader aspirant Adrian Delia deflects suspicions surrounding his financial circumstances, and insists that his ‘new way’ will bring the party closer to its people 

Raphael Vassallo
24 August 2017, 7:00am
Adrian Delia
Adrian Delia

Adrian Delia from mediatoday on Vimeo.

Dr Delia, you recently reacted quite aggressively to press reports concerning your assets, business interests and liabilities: claiming that MaltaToday ‘attacked Simon Busuttil’, and asking the public to ‘condemn’ this attack. You then took issue with the fact that you were exposed as a shareholder in a company that has a banking debt of €7.2 million. Why did you not make a full disclosure of these assets and liabilities before they were revealed?

I don’t think I reacted aggressively at all. No one asked me a question I didn’t answer. Indeed, with Saviour Balzan on Xtra – on TV, so people saw exactly how I reacted – I disclosed all my properties and holdings. I have no difficulty doing this at all. Let’s start with the premise: this is a race, a contest, to elect a party leader. The party is structured, and has a statute which is very clear. The statute does not require that a declaration of assets and liabilities is done before the election, or is submitted with the application. It doesn’t say it. Those are the rules...

But that’s not really the premise...

...if you’ll allow me:  when I was in the footballing world, I was the first to suggest that anybody entering any post of responsibility should not only conduct due diligence... but if it is a high-ranking post, it should be an enhanced due diligence process.  And indeed, that suggestion of mine led to a situation whereby today, in the football association, this is done. The Nationalist Party could have adopted this stance; it could have put it in a simple regulation to say that, before submitting the nomination, there is a pre-application stage where you submit to due diligence proceedings. The party should actually go through it, make sure it’s happy with it, then submit the list to its electorate: the counsellors, then the card-holding members...

You’re arguing as if the only reason to make a full declaration of assets is because the party statute compels you to do so. Yet you yourself saw the importance of due diligence in the football world. Why don’t you see it in politics, too?

But I do see it. It’s very clear. In the footballing world, I saw the need, and I suggested it... and after a couple of seasons, the suggestion was taken on board. I am making the same suggestion now.

Why did you not act on your own suggestion, then? Instead, you made it sound as if the press had no business to be asking questions about your financial circumstances.

No, no. When a specific question was asked, I answered immediately on TV. Would you like to ask me the question again?

What are your assets and liabilities?

I have my house in Main Street, Siggiewi. Nothing to hide, it’s there.  I live in it with my family. I have a couple of rooms with some fields in Siggiewi, limits of Rabat. They’ve been there for a couple of years. I also have – and I’ve already said this multiple times – a 40% shareholding in a small company called Carnaby: we import wines and sell them. I’ve already said I have a 9% share in Mgarr Developments Ltd: which has one development in Gozo...

And also a debt of €7.2 million...

We’ll come to everything in due course. Then I also have my partnership in the law firm, and its related companies. And I’ve already said, multiple times, that I will be selling off everything. And this wasn’t given much importance...

It was reported...

But it wasn’t a headline. It also wasn’t a headline that I said that it is important to see what somebody brings into politics – and, most important of all, that after exiting politics, we ascertain that politicians wouldn’t have profited illegally or illicitly out of their political stature. So if I enter politics with an asset-base of ‘100’... when I leave, it’s important that I wouldn’t have exited with an asset-base of ‘one million’. Illicitly. That’s the most important thing. I also said I do not have any companies abroad; overseas accounts; nominee-ships abroad; I don’t have people fronting me abroad. I said this...

You also said you would have no problem making a declaration of assets once (or if) you are elected. Isn’t that another way of saying, at the time, that full disclosure might have harmed your chances in the election?

But I am making full disclosure right now, with you... and you’re still telling that I don’t want to make it.

My question was about how you reacted to the original story. It was a reaction of outrage...

When I reacted to that, I wasn’t bothered about being asked about my assets. I was bothered that you put into play a relative of Simon Busuttil... who had nothing to do with my assets.

The person referred to was Eucharist Bajada, who is your business partner...

He isn’t. Why don’t you want the truth? If you hold a 1% share as a lawyer – from 24 years ago, when there was a requirement that you couldn’t have one shareholder, there had to be at least two – all lawyers who set up companies (or most of them) used to give a service that they hold one share. 1%. That doesn’t make him a ‘business partner’. It’s a service that lawyers used to provide. Why does the press insist? Do you want to know the truth? I have a 1% share, from 24 years ago, in a company that I never made a cent from. I never took any dividend... because it was a service provided as a lawyer at the time.

You can argue that the connection made in that article may have been exaggerated... but not that it doesn’t exist. 

What is my connection?

You said so yourself: a 1% shareholding going back 24 years...

Not with her [Simon’s sister]...

No, with Eucharist Bajada, her ex-husband. The reference to Simon’s relative wasn’t even given much importance... 

It made it sound as if the interest is not in who I am or what I have to offer, but in trying to concoct a story which has nothing to do with me or Simon Busuttil. [When I entered politics] I was prepared to be as transparent as this [glass] table. I expect to be scrutinised about everything pertinent to me. But not about somebody who has nothing to do with me at all...

The interest was also to know more about your business links. And not without reason. There is a public perception that politics tends to attract people with extensive business interests, precisely because political stature can ‘service’ the business side of things. Do you agree with the existence of this perception, at least?

No, I don’t. I think the perception existed that there were people who used politics to achieve something. With me, it was a case of someone new to politics... so it certainly wasn’t to achieve anything. A second perception, which tried to be created, is that I have amassed and accumulated wealth. Suddenly, that changed to ‘I have indebted myself and my family with massive debt’. So I don’t know which of these perceptions is true.

As a matter of fact, neither is. I’m a normal person who has lived my life in privacy, as a private person; not coming from a wealthy family; and everything I have, I have [achieved] on my own, with the help of the education given to me by my parents, and by a Nationalist government which fought for free education and open university doors. I have purchased property, and I have sold property. I have built a firm; I have worked, earned money – legally. I have invested in a company, and that company is still there. It has properties which it has sold; and properties which remain.

That company – not me – has €7 million in debt. But it also has much more in assets which are its business to sell. In a few months, that debt will be reduced substantially. And the remaining portfolio is more than enough to satisfy that debt.  I’m not worried at all... I am only a 9% shareholder.  And the company has enough assets to sell the properties and satisfy the debt. Not properties which have been held or grabbed by the bank because it is in distress. But because it’s a development company. It built apartments... and they are there. [...] With each apartment that is sold, part of the debt will be settled. This is a story that has been concocted by somebody in the media who wants to create a story. Maybe because it’s August...

Is it true that you cannot relinquish the 9% shareholding until all the debt has been cleared?

Absolutely not true. As in any other agreement with the bank, when you sell off an asset or reduce what the bank has in guarantee or collateral, you need the consent of the bank. In this case, the bank has not been asked yet. I am working actively to dispose of this [shareholding], and I will be attempting – and I think will achieve – a sale for those 9%. If you try to do this hurriedly, as in a forced sale... you will lose money. I was negotiating with interested parties, and obviously biding my time to get the best possible price. Nothing illegal. Is that wrong? No. There is nothing untoward there at all. The bank will be asked, if need be, whether we need consent or not. It could be that we don’t need it.  Because there is no property of mine, personally, which is hypothecated with the bank. So the bank, at most, will be asked to waive my general hypothec. Period. This is normal business, it happens every day.

In business, perhaps, but the context here is politics. Originally, you said you would make a full disclosure – like you’re doing now – only when elected.  Why are you so surprised that this would raise suspicions?

Suspicion has been raised, yes. Someone had the intention to raise it before. The party counsellors are asking the question now.  No problem. I’ll make the full disclosure before. In fact, I’ve done it already...

Moving on to your ideas and beliefs. You have said you want to instil a ‘new way of doing politics’ within the PN. Can you give any concrete examples of what you change?

Name your sector, and I’ll answer.

Let’s start with electioneering. As leader of the Opposition, how would you approach an election campaign against Labour in the current political landscape?

Perfect question for me. Elections are not just ‘against the Labour Party’. Elections are there to show that a party does not have a right to be [in government]... because that presumes arrogance. A party has to earn – in the most humble of manners, but also through inspiration – the vote of whom they need to represent. Sadly, I think in the last years the PN in government did very well for Malta... but in so doing, sometimes it neglected its own people. There is a difference between the country doing well... that sectors are being created... and that your own people feeling that they’re being abandoned. [...] I believe that a politician is there to serve. This has been said over and over again. In Maltese, the word sometimes creates a bit of a dichotomy. ‘Taqdi’. If you wish to corrupt the sense of that word, ‘taqdi’ means preferential treatment, discrimination, untoward favours, and all that. However, in its clear understanding, the word means ‘to serve’: to be there for others.

None of this is really ‘new’, though, is it?

No, it’s not.  But the way it is being executed, to my mind, is. I have been hearing over and over from Nationalist members that they feel abandoned; that they’re not being listened to. Their proposals are being ignored. So the ‘new way’ is to actually be with your people: to listen to them. To construct political proposals, not from the top downwards, but from the bottom up. The Nationalist Party has a structure, which is quite networked and sophisticated, of sections in every locality. So by actually sitting down with your people – and I’m informed that, sadly, politicians very often don’t sit down with their own local sections – to understand what society is. Let’s start by understanding that society has changed. Maybe the PN, when it was very busy in government, did not stop to reflect [on those changes]. We’re not looking at society anymore. [...] So the new way in opposition is not to criticise only: but to actually be effective, to improve people’s lives even from the opposition.

The question becomes how to achieve that in practice.

Can I give a practical example? This is just one of loads of ideas I’m coming up with: the creation of a ‘business clinic’. A clinic, not a hospital. A political party in opposition doesn’t have the resources to be a hospital... you need to be in government to do that. A hospital cures... hopefully. A clinic gives first aid. So small businesses and the self-employed can come to the party – to the actual headquarters of the party – and there they’ll find help to structure their business. Advice to access structures of financing and banking, which today is very complicated...

But that sounds like a job offered by a financial consultancy firm, not a political party...

Sometimes – and this comes from my experience as a business advisor – there are hurdles which would be considered normal for bigger businesses, which have their own in-house expertise. But for small businesses, they are hurdles which can simply never be overcome. It’s too expensive for them to even access funding from banks. Today, with EU rules and regulations, it’s become next to impossible to prepare an application, for example. Now: will this be in competition with professionals? No... we will rope in professionals. Rather than donating money, professionals would give hours for small businesses to have access to them... and that’s a win-win situation.

One potential pitfall is that the idea seems to concretise the perception I mentioned earlier, of political parties being deeply intertwined with the business sector. You’d have businesses depending directly on the PN for help...

Absolutely not. I said ‘professionals’, not business people. We will be getting accountants, auditors, tax advisors, consultants, financial comptrollers, to the table, to donate their hours so that small businesses and entrepreneurs can find help to overcome hurdles that are impeding them from actually doing their business.

But that would create an automatic obligation on the part of those small businesses that got help from the party for free. If they go on to become successful, wouldn’t they feel indebted to the party that helped them?

No, absolutely not. You are suggesting that a government which is actually legislating for a country should not legislate, because it is doing that for a number of people...

That’s not at all what I suggested. We were talking about political parties in opposition...

But it’s the same thing. If you bring up an idea to help self-employed small businesses in the hurdles of everyday life, you are showing that, as a party, you can have an effect of the lives of people even in opposition. When we are elected, the ‘clinic’ becomes a ‘hospital’: in government, we can do so much more. We will take those little ideas and projects, and make them mainstream. We will develop and build on those ideas, develop them, and actually make them accessible to all. What’s wrong with that?

It sounds like a very clientelistic approach to me. It would make private businesses dependent on having a particular party in government...  

No. It goes back to the definition of politics. Politicians are there to serve... to help... to give a voice to the people. To improve their lives. If you are in politics to serve, and you start serving from the opposition... there is nothing wrong with that.

enter to win