The PN’s financial woes

Bernard Grech could prove to be a veritable safe pair of hands – and a godsend if he manages to restructure the PN’s financial arm

Bernard Grech said the PN lacks the cash needed to run the campaigns for the European Parliament and local council elections
Bernard Grech said the PN lacks the cash needed to run the campaigns for the European Parliament and local council elections

During his speech at the PN General Council that opened the party’s leadership election process, last Sunday, Bernard Grech did a first by revealing the extent of the Nationalist Party’s financial woes. According to what he said, the party’s debt has run up to some €32 million and its media arm is unable to make a profit. Moreover, the PN lacks the cash needed to run the campaigns for the European Parliament and local council elections.

He referred to this pitiful financial situation to imply that the PN’s problems are more of a managerial type than political, by putting it this way: “How can we promise to better manage public funds if we can’t manage our finances better? How can we attract talent if people don’t believe in our capacity to implement things?” 

This is nothing short of using the party’s financial woes to cover up for its political shortcomings. He is even preparing PN supporters for the coming defeats in the local councils and European Parliament elections, by shifting responsibility on to his predecessors.

The way he put it, there is nothing wrong with the PN’s political stances and the problems lie with its financial shortcomings. This is misleading.

In one fell swoop, Bernard Grech switched the public discussion on the PN from its political shortcomings to its financial and management problems. After that speech, the PN’s financial woes came to the fore in the public debate on the fate of the PN. The discussion on how the PN is being abandoned, slowly, slowly, by its own supporters faded into thin air to be replaced by the debate on the PN’s financial situation.

I do not know whether Bernard Grech did this on purpose. If he did so purposely, this was a brilliant move. He also attempted to shift the responsibility of the PN’s staggering loss in last month’s election on to those who burdened the party with such a huge debt before he was appointed leader.

The PN’s finances were never a strong aspect of the party’s organisation. The decision taken during the days of Joe Saliba to rebuild the PN’s headquarters in Pietà was probably the move that exarcerbated the precipitous downfall of the PN’s financial standing.

So there you have it: while the PN was boasting of Lawrence Gonzi’s safe pair of hands in running the government, the management of the internal PN organisation and assets went awry. PN party leaders tend to leave internal party matters in the hands of the general secretary when they are Prime Ministers; and financial prudence in governement is not necessarily reflected by financial prudence in the running of the party.

The present financial woes of the PN are the result of this schizophrenic arrangement, somewhat dictated as it is by democrtaic principles and the rule of law.

One perturbing aspect is the situation of Communications - a limited liability company owned by the Nationalist Party and whose main operations include NET Television, Radio 101, and the In-Nazzjon and Il-Mument newspapers. It is illegal for a limited liability company to keep operating if it is technically bankrupt and Bernard Grech’s reference to this company seemed to imply as much. This situation could put the PN in legal hot waters.

The situation calls for courageous steps that would restructure the whole financial aspect of the PN organisation itself. Leaving things as they are, while relying on the occasional injections of funds derived from public collections in what are called marathon events, cannot stop the rot.

Bernard Grech could prove to be a veritable safe pair of hands – and a godsend if he manages to restructure the PN’s financial arm.

The political debate will continue notwithstanding, but at least, the very survival of the PN would not be threatened.

No to Nato membership 

I do not usually comment on what other columnists write, but I cannot ignore Kristina Chetcuti’s article in The Sunday Times last week. 

Chetcuti – or whoever suggested the article to her – decided that it is a good idea were Malta to join Nato! Nato was a dying organisation before Putin’s onslaught of Ukraine made it become suddenly important for European security. Finland and Sweden, two neutral EU states are currently seriously considering joining NATO for obvious reasons – their border with Putin’s Russia. I hardly think that this logic applies to Malta’s situation.

In 1964 when Malta became an independent sovereign state, Prime Minister George Borg Olivier was rebuffed when he sought membership of Nato. Observers at the time said that the French suspected that with this move Britain would have an ‘extra vote’ on the Nato table. Others say that this was not the only motivation behind the blunt refusal. 

When Dom Mintoff won the 1971 election, his aim was to get as much money he could from Britain and Nato for a seven-year period after which Malta would no longer serve as a military base and declare neutrality.

Eventually the PN came round to the neutrality idea and this was even introduced in the Constitution. But that’s another story.

With the fall of the Soviet Union, Nato actually lost its purpose and at a certain point, even Trump hinted at the US abandoning Nato. In the meantime, the military alliance kept on existing while expanding to the east, something that irked Putin no end.

The war in Ukraine has resuscitated Nato – as far as the border with Russia is concerned.

The situation in the Mediterranean is completely different and there is no real justification for Malta to even think of the possibility of joining Nato.

Chetcuti’s suggestion is neither logical nor sensible. 

Our EU membership is safeguard enough – more so when the idea of a European army is being seriously considered. 

French president Emmanuel Macron and former German Chancellor Angela Merkel have both expressed their support for a joint European army. Macron endorsed the idea in 2018, after the US withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and in the light of Donald Trump‘s scepticism of Atlanticism. 

Other European politicians who have expressed support include former French prime minister Alain Juppé, former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, former Czech prime ministers Miloš Zeman and Bohuslav Sobotka, and the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. 

A European army is even on the official programme of the European People’s Party