An industrial travesty

In the case of the mess made by Malta Enterprise and INDIS Malta, Minister Silvio Schembri is politically responsible. Up to the time of writing, he did not resign

The furniture industry in Malta took a turn for the worse when Malta joined the EU
The furniture industry in Malta took a turn for the worse when Malta joined the EU

On Monday 19 February, the Prime Minister visited the Trelleborg factory in Hal Far. In a reported short speech, he welcomed plans that the company has for the purchase of more efficient and cleaner equipment, following an expansion of the company’s Hal Far factory – a move aided by Malta Enterprise and INDIS Malta.

Trelleborg – a manufacturer of advanced sealing solutions, producing high volume O-Ring and engineered moulded parts – has been in Malta for over 60 years.

Robert Abela observed that the manufacturing sector is continuing to diversify and create new career opportunities.

Nine days later, on Wednesday 28 February, the Prime Minister received and published the public inquiry report into the Corradino construction site death of Jean Paul Sofia, a report that runs for almost 500 pages.

More than 40 of those are focused on recommendations of how the government should revamp construction-related rules and processes, as well as procedures related to the allocation of public land to private investors for industry.

Besides delivering an unflattering indictment of the construction industry and on how it is ‘monitored’ by various state agencies, the report also delved on the way the state owned site was allocated to a company with a bogus industrial proposal to develop it, ostensibly, by building a plant where furniture was to be manufactured.

In the words of the same report: ‘The board is not convinced that a robust, efficient and transparent procedure was followed – in line with good practice and good governance – when determining if AllPlus Limited deserved being given the site. In fact, with all due respect, the superficial way in which the inspection was carried out to take that decision raised more questions than it answered.’

Surely the Prime Minister’s words on the importance of industrial activity in Malta when visiting Trelleborg two weeks before, contrasts powerfully with the way the state entities responsible – Malta Enterprise and INDIS Malta – decided to approve a bogus project thought up by two amatuers, or whoever was advising them.

Which is the real Prime Minister? The one who two weeks ago spoke about serious industrial activity in Malta? Or the one who resisted for so long the establishment of a public inquiry about the death of Jean Paul Sofia and about the way the site where he died was ‘donated’ as a subsidy for a bogus proposal that had no hope of succeeding as an industrial development?

The furniture industry in Malta took a turn for the worse when Malta joined the EU. Furniture in nearby Sicily cost a fraction of what furniture used to cost in Malta. Even the two foremost well-organised Maltese furniture manufacturers – Joinwell and F X Borg – decided to co-operate rather than compete in the current situation. To propose a furniture factory of a much lower scale is sheer madness. It is an industrial travesty.

For Mata Enterpise and INDIS Malta to accept this proposal and decide to subsidise a furniture ‘factory’ that had less hope of succeeding than Dom Mintoff’s Chinese aided industries is insane. Unless... unless the aim was just to obtain an industrial warehouse at a fraction of the cost that other Maltese businessmen pay for such facilities – creating an incredible uneven playing field to the benefit of two amatuer and imprudent Labour Party bażużli (cronies)!

The Prime Minister said that he expected the individuals who were responsible for the failings that led to the construction site death of Jean Paul Sofia to ‘shoulder responsibility’ and resign. Without mentioning names, he referred to one chairperson, two CEOs and one employee that were singled out for criticism by the board of inquiry, along with a number of other individuals who no longer occupy public sector roles.

An unusual spate of resignations followed the Prime Minister’s words.

What about political responsibility? The public inquiry did not delve into the issue of the political responsibility for this mess. It does not mean that such responsibility does not exist.

The PN overreacted by calling for the resignation of the Prime Minister and of three ministers. I do not expect this to happen, but surely someone in Cabinet should bear the brunt of this mess.

In the case of the mess made by Malta Enterprise and INDIS Malta, Minister Silvio Schembri is politically responsible. Up to the time of writing, he did not resign.

Nor am I expecting him to do so.

Labour ministers close their eyes to the appeasement of Labour supporters in the way that happened in this case; or even support it and encourage it behind the scenes. This irresponsible behaviour is even accepted by the majority of voters, even though logic says that the only way left is for the voters to take matters in their hands.

But this will not happen.

Real investment in industry

On the 23 February – a week ago – the Prime Minister said that through investment in educational institutions, Malta can be at the forefront of research and innovation, as he inaugurated the research and innovation laboratories which form part of the TRAKE (Transdisciplinary Research and Knowledge Exchange) complex at the University.

These laboratories are aimed for use within the field of engineering and are part of the first building at the University which is dedicated to research. The laboratories will welcome students who are studying at Masters and Doctorate levels and will carry out research related to artificial intelligence, manufacturing engineering, as well as automation and robotic engineering for land, sea, and aerospace vehicles. This investment cost €39 million in both public and European funds.

In a short speech at the University, Abela also referred to the visit he had made earlier to the Trelleborg factory, saying that there are many companies in the country which are thriving with innovation and offer quality products which end up in widespread use on a daily basis, such as parts used in cars and mobile phones, medicine, and other products. Abela knows what is the right direction for the industrial sector. Yet his leadership is weak because he does not punish any Cabinet member who is politically – and sometimes personally – reponsible for crazy handouts that only satisfy the unjustified pretensions of some Labour voters.

What a sad situation.