Her Excellency the Head of Sales - Mark Anthony Falzon
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Her Excellency the Head of Sales - Mark Anthony Falzon

From championing the poor at home to toasting the obscenely rich in Dubai

All smiles at a property expo in Dubai. Photo: DOI

All smiles at a property expo in Dubai. Photo: DOI

The other day I clicked on the wrong part of the screen and found myself reading the vacancies page of a big real estate company in Malta. They were looking for people who were hardworking, pleasant of manner, and “willing to get involved”. They would also have a good CV and clean driving licence, as well as their own transport.

The President of the Republic has all of these admirable characteristics. Which is why Her Excellency was in Dubai last week with Sandro Chetcuti and the rest of the national dust guild, selling flettsijiet. My first reaction was one of great joy. I thought the lot were about to wander in the desert for at least 40 years, and leave us all in peace.

My elation was short-lived, however. It turned out that they had return tickets after all, and that they were there to try to get wealthy people from the Gulf to buy property in Malta. Apart from the President, the delegation included government ministers, developers (among them people from the db Group), and various other luminaries.

As one does, and for comfort more than anything else, I e-mailed the online link to the news to a few close friends, none of who are usually linguistically challenged. This time, they were lost for words. What I got back were dots, sighs and slow-clap emoticons, and such. I know my editor expects more, so I’ll try.

For one, I’d be very interested to know how the President plans to reconcile the thrust of her trip to Dubai with her Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society. (Major headache for the next incumbent that do, but more on that some other time.) As the name suggests, the Foundation presents itself as a venue where things like poverty, inequality and injustice are discussed, and presumably addressed.

Most of the people who contribute to its work like to talk about things like the global south, the poor getting poorer, the rich getting richer, and so on. Some of them have done good work in their fields. I wonder what their thoughts are – and I’m hoping they won’t play the diplomatic card and keep them to themselves – as they watch their boss court the kind of people who are responsible for the very opposite of the wellbeing of society.

The point is not that the rich are evil or some such nonsense. It is not the generic rich I’m talking about here, but specifically the kind of squillionaire ‘investors’ in the Gulf and elsewhere who roam the world looking for ways to spend their money that do not include paying taxes.

The President seemed happy enough to parade the db Group in Dubai, but I’d really, really like to watch her tell the residents of Pembroke that it was all for their social well-being

Not one of the people who shook the President’s hand is interested in buying a flat in Malta because they want to write a book on the marine algae of the Mediterranean. Anyone with half a brain cell will know that their interests are elsewhere.

These, then, are the sort of people who routinely rob their national exchequers of stacks of tax money – money that might otherwise go for the wellbeing of society. And there’s more. I read somewhere that the db Group plan to turn their patch into a playground for millionaires. Nothing new there, because enclaves for the super-rich are a growing phenomenon of cities around the world, but especially in the global south.

These, and the economic thinking behind them, are exactly the kind of thing that the people who speak at the seminars held by the President’s Foundation rail against. They’re right, too, because tax avoidance (I’m being nice), enclaves and real estate speculation are to social well-being what deep-fried Mars bars are to dieting.

Take the latest. The President seemed happy enough to parade the db Group in Dubai, but I’d really, really like to watch her tell the residents of Pembroke that it was all for their social well-being. Given that insulting the Head of State is a serious offence, I suspect many of them would end up in prison for a very long time.

As would many of the rest of us if the President told us that the Sandro Chetcuti gang which she seems to get on with so well, was an asset to our well-being. The case is, in fact, rather the opposite. Some of us may be richer, but all of us have to live with the constant noise, dust and general chaos. I hadn’t realised that social wellbeing was about more money for some, no matter what.

Now I have a certain sympathy with the incumbents of the Office. I do realise that the Head of State has certain obligations they have to carry out, irrespective of their personal beliefs. It can’t be easy, and I respect the sense of duty involved.

Only this was not one of those obligations. Selling million-euro flettsijiet to global tax-dodging elites is, as far as I know, not among the Presidential duties prescribed by the Constitution. Protecting the general population from the depredations of those elites, on the other hand, is.

Little wonder, then, that many people are speechless. Here in Malta, the President is fond of championing the poor and the weak. She also loves to put on tragic faces at fundraising events that benefit some or other aspect of social well-being. Dubai is entirely a different matter of smiles all round, even if the two are more closely linked than she seems to realise.

mafalzon@hotmail.com

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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