Judging by the reactions of PL and PN to a report that one of MP David Thake’s companies hadn’t filed its audited accounts in over ten years, one would be forgiven for assuming they had everything in order themselves.
In reality, the PL’s media house ONE Productions hasn’t filed their accounts since 2009, while the PN’s counterpart Media.Link hasn’t filed theirs since 2003, before Malta even joined the EU.
This lack of transparency and accountability is one of the reasons Lovin Malta filed a court case that challenges the constitutionality of political broadcasting on political party media.
The result of a crowdfunding campaign by the online show Kaxxaturi, Lovin Malta’s case is asking the courts to declare as unconstitutional a proviso to the Broadcasting Act which allows the Broadcasting Authority to turn a blind eye to the Constitution’s demand for impartiality in TV news.
ONE and NET’s failure to file accounts for so many years means the public has no information on how much money they’re making or losing, how debt they’ve accumulating, and who their debtors and creditors are.
Back in 2010, the last time ONE filed its accounts, the company reported a loss of €507,479, with its total debt standing at €2,704,029. ONE’s auditors warned that the conditions cast “significant doubt” over its ability to continue, although it noted that its year-end loss had dropped by around €200,000 from the previous year.
In June 2020, Robert Abela pledged to address the issue, stating that the pandemic had occupied most of his time since his election as Prime Minister but acknowledging that this was no excuse.
It was a bizarre response, indicating that he may even view his party’s media company as a ‘special’ company that is free from the obligations other businesses must abide by.
The situation appears even more dire for the Nationalist Party’s media house Media.Link, which last published its accounts in 2003.
Back then, the company had recorded a loss of Lm146,753 (around €341,840) and a whopping debt of €8.4 million, with a total tax expense credit of Lm450,302 (approx. €1,048,900) by the end of the year.
The PN has at least been more transparent, with NET’s chief operations officer Karl Gouder telling Euronews last year that this delay in account publishing partially stemmed from a major restructuring in 2013 when the media house went bankrupt.
Neither media house has been fined by the MFSA for consistently failing to publish their accounts.
However, the parties’ reactions to the Thake controversy indicate they are ready to treat their missing accounts as an absolute priority.
Prime Minister Robert Abela denounced Thake as a “tax evader” while Opposition leader Bernard Grech stated that “these are the standards I believe in” after the MP suspended himself from the party’s parliamentary group pending an investigation by the Standards Commissioner
To refresh, MaltaToday reported on Sunday that Thake’s company MaltaShopper Ltd hasn’t filed any accounts but its annual returns with the Malta Business Registry since its incorporation in 2011, which is a heck of a long time.
They also reported that MaltaShopper Ltd has an outstanding VAT bill of €550,000, but Thake has clarified that this is all for income generated during the COVID-19 pandemic, which falls under a tax deferral scheme to help businesses with liquidity problems.
If Thake is telling the truth, it would be ludicrous to comprehend that he would be made to carry the can because his business had successfully applied for a government scheme intended to keep businesses on their feet during extremely rough waters, and far more mind-boggling that the Prime Minister himself would denounce it as tax evasion.
So the issue is late accounts then.
Upon suspending himself from the PN, Thake promised that his company will present its accounts by the end of the month.
If Abela is so concerned that Thake is evading tax and if Grech is so dedicated to higher standards, the least they can do is make similar promises for the companies their own parties run.
Do you think ONE and NET should file their accounts?