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Shades of blue Finding direction in fluidity NEWSPAPER POST GOLD COLLABORATING PARTNERS





food trends




UNDERSTANDING THE COUNCIL PRESIDENCY Martina Said discusses the role, scope and goals of the Maltese Presidency in the context of the EU.

68 INTERVIEW TURNING A CULTURAL CORNER V18 Foundation Chairman Jason Micallef talks Jo Caruana through the planned programme of events and legacy projects to come.

19 INTERVIEW MAINTAINING MOMENTUM Malta Chamber Deputy President Frank Farrugia talks about the country’s economic outlook, business sentiment for 2017 and the delicate situation of Maltese companies in Libya with Martina Said.

29 IN FIGURES MALTA’S PRESIDENCY OF THE EU COUNCIL… IN NUMBERS A look into the figures related to Malta’s EU Presidency.

31 INTERVIEW A BUBBLE ABOUT TO BURST OR REAL, SUSTAINABLE GROWTH? Do the record-breaking numbers relating to the local property market reflect reality, or is it a bubble, waiting to burst? Sarah Micallef learns more.


style review



Sarah Micallef discusses the concept, design and vision behind two new local hotspots – Emma’s Kitchen and Fat Louie’s – with their dedicated owners.





Marie-Claire Grima takes a look at the top 10 factors which are likely to influence business this year.


Up-and-coming artist Annabel Zammit speaks to Martina Said about taking a leap of faith, facing her fears through art, and why shades of blue take centre stage in her work.

stablished in 1947, The Commercial Courier is the official magazine of the The Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry. It is the leading business magazine, having one of the best distribution channels in the sector. The publication is distributed for free to the members of the The Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry. It is also distributed with The Malta Business Weekly as well as delivered to leading business people on the island.

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Articles appearing in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of The Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry.


All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission of the publishers is strictly prohibited.


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ON THE COVER Painting by Annabel Zammit

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CC Editorial

European single market, investment and Brexit characterise high level talks with PM On 30th January, the Malta Chamber hosted President of BUSINESSEUROPE Emma Marcegalia and President of the Confederation of Britsih Industry (CBI) Paul Drechsler as it brokered a series of meetings between the business representative bodies and Prime Minister Joseph Muscat on their expectations from the Maltese Presidency of the EU, and the future of EU-UK trade relations in the context of Brexit.


he brokering of these meetings was the result of the excellent relations that the Malta Chamber enjoys with the UK’s Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and the pan-European mother organisation BUSINESSEUROPE, of which Malta Chamber President Anton Borg is currently Vice President. During her meeting with the Prime Minister, Ms Marcegalia on behalf of BUSINESSEUROPE argued in favour of the advancement and protection of the single market. Describing it as the greatest EU instrument to create growth, jobs and business opportunities, the single market must be protected in a moment when countries are exhibiting tendencies of resorting to protectionist practices. Ms Marcegaglia also promoted the creation of a True Digital single market which would foster a positive transatlantic digital economy with the new US administration. “The EU needs to grasp the opportunities and values that digitalisation can create, as well as solve existing issues, starting from incentivising investment in digital


infrastructure and ensuring the free flow of data,” she said. BUSINESSEUROPE also urged the Prime Minister to press ahead with work on investment. “The Maltese Presidency must ensure a swift conclusion of the negotiations with the European Parliament on extending the European Fund for Strategic Investment, which should remain a market-based instrument.” Schengen and the management of refugee and migration flows were also on the agenda of the meeting. BUSINESSEUROPE said that the objective must be to manage the refugee flows, protect Europe’s external borders, reduce illegal migration and safeguard the integrity of the Schengen area. Ms Marcegaglia, who was accompanied by BUSINESSEUROPE Director General Markus Beyrer, also argued in favour of supporting European industry, which is fundamental for strong economic activity across all sectors. At this time, more than ever, the European Union must engage in a structured dialogue that brings coherence into industry-related initiatives and which assesses the strengths

and weaknesses of EU governance on industrial competitiveness. On an international level, BUSINESSEUROPE urged the Maltese Prime Minister to press ahead with ongoing free trade negotiations. “Concluding an ambitious agreement with Japan will send a clear signal to the new US administration that the EU remains committed to the transatlantic partnership,” Ms Marcegalia said. In a separate meeting, CBI President Paul Drechsler spoke to the Prime Minister on the expectations of the UK’s industry in the context of Brexit. The United Kingdom is expected to invoke Article 50, thus officially commencing the process to exit the European Union during Malta’s Presidency period. The same subject was further explored in the afternoon, as Mr Drechsler together with Dr Muscat were the key speakers in a seminar organised by the Malta Chamber at the Exchange Buildings on the future of trade relations between the EU and the UK post-Brexit, titled What Brexit means for Business. 07

CC Editorial The Prime Minister was unequivocal in his message: “It is in the interest of both parties to quickly come to a fair agreement. Though there will be new challenges for business, there will also be new opportunities, if we act in a correct and constructive manner. I want to make sure we focus on citizens’ needs and what affects them in their daily lives. Tackling these issues will help create much needed trust in the institutions. The social aspect is the essence of the EU if the Union wants to remain relevant,” Prime Minister Muscat said. Mr Drechsler said that Brexit was not the result the business community wanted, but one it will have to adapt to, in order to transform this challenge into an opportunity. “At CBI we are not under any illusions. Negotiations will be challenging. Our number one priority in the months and years ahead is to make sure that firms across Europe can keep trading freely with the UK and vice-versa,” he said. Turning to Malta, Mr Drechsler said that openness had underpinned trade relations between the two countries for centuries. He stressed that this value was not to be taken for granted. Providing a European context to the debate, EESC Employers’ Group Vice President Stefano Mallia said that the four fundamental freedoms of the single market were inseparable and cannot be cherry-picked. “If we don’t take Brexit as the

ultimate wake-up call, then we (the EU) do not deserve to exist any longer,” Mr Mallia said. These meetings and the well-attended event highlighted the central role the Chamber has taken for Malta’s Presidency of the EU. As the country is currently taking a central role as broker between parties in the realm of politics, similarly the Chamber is acting proactively and using its position in a variety of fora to act as broker in the realm of business and economic growth. cc

“It is in the interest of both parties to quickly come to a fair agreement. Though there will be new challenges for business, there will also be new opportunities, if we act in a correct and constructive manner.” – Prime Minister Joseph Muscat addressing What Brexit means for Business seminar organised by the Malta Chamber


Understanding the Council Presidency As the EU continues to experience some of the most trying times since its inception, there’s no dampening the enthusiasm and ambition of the team in charge of making Malta’s Presidency of the Council of the EU one that matters. Martina Said discusses the role, scope and goals of the Maltese Presidency in the context of the EU.


n a national level, the new year got off to a very big start, with 1st January marking the historic moment that Malta, the smallest EU member state, took the torch to continue the last leg of this Council Presidency round for the first time. It is without doubt one of the greatest responsibilities the country has ever taken on, and far from being a one-off event that the country works towards for months on end, the Presidency is a sixmonth responsibility, shared with another two member states that each take on the Presidency for a six-month duration to form a Trio. Malta shares and ends this 18-month round with its Trio Partners, the Netherlands and Slovakia. Together, the three member states drafted a joint programme with a set of priorities, topics and issues which were to be addressed over the forthcoming year and a half. The country holding the Presidency also gives additional importance to its own detailed national programme. With unprecedented waves of migration adding pressure to Mediterranean countries; global unrest, especially in Middle Eastern countries that are so close to home; economic stagnation in some member states leading to an evergrowing divide between people in power and ordinary citizens; as well as the looming shadow of Brexit and all of its yet-unknown implications, it is no easy time to be in the driving seat of an EU institution. FEBRUARY / MARCH 2017

That said, Malta is determined to close the Trio programme on the right note by addressing challenges of our time and of relevance to national and Europe-wide interests. At the EU Summit held in Valletta on 3rd February, migration took centre stage, particularly plans to stem the flow of migrants from Libya. The European Commission stated it will release an additional €200 million for use on migrationrelated projects linked to Libya, with the heart of the plan being to prevent migrants from making the dangerous crossing to a Mediterranean country. The plan also aims to disrupt criminal networks that traffic migrants within Libya.

Photo by Jurgen Scicluna ©

Making sense of the scope and meaning of the Presidency of the Council of the European Union is better understood within the context of the EU at large. What is the EU? What does it stand for and what are its functions? Here are some definitions. Defining roles Whichever side of the fence you’re on, be it in favour or against the whole notion of the European Union, it’s fair to say that the monolith that is the EU is a strangely unique structure. Unlike the United States of America, it is not a federal state and its member countries remain independent nations.


CC COVER STORY It is also unlike the United Nations in that it is not a purely inter-governmental organisation. The member states do pool some of their sovereignty and in doing so, they have greater collective strength and influence than that which they would have alone. But they also concede some of their autonomous decisionmaking power. The EU operates through a hybrid system of supranational (where power is delegated to an authority by member states) and intergovernmental (a term referring to regional integration) decision-making. There are seven principal decision-making bodies, known as the institutions of the European Union: the European Council, the Council of the EU, the European Parliament, the European Commission, the Court of Justice of the EU, the European Central Bank and the European Court of Auditors. European Council, Council of the European Union and Council of Europe – what’s in a name right? A lot, actually, as these three similar-sounding entities are different and separate from one another. The European Council is an EU institution that consists of the heads of government of the EU member states, the European Commission President and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. It’s basically an established summit meeting that discusses general political strategies. The Council of the European Union is also an EU institution that brings together ministers of the EU member states who discuss and prepare EU legislation. Together with the European Parliament, it’s the main legislative body. And then there’s the Council of Europe, which is an international organisation separate to and outside of the EU that focuses on democracy, human rights and cultural exchange.

“Reunion is the main theme of Malta’s Presidency, which has as its goal the long-term sustainability of the Union and restoring belief in the European project. The European Union will remain credible and become a positive and relevant force in citizens’ lives if they feel that European Added Value is translated into Citizen Added Value. At this defining moment, there is need for the right leadership that has a sense of vision and in-built flexibility as well as closer relations, both between member states themselves and also between the Union and the citizens. This will enable the European Union to adapt, change and evolve to forge a strong, dynamic and vibrant Europe which offers a secure and viable future for us and for future generations.” Louis Grech, Deputy Prime Minister “The political significance for Malta is huge. I have never viewed Malta as a small country – while our geographic realities are what they are, we have never had a sense of inferiority and have always managed to defy the doomsday scenarios and live up to all our responsibilities as an EU state. Now it is our responsibility to leave our mark in the Presidency chair and I hope we do so. Precisely because the Presidency is such a crowning moment, it is so unfortunate that we entered into the process with the Panama Papers scandal engulfing those at the highest rungs of this administration. We have worked too hard to allow unscrupulous individuals to cast a shadow over our country when the spotlight is directly on us.” Dr Roberta Metsola, MEP




“For us, the first Presidency of Malta will be an historic event that celebrates the foresight, courage and patience of the politicians who, since even before independence, and especially after 1990 – the date we applied to join the EU – believed in joining the EU, who applied to join and who succeeded to bring a majority of the Maltese population to vote for joining. The improvement in Maltese standards and quality of life that joining the EU in 2004 has given us cannot be ignored. This moment of leading the Union for six months is our right, like that of all the other member states whatever their size or clout.” – Dr John Vassallo, MBB President

It is best known for the European Convention on Human Rights and has its own institutions, including a Committee of Ministers and a Parliamentary Assembly, as well as the European Court of Human Rights. It has 47 member states, including Russia and Turkey. Despite these, the three main institutions of the EU are the European Parliament, the Council of the EU as previously mentioned, and the European Commission. The European Parliament (EP) is the principle democratic component of the EU, composed of members directly elected by Europeans. Together with the Council, the EP is responsible for assessing, amending and passing EU legislation, as well as setting the EU’s annual budget based on proposals from the European Commission. The Council of the EU, often referred to as the Council of Ministers, represents the governments of EU countries and is composed of national ministers. Together with the EP, with which agreement must

be found, the Council examines, amends and passes EU legislation proposed by the Commission. It has greater control than Parliament over intergovernmental areas of the EU, such as foreign policy. It is this institution that member states handle the Presidency of. The European Commission (EC) is the executive arm of the Union, responsible for drafting all laws of the EU as well as proposing new bills. It also deals with the day-to-day implementation of EU policy. The Commission is composed of one Commissioner from each EU country, each holding a specific policy portfolio, and is led by a President, currently Jean-Claude Juncker. Malta and the EU Malta’s link to the EU goes back as far as 1970, which is when the foundations of the relationship were laid, upon the signing of an Association Agreement in the same year.

“The Maltese Presidency will steer the European Union into the coming months. However, these months will not be easy ones, and Malta can expect to weather the storm of a turbulent phase in Europe’s life. Between the upcoming Brexit negotiations, an ongoing and growing migration crisis and a precarious internal security situation, it has never been more important for Europe to have a clear roadmap ahead, guided by a strong European leadership – and this is the task at hand. I have full confidence that the Maltese Presidency can result in positive outcomes.” Dr Miriam Dalli, MEP FEBRUARY / MARCH 2017


CC COVER STORY The agreement called for the creation of a customs union based on free trade between Malta and the European Economic Community (EEC). Malta’s formal application to join the EU was submitted in 1990, but proceedings came to a halt in 1996 as a result of a change in government. Two years later, following another round of elections and change in government, the country’s application for EU membership was reactivated. Formal accession negotiations started in 2000 and were completed by the end of 2002. However, accession was decided by a referendum held in March of the following year. The signing of the Treaty of Accession in April 2003 meant that Malta would join the EU the following year on 1st May 2004. Malta went on to adopt the euro, which replaced the Maltese lira, on 1st January 2008. The months ahead Until 30th June, Malta will be hosting and chairing a host of Council meetings, conferences and informal meetings spanning a range of policy areas, including the environment, foreign affairs, agriculture and fisheries, energy and competitiveness. Malta will also have the opportunity to lead ‘trialogue’ negotiations with the Parliament and Commission to reach agreement on new legislation. Among the notable events taking place in the coming weeks are the Tripartite Social Summit in Brussels on 8th March; Economic and Financial Affairs Council meeting in Brussels on 21st March; and the High Level Policy Dialogue meeting at the Grand Master’s Palace in Valletta on 5th April. cc

“There are different ways of defining a successful Presidency. It could be defined as one with no administrative hiccups or whereby the host country successfully plays the role of a seasoned broker achieving agreement on some key controversial topic. Malta has a history of successfully hosting high profile events although this is somewhat unique in that it is a whole six months of meetings and events taking place non-stop. The Presidency, however, also gives the host country unique political leverage at various levels. From an institutional point of view, Malta will be at the very centre of some very interesting discussions concerning high-profile issues such as Brexit. But it will also see us handling some pretty technical (and sticky) dossiers such as that concerning the Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB).” – Stefano Mallia, Vice President of the Employers Group in the EESC “The Maltese Presidency is leading the European Union in a crucial moment. A resilient and growing economy with further reduction of unemployment will be fundamental to mitigate citizens’ anxieties about the future and limit the rise of populism. Thus, the Maltese Presidency has to ensure that progress is made in the EU proposals aimed to boost growth and employment. It is of utmost importance to reaffirm the EU’s commitment to open markets, competitive industrial policies and a comprehensive single market attractive for investors. The EU leaders must show unity and work together to defend companies’ and citizens’ interests.” – Markus Beyrer, Director General, BusinessEurope




Maintaining momentum He kicked off his first business venture in wholesale and retail in the 1970s, and over 40 years later, Frank Farrugia shows no signs of slowing down. Martina Said meets the Malta Chamber’s Deputy President to discuss the country’s economic outlook, business sentiment for 2017 and the delicate situation of Maltese companies in Libya.


hen I first started supplying the textile industry, it was a time when the country depended on it. We were a one-stop shop as suppliers to the textile industry, ranging from machinery and equipment to fabric and accessories – anything you can imagine that was needed to make a garment, we supplied it,” says Frank Farrugia, Deputy President at the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry. “For a while, I

moved into the production of garments as well, where we exported to mainland Europe and Denmark. Later in 1990, seeing as the local textile industry was starting to decline, I set up another company which focused on the supply of professional tools, garage equipment, engineering solutions and industrial maintenance. Both these companies are still in operation today and my children have taken on the running of the latter.”

Photos by Alan Carville



CC INTERVIEW Apart from his local business endeavours, Mr Farrugia has also been involved in numerous projects in Libya, including the supply of fire and safety equipment to Tajura N.P.S as well as the supply of reverse osmosis plants, although he admits that his involvement there has slowed down somewhat in view of the unstable situation that’s rocked the country for the last five years. However, being a founding member of the Libyan-Maltese Chamber of Commerce, Mr Farrugia says that, despite the unrest and the country’s current social and political climate, the Chamber – of which the parent entities are the Malta Chamber and the General Union of Chambers in Libya – has never closed its doors, and never shied away from being there for businesses in need. “The fact that we managed to keep the Libyan-Maltese Chamber open every day without interruption during some very dangerous periods is positive. Every day, we continued to certify documents which means that business is still going on, though not at the rate that it used to,” says Mr Farrugia. “There are risks and we do not recommend that people visit Libya; however, many Maltese companies have investments there and we continue to monitor the situation closely and keep in touch with our partners.” And as Libya’s future remains uncertain, and investment opportunities scarce, what will become of the Maltese-owned business operations set up there that are increasingly becoming a serious cost to sustain? Mr Farrugia asserts that the Chamber has always made itself available for its members, and endeavoured to help companies solve their issues in whichever way possible. “Luckily, many Maltese business owners with operations in Libya foresaw the situation around three years ago and sought to diversify into other markets. The Malta Chamber, through Trade Malta, stepped in in this regard; we’re trying to help them tap into new markets such as Algeria.” Last year, the Chamber held two conferences in Malta, one regarding German companies’ interests in Libya and another in conjunction with a Libyan investment company, aimed at discussing and assessing the situation overseas. “Discussions were held and workshops set up, and while everybody agreed that the situation is fragile, we do believe that there is hope for improvement. That said, I believe only the Libyans themselves can solve the existing problems – any foreign interference will make the issue a lot more complicated to resolve.” On the national front, following a notable year of economic growth in 2016, I ask Mr Farrugia whether he thinks 2017 will surpass last year’s record achievements. “I believe we’ll keep up the momentum; while I don’t think we’ll reach the same figures as last year in relation to the GDP, on the whole, 20

with the possible exception of the wholesale and retail sectors which are experiencing difficulties mainly as a result of digitalisation, most sectors are expected to continue to perform.” Sustained economic growth widely depends on having the right person for the job, and this, Mr Farrugia says, continues to prove a problem.

“The fact that we managed to keep the Libyan-Maltese Chamber open every day without interruption during some very dangerous periods is positive.”



“A shortage of people with the right skills is one of the main challenges we’re currently facing, and on this, we need Government’s full cooperation, specifically on the issuing of visas and work permits to foreign nationals looking to work here. This problem could seriously hinder further economic progress.” According to the National Statistics Office, data provided by the national employment body, Jobsplus, for December 2016 shows a significant decrease in the number of persons registering on the unemployment register compared to December 2015. In addition, the registered unemployment rate in June 2016 stood at 1.9 per cent of the labour supply, (excluding part-time employment), and varied from 2.2 per cent among men to 1.4 per cent among women. Such statistics reveal a pretty unique scenario for Malta, where despite there being a serious shortage of skilled workers to fill specific roles, there’s also a very low level of unemployment. Mr Farrugia, who is a director on the board of Jobsplus, says achieving such low levels of unemployment is encouraging enough, but it doesn’t do much to address the gap that exists FEBRUARY / MARCH 2017

between the number of unemployed persons and the lack of skilled workers. “There are of course possibilities to engage unemployed people into the workforce to fill certain vacancies, but when it comes to specific and specialised vacancies, we encounter a number of issues, among them that the unemployed do not have the skills required by certain industries, they are sometimes reluctant to learn, their salary expectations are very high and they are constantly moving from one job to another. So there’s a mismatch here which needs to be addressed.” Mr Farrugia adds, “a number of initiatives by Jobsplus and also Government, such as free childcare centres, have helped us reach the low level of unemployment we’re experiencing now. On the other hand though, we need to improve the system of issuing visas to make it easier for foreign workers to find employment in Malta.” Moving on to the hotly-debated topic of minimum wage, Mr Farrugia has a staunch position on the matter, and is of the belief that increasing the minimum wage could have a serious ripple effect on employers and on the economy at large.

“A shortage of people with the right skills is one of the main challenges we’re currently facing, and on this, we need Government’s full cooperation.”



“It would be a grave mistake if Government forces an increase in minimum wage on employers, without taking into consideration the long-term repercussions. There will be a boomerang increase on everything.”


Adding that the debate surrounding minimum wage has become more than just a political subject – as various entities have come on board the discussion to stake their claim – Mr Farrugia continues that the biggest issue that arises from increasing the minimum wage is Malta’s ability to remain competitive. “There are numerous factors

to take into account when deciding whether or not to increase the minimum wage – one should look at the annual package of each employee, for instance, as bonuses, overtime and allowances should be taken into consideration, and whether families are dependent on one minimum wage income or two.” The Chamber, together with other employer bodies, has discussed the issue at length with the Malta Council for Economic and Social Development (MCESD), says Mr Farrugia. “We prepared a document and presented it to Government, the Opposition and MCESD, and made our message clear: leave the minimum wage as it is. It would be a grave mistake if Government forces an increase in minimum wage on employers, without taking into consideration the long-term repercussions. There will be a boomerang increase on everything. Of course it’s important to analyse the spending power of a basic salary, but we must keep in mind that Malta’s industries are trying to compete with those of other countries, and increasing the base can affect the positive momentum we’ve been experiencing if it’s not done as it should be done.” Mr Farrugia expresses similar views on the subject of pensions, which could have a negative impact on employers if mishandled. “In 2014, Government came up with the idea of the third-pillar pension, which we are in favour of and, if it is rightly administered, can achieve the required result. With the cost of living being as it is today, one cannot survive on a pension alone, so there is need for a solution here. However, we are against the mandatory second pillar, as it would add further pressure on the employer and employees. The Chamber recently organised a seminar on the occupational pension systems and fiscal incentives for employers launched in the last budget speech. It’s on a voluntary basis, where fiscal incentives will be given to employers to incentivise their own employees to start saving and create their own pension fund. This is something the Chamber is very much in favour of, so long as it remains voluntary.” Just over 40 years since joining the Malta Chamber, Mr Farrugia has witnessed its many milestones, good times and bad ones too, and having occupied various roles within the Chamber and its council – as secretary, treasurer and vice chairman – he says his enthusiasm for the institution has never faltered. “Sometimes my children question whether my loyalty is with them or with the Chamber,” he jokes. “It was a completely different place when I joined in 1976, and I’ve seen it go through a lot, but I’d say the Chamber’s greatest achievement was the merger with the Federation of Industry, which is when it became what it is, and what it represents today.” cc FEBRUARY / MARCH 2017


RE/MAX Malta has ‘Best Year Ever’ 2016 proved to be another milestone year for successful local real estate chain RE/MAX Malta, when its turnover exceeded €600 million. Here, CEO Kevin Buttigieg talks Jo Caruana through the core values and approaches that have led to this success, while also giving his property market predictions for the coming few months.


he RE/MAX Malta offices are absolutely buzzing – and it’s no surprise why. Recent months have seen their headquarters move into beautiful new state-of-the-art offices at Portomaso, while the company has also registered its highest-ever turnover of €600 million. There’s also clear excitement about the expansions planned for 2017, which include the opening of six new offices. “When we look back on our company history, RE/MAX Malta has had ‘record’ years for 13 consecutive years, and each of those has been exceptional,” says CEO Kevin Buttigieg. “But it has to be said that last year exceeded all expectations, and we are very proud of the results. We believe that, if we continue to consolidate, we will become even stronger.” Mr Buttigieg explains that the company registered growth in all of its sectors, but especially in property rentals, where the increase fell just short of 40 per cent, and

in the buy-to-rent sector, which also saw a marked increase on the past financial year. “This was mainly due to our bolstering economy, which paved the way for an increase in the supply and demand for quality properties, especially in the lifestyle developments sector,” he continues. Looking back on 2016, Kevin goes so far as to call it RE/MAX Malta’s ‘best year ever’. “Aside from the highlights mentioned above, we also saw a marked improvement in the service and consultancy being offered by our sales and letting associates, which is the direct result of our continuous investment in training and the coaching of our human resources.” In the same stretch of time, the company also introduced its property auction arm, inaugurated four new branches and employed close to 100 new sales associates and administration staff. “Today, with a staff complement of 400 people spread across 22 offices, we have continued to consolidate our

“Our strategy is to enhance our growth path with the opening of six new branches in Swieqi, Msida, Marsascala, Mellieha, Qawra and Gozo.”

position as the largest real estate agency in Malta,” he continues. Now the focus is firmly on 2017, when the team will be travelling to different continents, including the Middle East, Europe and the United States, to promote the various residency and investment schemes offered by Government, as well as Malta as a destination for holiday homes. “2017 certainly promises to be another positive year. Our strategy is to enhance our growth path with the opening of six new branches in Swieqi, Msida, Marsascala, Mellieha, Qawra and Gozo.” Meanwhile, Msida will see the launch of RE/MAX Malta’s first, fully-fledged commercial property branch, which will focus exclusively on the needs of the commercial sector. “This is a sector which has experienced rapid growth in the past few years and it is expected to continue to grow in 2017. Supply for commercial real 26



estate has been greatly lacking but is now being addressed and a number of developers will bring a cross section of high-end and mid-tier commercial properties to the market in 2017.” Moving on to the topic of the property market in general and the trends related to its development in the months to come, Mr Buttigieg believes it will retain its position as a pillar of our economy. “The market is still very solid, with 75 per cent of real estate sales coming from local investment and, especially, first time buyers. “This year we are looking forward to another exciting year as a result of the robust economy. We anticipate that various Government investment schemes for letting, buy-to-let and the upgrading of property are expected to dominate the personal property market, while a demand for superior developments will be the mainstay of the commercial property market.” FEBRUARY / MARCH 2017

Nevertheless, Mr Buttigieg is keen to point towards a number of issues that need attention. “While supply is, finally, starting to catch up with demand, our island’s infrastructure is still an issue; we hope that improvements will come with growth. Other areas that need to be considered include the lack of space in private schools, the banking system (which needs to be easier to work with and to accommodate the current growth pattern), and the quality of property finishes, which can leave a lot to be desired. After all, if our clients demand and expect a property to be Class A, then they should be able to get it. I hope all of these aspects will be addressed in the near future.” Finally, Mr Buttigieg predicts that there will be one other overarching trend for the year to come, and beyond: good design and quality real estate. “This is a trend which started in the past years and will continue for the years to come,” he concludes. cc

“A demand for superior developments will be the mainstay of the commercial property market in 2017.”


CC in INTERVIEW figures

IN Figures

Malta’s Presidency Of The EU Council


The number of months Malta will hold the chair of the rotating EU Presidency. It is the third member state in the trio which included the Netherlands and Slovakia.

40 Million

The budget in euro allocated for Malta’s EU Presidency.



The number of meetings which will be held at different levels in Brussels and Luxembourg during the Presidency.



The number of meetings of the European Council which will be held in Malta.


The number of meetings which will be held at different levels in Malta.

The sole EU leader’s summit during Malta’s Presidency was held in February.



The number of high-level conferences which will be held over these six months.

The shocking number of people who died crossing the Mediterranean over the past 12 months – the worst annual death toll in recorded history. Migration is one of the Maltese EU Presidency’s top priorities.




The number of journalists expected in Malta to cover the Presidency.

The number of Council configurations. While the Council of the EU is a single legal entity, different groupings meet, depending on the subject being discussed.

Source: Gozo In Figures, National Statistics Office, Malta

The number of delegates from all over the EU that are expected to arrive in Malta over the six months of the Presidency.

The deadline for the Dublin reforms, which rule that the country in which asylum seekers first set foot is responsible for them.

Source: Malta International Airport FEBRUARY / MARCH 2017



A bubble about to burst or real, sustainable growth? It is no secret that the property market in Malta is currently doing well. So well, in fact, that sales are at an all-time high, leading many to consider it a major boom. But do the numbers reflect reality, or is it a bubble, waiting to burst? Sarah Micallef learns more.


he Malta Chamber has always regarded the property market respectfully – a sector which generates thousands of jobs and includes a generous multiplier effect, but which carries great responsibilities, especially within the realms of a diminutive island state like Malta,” says Anton Borg, Malta Chamber President. Perit David Xuereb, CEO at QPM Ltd, affirms that the current market for the building industry is widely recognised as very healthy, with developers, contractors, trades and consultants alike busy with considerable economic activity in all sectors. Breaking it down, he explains that development is mainly focused on the development of buildings, with a reduced disproportional activity in supporting infrastructural projects. “The overall FEBRUARY / MARCH 2017

positive economic climate in the country has significantly influenced the confidence in the property market and associated service, manufacturing and retail industries, providing much economic activity and employment opportunities,” he affirms. “During the last four years, the property market has experienced an unprecedented increase in development of residential units, hotel upgrades, office space and retail volumes pretty much in all of Malta and Gozo,” Perit Xuereb continues. Indeed, Douglas Salt, Director at Frank Salt Real Estate, deems a healthy demand for property locally, stemming mainly from first and second time buyer markets. Apart from this, there is also a continuing demand for property as an investment, mainly in the buy-to-let market. “For the latter, we are being very careful to guide our clients

properly,” he says, maintaining that as a local agency, Frank Salt’s knowledge of the market enables them to advise clients where best to invest. “The luxury property market is becoming more complex with a severe lack of availability,” he continues, “and here we are acting more as property finders than negotiators.” Speaking of property as an investment specifically, David Aquilina, Director at Belair Property explains that historically, the Maltese public has always been keen to invest in property, and the turmoil of recent history in other investment markets has only contributed to this. “At the moment, the market is active and without a doubt, the demand for property far outweighs the supply, for reasons which might not be as clear-cut as one might expect,” he says, speculating. 31

CC PROPERTY “Perhaps the investor has been bitten all too often in other securities-based markets and is looking for something more tangible. Perhaps the favourable economic climate has generated excess cash which needs to be parked in what investors deem to be a safer investment.” This begs the question, are we indeed experiencing a bubble or could the growth be sustainable? Perit Xuereb maintains that looking back, it seems clear that the historic development of new stock and the regeneration of existing buildings would be expected to follow a consistent growth and development rate which should match industry capacity and market expectations if on a business-as-usual scenario. However, “the slowdown in the market experienced between 2008 and 2013 as a result of the global economic slowdown and other local factors had primed the industry to react with an increased vigour and activity as soon as all that was confidently behind us.” It is therefore little surprise that the building industry, motivated with increased overall economic confidence, corrected the slow-down of the previous years and turned into the energetic and dynamic activity that we have experienced during the last years. Despite this, he affirms, “it is to be noted that similar to the development pattern of recent history, our country seems to suffer from the same shortcomings of

“Whereas current demand by locals and international clients outweighs supply, it is unclear whether this scenario will continue to prevail and for how long.” - Anton Borg, President, Malta Chamber

putting serious effort into the development of buildings with limited support of the associated infrastructure. In addition, the property industry is particularly motivated and supported by an unprecedented

increase in the rental market. This is a true representation of the changing market and demographic expectations of today’s realities.” Mr Salt doesn’t look upon the market as a bubble, rather, he believes it to be under pressure from increasing demand. “More foreigners are working here. They need to live somewhere and this creates a demand for letting property. Given the lack of returns in other vehicles, Maltese and foreigners are investing in the buy-to-let market. The local first time buyer is not necessarily competing with this market as they are happy buying outside the buy-to-let zones. The cost of sites, if they can be found, has gone up with an upward shift in pricing, where prices are slowly returning to their former bracket. The luxury end is less price-sensitive and more a case of finding the property in the location requested. So, I would not say it is a bubble and so far, it is sustainable,” he says, with a small caveat. “Of course, vendors and developers need to recognise that there is always a limit to what people are willing to pay for a product, and the worst place to be, price-wise, is in between prices and therefore neither here nor there.”

“I am hoping that 2017 will be the start of a serious change to the quality of product, respect for the environment and national resources coupled with high sustainability standards we would all be proud of and benefit from.” - Perit David Xuereb, CEO, QPM Ltd 32


CC PROPERTY Mr Aquilina is in agreement. Setting aside the question of whether Malta can be on the verge of the first ever property bubble, he affirms that what is definite is that a market is fuelled by demand and supply. “First, one must appreciate that although property prices have increased significantly, the general public’s ability to invest in property has also increased. In the past, property investment and ownership was associated with a smaller band of the population, whereas nowadays, the increase in home ownership is significant and the property market has extended from the select few to the wider population.” Furthermore, he continues, “one needs to account for the significant increase in the population brought about by foreigners working and living in Malta.” “Those in the industry can confirm that the demand for quality property outweighs the present supply. The issue is not whether or not one is able to source a willing investor, but rather to source good quality property,” Mr Aquilina affirms, posing the question: “will this continue in the foreseeable future and will the price of property continue to increase? This is like asking if the price of oil is going to increase or if gold is the future. What is true is that our economy is heavily dependent on the property sector and the country would do well to protect the industry. It is our duty to ensure that the developments that come on line are quality developments.” Indeed, Malta’s property boom does not come without its challenges. In Perit Xuereb’s view, the challenges are mainly related to the need for the industry to update itself and be sensitive to the social, economic and environmental aspirations of our country in the medium to long term. “Planning is unfortunately very reactive rather than proactive, and attempts at design of infrastructure and master-planning have not been strong enough,” he says, asserting that this poses a serious risk to the healthy and sustainable development of the industry and everything that depends on it. “Limited development opportunities in Malta as a result of our limited land resource should ensure that supply will match demand, especially on account of the fact that most large development projects undergo serious due-diligence by the respective financing institutions. It is only now that the authorities and the general public are finally and justifiably appreciating that development needs to be supported with the associated and appropriate infrastructure for it to be truly successful and qualitative.” The Malta Chamber President echoes similar sentiments, stressing the need to strike a healthy balance between sustainable development and socio-economic growth. “Planning and environmental policy must go hand in hand in order to safeguard the standards of life on a relatively overcrowded FEBRUARY / MARCH 2017

island,” he says, affirming that pressures on environmental considerations and land use are exerted by needs placed by all aspects of development such as agriculture, tourism, transport, commercial, residential, educational, infrastructural and social. “All must be complementary within a holistic national plan for the country’s balanced socio-economic development.” From an estate agent’s point of view, Mr Salt explains that the challenges of an active market are advising appropriately to ensure what is being built meets demand now and as perceived to be in the future, and meets purchasers’ expectations both for the present and future. “As an agency operating locally for many decades, we are mindful of the mistakes of the past and would point them out if we feel a particular development is repeating them. Development is not for amateurs. One cannot buy a site for a price and set the selling price accordingly. It needs to be the other way round. What price will the finished product sell for? What profit am I willing to work for? What will the cost of construction be?” Mr Aquilina also believes that we need developments which exceed expectations

and set new standards. From his perspective, high-rise could be the answer. “Some of the projects under proposal are ground breaking to say the least,” he says, maintaining that the property market needs a new lifestyle project to match the likes of quality developments such as Portomaso and Tigné Point. “It’s great that we challenge these concepts and question their sustainability but we also need to reward people with vision. We all recall the protests when the Portomaso project was announced. Today, one cannot even comprehend the benefits that this project brought to the island. The success of the property market and the leap forward is all due to projects such as Portomaso and Tigné Point. The price for properties in these lifestyle developments has continued to increase and has generated an upward trend in property prices simply because there isn’t enough of them to sell,” he continues. “The challenge now is to ensure that what we build will be another huge leap forward. A development which exceeds expectation, but respects the landscape and characteristics which have attracted foreign investment to our islands in the first place.”

“I would not say it is a bubble and so far, it is sustainable. Of course, vendors and developers need to recognise that there is always a limit to what people are willing to pay for a product, and the worst place to be, price-wise, is in between prices.” - Douglas Salt, Director, Frank Salt Real Estate



Looking towards the future of the property market, Malta Chamber President Anton Borg maintains that while Malta is at present going through a favourable economic period, and the property market is currently enjoying the fruits of that growth, the international context is sending mixed signals with a large degree of uncertainty resulting from political and economic change. “Under these circumstances and until the future becomes clearer in so far as our main economic drivers are concerned, the Malta Chamber believes that the country should avoid rushing and producing a level of property supply that risks coming out of synch with the economic cycle,” he advises. As it had stated in its Economic Vision for Malta 2014-2020, the Chamber is in favour of development and improvement of the building stock of the Maltese islands because it can serve as a driver for economic growth and better quality of life. It also favours development under strict conditions, which if not adopted and strictly followed, could lead to negative impacts. “Whereas current demand by locals and international clients outweighs supply, it is unclear whether this scenario will continue to prevail and for how long. In a scenario where it does not and the rate of economic growth subsides, the country must ensure it is adequately prepared for the ensuing effects on the construction sector, and with it other exposed interlinked sectors,” Mr Borg states. Perit Xuereb does not foresee any major differences to the property market in 2017 compared to the past three to four years, but does point out that there will be some levelling out of the steep growth patterns experienced, which is natural and expected. “We are coming close to the turn of decennial, by which time we should have hit national targets of energy consumption, carbon footprint and resource management. Developers, contractors and all that contribute to and benefit from the property market are expected to drive this mission. Policy makers, planners, consultants and lobbyists alike have a role in this and I am 36

hoping that 2017 will be the start of a serious change to the quality of product, respect for the environment and national resources coupled with high sustainability standards we would all be proud of and benefit from.” On the part of Frank Salt, Director Douglas Salt believes the market will remain buoyant in 2017, and has plans for growth. “Frank

Salt has a five-year plan for growth and we are over half way there. It is based on decades of experienced sustainable growth without crowding out our own employees and economies of scale. This year, we will be opening our new branch in Ibragg which follows the newly opened Mosta and Cospicua branches, as well as moving to larger branches in Fgura and San Gwann,” he says. As for Belair, Director David Aquilina affirms that 2017 should be another exciting year for both the property market and the company. “Belair Property was entrusted to sell the entire iconic 14 East development – the first time in the history of Maltese real estate where one agency has been entrusted to sell a high-rise development – and has since sold the entire commercial core of this project. In addition, we have also been given joint exclusivity together with another agency to represent the new City Centre project. With all this happening, we have still continued to strengthen our management and admin structures, and look forward to facing these opportunities in the professional and personalised manner we have always worked hard to maintain.” cc

“Those in the industry can confirm that the demand for quality property outweighs the present supply. The issue is not whether or not one is able to source a willing investor, but rather to source good quality property.” - David Aquilina, Director, Belair Property


CC business

The 10 factors which will make or break business in 2017 From far-reaching geopolitical developments to the manoeuvring happening in our own back yards, Marie-Claire Grima takes a look at the top 10 factors which are likely to influence business in Malta in 2017.


Business sentiment remains positive Business sentiment across the board remains positive, and all indicators show that this will be yet another good year for Malta’s economy. The Central Bank Report for December 2016 found increasing confidence in the retail sector and the construction sector, while even indicators that experienced slight dips, such as consumer confidence and industrial confidence, still remained well above their long-term averages. In fact, the only question which could possibly cast doubt on these figures is whether Malta’s economic success can be sustained, or whether it has plateaued.


A possible snap election In January, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat dismissed rumours that Malta would be going to the polls later this year and hinted that the next general election would be held around March 2018. Yet, the ball remains in the Prime Minister’s court and it would not be out of the ordinary for a snap election to be called a few months before the five-year term ends, throwing the party engines on both sides of the house into overdrive. Election mode is always a rather fraught time for businesses across all sectors and an election in late 2017 could impact businesses’ performance this year.



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The rise and rise of the property market With Malta registering a 5.4 per cent rise in house prices during the third quarter of the year, property values have continued to climb steadily and robustly, and the property and construction industries are in clover. However, when faced with the mismatch between the supply and demand of residential units, one has to wonder if the pace is sustainable and whether there might be a bubble looming on the horizon. There’s also the question of Malta’s changing skyline: while highrise buildings are seen by some as a way to curb the use of Malta’s few remaining green spaces by building vertically instead of horizontally, it also makes one wonder whether the free hand given to the construction industry, which has fuelled so much money into Malta’s coffers, is also destroying its unique island appeal.


Brexit and the vulnerability of the sterling


The future of Air Malta 2017 is expected to be yet another astonishing year for tourism, with the Malta International Airport expecting to hit 5.2 million passengers by the end of the year. But what does it say about a country that relies so heavily on tourism that its national airline is on life support, outpaced for the first time by the low-cost carrier Ryanair? The uncertain future of Air Malta still hangs in the balance, many months after negotiations were supposed to be completed. Whether an advantageous match will ever be found with a strategic partner, or whether drastic measures will be taken in order to trim the fat and bring a leaner but stronger airline back into the fray remains the subject of speculation – but what’s certain is that whichever decision is made will have an impact on Malta’s heady tourism results and the revenue it gains from the industry.


Britain’s decision to sever ties with the European Union last June was a shock, but the repercussions will only be truly felt this year, when Prime Minister Theresa May triggers Article 50 of the EU Treaty in order to officially start the exit procedures. The ripple effects will be felt all over the EU, but how they will manifest remains to be seen. Will an avalanche of anti-EU sentiment be set across the continent, or will the remaining 27 states, eyeing Britain’s shambolic exit and the increasingly unpredictable actions of the United States under President Donald Trump, make an effort to band closer together? Furthermore, zooming in on the local economy, Brexit has been hailed as a potential opportunity for Malta, as a centre of financial excellence and one of two remaining EU member states where English is an official language, to siphon off some of the businesses which will be looking for an alternative base instead of London. On the other hand, the vulnerability of the pound sterling could also have a very tangible effect on Maltese businesses that export services or products to Britain, as well as the tourism industry, where around 30 per cent of tourists each year still hail from the UK.


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Valletta 07. Valletta

Malta’s capital is the crux of the country’s Presidency of the EU Council for the first six months of the year. It is also on the threshold of being crowned the European Capital of Culture for 2018, a journey that has been several years in the offing. The fruit of significant major projects in Valletta, including the completion of Renzo Piano’s City Gate and Parliament masterpiece, as well as several major restoration projects, is finally being reaped. Business in Valletta has flourished, with hundreds of new bars, restaurants, cafeterias, as well as the boom of boutique hotels and designer self-catering apartments. Unrecognisable from the way it was just ten years ago, the city has finally come into its own. However, this has pushed property prices up to astronomical and unprecedented heights. Is the business situation in Valletta sustainable? Are decisions being taken on the basis of rational and justified business plans or is the hype of holding the title of European Capital of Culture for 2018 unsustainable in the long-term?



Employee shortages and pressure on wages At face value, Malta’s close-to-full employment level sounds like a good thing – which country wouldn’t be satisfied with a 4.8 per cent unemployment rate? However, for businesses, it is something of a mixed blessing, as it is proving exceedingly difficult for employers across all sectors to find suitable employees to fill their vacancies. While Malta has significant ‘pulling power’ in terms of attracting foreign talent, other job vacancies require Maltese or Maltesespeaking people to fill them; and the problem is that there’s a mismatch between the available Maltese workers and the skill sets that they require to fill such jobs. This shortage could mean that 2017 could be quite a challenging year for local businesses, which may have to engage in a ruthless salary war in order to attract and keep the best talent, where the companies that emerge victorious will be the ones that can afford to pay the brightest with the best.


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Tax harmonisation across Europe The shocking revelations leaked in the Panama Papers planted tax harmonisation firmly back on the EU agenda. Several member states of the EU are now seeking to push through its controversial tax harmonisation plans, and Britain, the strongest opponent against such plans, has taken the plunge to check out of the EU once and for all. It seems like the question is not whether tax harmonisation will occur, but whether these directives will materialise sooner rather than later. On paper, even the smallest of all EU member states holds a veto on critical issues such as taxation, but even with the support of other member states, can tiny Malta afford to use such a veto? Taking into consideration Malta’s thriving financial services sector, as well as the gaming industry which now generates more than 12 per cent of Malta’s GDP, tax harmonisation can have a significantly negative impact on our economy.


The trouble with Libya and local business interests It’s no secret that a large number of Maltese businesses have substantial financial interests in Libya. Some companies have been sustaining losses and retaining employees on their books in the hope that the situation will eventually improve, but stability looks like it may still be far away – Maltese citizens are advised not to travel to the troubled North African country and hundreds of Libyan nationals have been granted protection in Malta. Although Malta has made a concerted effort to help Libya’s stabilisation efforts, including placing it as one of its priorities for its Presidency of the EU Council, striking any sort of deal with Libya – a country ruled by three rival governments and numerous militias – would be “extremely complicated”, as Prime Minister Joseph Muscat admitted. In the face of this, various Maltese companies with Libyan interests are reportedly on the verge of cutting their losses and letting go of their ventures in Libya – a sudden turn for the worse in 2017 could just be the final straw.



The future of Gozo Most of the indicators for Gozo in 2017 are positive. Tourism figures are highly encouraging, the property market seems to be stabilising, entrepreneurship is flourishing and the proposed physical link between Malta and Gozo gives many residents hope, however distant, that commuting to and from the mainland will become somewhat less stressful. However, the incoming developments aren’t without their own setbacks. The opening of the Barts medical school has been pushed back by a year due to the delays in the construction of the campus, while erratic construction patterns all over the island are jeopardising the unique characteristics and charm of the island, running the risk of turning it into Malta on a smaller scale.



Fashion forward


04. Red Think red is just too bold for the office? Let’s agree to disagree. Take a leaf out of Reed Krakoff’s fashion book this season, but if you’re a little wary of wearing it head-to-toe, why not break it up with a belt or scarf, or invest in a red blazer worn with neutral colours.

01. Colour block

05. Pantsuit

Find inspiration from Giambatista Valli’s eye-popping colour blocking this season, but tone it down by pairing it with a sombre colour like black or navy for the office. The sharp cuts and contrasting colours are sure to put a smile on your face, even on the busiest of work days.

01. Salvatore Ferragamo

As the seasons begin to change, it’s time to shed the winter layers and embrace colour and print. Sarah Micallef discovers the latest officewear trends.

One of our favourite trends this season is the pantsuit, and needless to say, it translates perfectly into officewear. The timeless piece has been championed by top designers like Chanel for decades, and judging by the recent pre-fall show, Karl Lagerfeld is set to keep it going strong.

02. Sporty

The skirt and dress length of the season has to be midlength, and far from looking conservative, the latest crop of styles are the essence of workwear chic. Whether you choose a form-fitting silhouette, a straighter skirt or a fuller style, midlength is certainly the way to go. cc

03. Bold prints While wearing a bold print from top-totoe might be a bit of a no-no in your work environment, accessorising your outfit with an interesting printed item is a big yes! Or you can go the other way by breaking up a printed dress or blouse with a neutral cardigan – either way, it’s on trend.


06. Midlength

One of this season’s biggest trend is sporty chic or sports luxe, and it can work perfectly for the office. Team sporty separates with staple tailored office wear for an edgy and fashion forward look that’s equal parts comfortable as it is stylish.

Shanghai Tang


Elisabeth and James


06. 04.


Derek Lam

Gianvito Rossi FEBRUARY / MARCH 2017



Finding the perfect balance between quality and creativity Firstbridge Services Limited finds its humble origins in 2005, offering traditional financial accountancy and corporate support services. Fast forward to 2014 when Director Dean Micallef joined with the intention to rebrand and reshape, and the company began its transformation into the multifaceted professional services provider it is today. He talks Sarah Micallef through his plans, tracing the evolution of the company in line with the local and international business landscape.


resh from a background within one of the Big Four accounting firms, Dean Micallef was keen to carry through the professionalism and emphasis on quality he had become accustomed to upon joining Firstbridge in 2014, albeit with a little twist of his own. “The style of doing things at my previous place of work always appealed to me – quality was never compromised and you strived to do things the right way. I also quickly learnt that in order to build and sustain a professional services offering targeting the modern business client, there is a danger of having too much control and structure, losing focus of what the client actually wants. At Firstbridge, we try to find a balance between being professional and maintaining quality while still being responsive and adaptive to our clients’ needs,” he explains. At present, the company offers six core


service lines. “We still offer our highly demanded traditional back office support services which include accountancy and payroll, however today we also offer a full range of financial advisory, corporate advisory, taxation and international residency services as well.” Asked how the industry has changed since he first started out, Mr Micallef points out that initially, the focus of the professional services provider was primarily focused on delivering a consistent, quality service without much attention being paid towards change management and adaptation. “It slowly developed from there. Now, I see the industry looking more towards the medium and long term – doing things because they will be of benefit in the future. It’s all about progression planning, embracing change, and being more creative,” he maintains. And is this also the case locally? “I’d like to think so, but there’s still a way to go,” says Mr Micallef. “Unless we create a stronger acceptance and interest in investing in the intangible, we won’t see big improvements. Whilst various industries may be performing well, if organisations want to maintain and better their chances of success in the future, they need to encourage innovation. The buzz word in the technology field is disruption. Everyone is looking to innovate or disrupt when it’s a new product or service being offered, but when you’re trying to disrupt a traditional business model, it’s not as easy. One doesn’t have to radically change a 30, 50 or 100-year-old company overnight, but you can take calculated risks – with the rapid technological advances that we are witnessing I feel that it’s about time we start becoming a bit more creative and forward thinking,” he continues. Speaking of the technology field, Mr Micallef considers technology or tech to be “one of the largest game-changers”. Up until a decade or so ago, the Firstbridge Director explains, higher level tech was isolated to the ICT industries, and when it came to companies not directly related to tech, it was seen simply as a tool. “If a business does not embrace tech, it will fall behind – it has become a necessity. It supports the various aspects of every business, from sales and marketing to human

resources, quality control and even finance.” Firstbridge is continuously focusing on better understanding the distinct business models across key industries and is currently working on a number of initiatives providing our clients with the relevant tools to manage change for the modern era.” Mr Micallef speaks with enthusiasm about Firstbridge priding itself in being an active supporter of business start-ups, and highlights the difference tech has made within the start-up playground. Whereas in the past, a university grad or an idea generator who may not have had the means to kick start an idea had to depend on support from banks to start their own business, or give up altogether to work for an already established market player; thanks to tech, more and more people are becoming entrepreneurs and business owners. “We are seeing an international trend where more creative minds are starting their own business rather than becoming an employee. The market is evolving, and tech is bringing the world closer together. Your potential FEBRUARY / MARCH 2017


Photos by Alan Carville

“At Firstbridge, we try to find a balance between being professional and maintaining quality while still being responsive and adaptive to our clients’ needs.” market is no longer the people in your vicinity, its international. Just think about what happened with Uber and Airbnb – your spare bedroom is suddenly available for business, and you have many more opportunities to monetise your free time, essentially businesses can reach anyone in the world at any time,” he maintains. As a start-up destination, Malta is making inroads in developing the scene. Through its #supportingstartups initiative, Firstbridge has been supporting a number of interesting start-up entities, helping them establish their business policies and procedures, strengthening their corporate structures and ultimately helping them raise capital through the various corporate finance streams currently made available to them. And with Firstbridge’s focus on relationship building and travelling the FEBRUARY / MARCH 2017

journey together, I ask for the Director’s top words of advice to businesses today – many of whom are currently faced with a changing reality in their industries. “My main advice is to focus on what you do best, the complexity of modern business requires that organisations maintain focus on their core business to ensure they remain a step ahead. One does not need to look at controlling every aspect of their business, rather, it is good to embrace collaboration, partnerships and other forms of strategic alliances. Entrepreneurs and business owners should also not be afraid to invest in their own business and not necessarily in the tangible aspects - ultimately never stop moving forward and re-inventing yourself,” he affirms. Another of Mr Micallef’s key advice points is related to succession. “Keep growing your

company – whether you’re starting day one or celebrating year 20, strengthen your brand, work towards making your business model self-sustainable and try to reduce any highly concentrated dependency points. Your business may be one of your most valuable core assets, however such a value is only as real as the underlying company’s ability to be transferred and converted into more liquid assets, therefore you need to plan ahead so that if need be, you can attract potential investment,” he continues, pointing to a failure within the local business landscape to embrace equity models. “Equity investment coming directly into your business is something that, emotionally, a lot of local companies find hard to swallow, parting with a share of your company in return for a smaller piece of a bigger pie is a reality that a number of businesses are taking advantage of, the growth potential and operational efficiencies can be incredible.” Moving onto internationalisation, Mr Micallef believes that this is the natural next step for successful local businesses. “There are a number of Malta based organisations that have been relatively successful in Malta, but the Maltese market is what it is, and I honestly feel that we have the capabilities to go beyond that. Internationalisation will allow us to finally benchmark ourselves against international players,” he explains, referring to Firstbridge’s business development desk SINO, which focuses on cross-border business development between Europe and Asia, with particular focus on China. Firstbridge has supported a number of organisations in establishing crosscontinental business relationships. Finally, looking towards the horizon for Firstbridge, Mr Micallef is adamant that the relationship-building aspect with the firm’s clients is key. The goal-driven team behind the company have one all-encompassing goal: to help businesses grow through tailormade solutions that are created with specific clients in mind. “Our unique selling point is that advisory features in every one of our service lines. It’s not just about holding financial records and maintaining organised books, it’s about raising flags, encouraging debate and discussion, stimulating proactive mentalities and accepting reaction when needed. It’s about bringing attention to the client and giving them value added,” he asserts, adding, “to be part of the evolution of a company is something that excites us.” And on a personal level, he maintains, “one of my key strategies is to bring quality and consistency to meet creativity. You have to find that right balance. We’re all about embracing and supporting change, and allowing businesses to exploit their own potential. We’re there to support businesses to allow them to do what they do best, while maximising the potential of their unique business model.” cc 49

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Transforming companies must put cyber security front and centre Today’s businesses, irrespective of which industry they operate in and regardless of size, sector or past success, are competing in a dynamic market environment that is being swept through a current of transformative change. The pace of change is taking the form of a revolutionary wave that continues to accelerate at breakneck speed, as the fourth industrial revolution ushers in an era of machine learning, cognitive computing, artificial intelligence and a world in which virtually everything is connected through the internet of things. Amid these rapid technological advances, the associated security risks are also increasing exponentially. Customer behaviours and expectations, and a multitude of technologies, are forcing senior executives to re-think their

Obstructive Sleep Apnoea linked to serious conditions if left untreated in the long term Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) is a common and debilitating condition affecting up to 10 per cent of the population. It often remains undiagnosed in patients, but has been found to be as widespread as conditions like diabetes and can affect people at any age, although is most prevalent from middle age onwards.

organisations’ traditional business and operating models. The introduction of disruptive technologies and the evolution of customers’ expectations mean that the extent of connectivity and the volume of accessible sensitive data relating to your business and your customers are growing at an exponential rate – leading to great opportunities and risks for your organisation. When you hear the term ‘cyber security’, there’s a very good chance that, like many executives, you immediately think of one thing: an IT infrastructure challenge. However, senior executives are reaching the inescapable conclusion that treating cyber security as an IT risk only is short-sighted, and businesses run the risk of missing opportunities and inflection points that could help fuel business growth. Of course, a strong IT security infrastructure is a critical part of any cyber security program. However, it is not the only part. In 2017, this traditional ‘defense-first’ mind-set is too limited and can actually hinder long-term growth prospects. Indeed, there is another important element at play and that is the potential impact of cyber underpreparedness to future business growth. This is particularly true in a business environment in which so many companies

adult. Each brief awakening required to reopen the airway passage destroys the normal sleep pattern and sleep is severely disrupted. This prevents the sleeper from enjoying sufficient deep sleep to feel refreshed and energetic the next day. Sleep Apnoea’s short to medium term symptoms include chronic fatigue, mental confusion, lower testosterone count which reduces libido and associated erectile dysfunction, but is also linked to many other serious conditions if left untreated over the long term. OSA can, in fact, be a contributing factor for hypertension, stroke, diabetes, heart disease and ultimately, heart failure.

are undertaking ambitious customer-focused transformation programmes amid widespread technological disruption and competitive threats. Data is the lifeblood of modern business. A high-quality cyber preparedness will not only focus on keeping data safe and secure, but will also make sure that you have correct and complete data upon which to base your business decisions. Cyber security must be front and centre in every strategic business decision. cc Eric Muscat - Partner IT Advisory T: 2563 1013; E: Milda Petraityte - Cyber Security Advisor T: 2563 1205; E:

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) is the most effective and non-invasive treatment offered to OSA sufferers. This therapy is designed to stop the air passage from narrowing or collapsing during sleep by acting as a splint. Air is continuously blown through a mask (worn over the nose and or mouth) at a positive pressure which holds the airway open thus preventing its collapse during sleep. cc Contact your doctor for further information. Technoline Ltd. T: 2134 4345; E:;

In OSA, the upper part of the air passage behind the tongue narrows, and often blocks during sleep causing an interruption to breathing. This is called an obstructive apnoea. Obstructive Sleep Apnoea is characterised by loud snoring with episodes of silence. Sleep partners may report not just snoring but snorting and choking, as well as frightening struggles to breathe while asleep. Occasional brief obstructive events are harmless and are quite common in a normal FEBRUARY / MARCH 2017


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First risk-driven contractual funds on the Maltese market BOV Investment Funds are the first contractual funds launched on the local market a few weeks ago. Comprising of three portfolio funds – BOV Conservative Portfolio Fund, BOV Balanced Portfolio Fund and BOV Growth Portfolio Fund – BOV Asset Management is proposing a cost-effective investment vehicle to the local investor. All three funds are regulated

by the UCITS Directive. This suite of contractual funds is a first in many respects, effectively addressing investment management through risk management and diversification. A volatility ceiling is set for every fund and the asset allocation is changed in such a way to enhance return without exceeding the predetermined level of risk. The investment concept is the same across the three funds, but the element of risk, and likewise the potential reward, increases as one moves from the Conservative Fund to the Balanced and ultimately the Growth Portfolio Fund. The Asset Management team monitors and evaluates the funds constantly, so as to ensure that the volatility of any given fund does not exceed the predetermined

threshold at any point in time. The minimum amount for investing in any one of the BOV Investment Funds is €5,000. The cost structure is kept at a minimum, so much so that there are neither entry nor exit fees, thereby ensuring that the maximum return is accrued to the investor. Customers interested in obtaining more information about the suite of BOV Investment Funds and the manner in which they work may enquire at any BOV Branch or at one of the Bank’s Investment Centres. Queries may also be addressed to BOV Asset Management on 2122 7311 or by sending an email at The value of the investment can go down as well as up. Investments should be based on the full details of the Prospectus, Offering Supplement and the Key Investor Information Document which may be obtained from BOV Asset Management Limited, Bank of Valletta p.l.c. Branches/Investment Centres and other Licensed Financial Intermediaries. BOV Asset Management Limited is licensed to provide Investment Services in Malta by the MFSA. The BOV Investment Funds is a common contractual fund licenced by the MFSA as a collective investment scheme pursuant to the Investment Services Act and the UCITS Directive. Issued by BOV Asset Management Limited, Registered Address 58, Triq San Żakkarija, Il-Belt Valletta, VLT 1130, Malta. cc


NEWS Events & Initiatives

01. 01. Chamber and RSM launch the Medium Sized Enterprise Survey In December, the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry and RSM Malta launched a research project to measure the prevailing sentiment and trends amongst middle-market operators in Malta. The Medium Sized Enterprise Survey is intended to provide benchmarking information at both middle market level as a whole and the individual sectorial levels such as manufacturing, retail, healthcare, professional and others. Once the results are published, the survey will enable respondents to compare their performance to both market and sectorial levels.

Kevin J Borg said, “the middle market industry has a number of local and international challenges, and statistics are particularly important as they often provide some of the only objective information that different stakeholders may use when making decisions. Middle market organisations are a key component of the local enterprising environment, given their indispensable contribution to the local economy. Historically, these medium-sized companies have been hard to evaluate because of a lack of focused instruments and timely collection of data. Through this research project, the Chamber will be in a stronger position to assist its members in strengthening and growing their business.”

Maria Micallef, Managing Partner of RSM said, “findings from the Medium Sized Enterprise Survey will provide factual data and information relevant to different stakeholders including medium-sized enterprises, policy makers and financial institutions. No other research method can provide this broad capability to gather results from which to draw conclusions and make important decisions.” RSM Malta are gold collaborating partners of the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry.

02. Christmas at the Chamber The Malta Chamber held its annual Christmas reception at its iconic premises, the Exchange Buildings on Republic Street, on Monday 19th December 2016. The event was attended by H.E. the President of Malta Marie Louise Coleiro Preca, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, Leader of the Opposition Simon Busuttil, numerous members of the Cabinet, members of Parliament, members of the diplomatic corps, as well as exponents of Malta’s business community amongst others.




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03. BDA visits Chamber The President of the Malta Chamber met a high level delegation representing Bundesvereinigung der Deutschen Arbeitgeberverbände (BDA), the German Employers Association, during a twoday familiarisation visit to Malta as final preparations for the Presidency of the Council of the European Union were underway in December. Peter Clever, member of BDA’s Executive Board and Renate Hornung-Draus formally requested to meet with Anton Borg to discuss matters of high priority for German employers and that are expected to feature prominently on the European agenda during Malta’s Presidency. The discussion focused mainly on the Malta Chamber’s proposals to Government regarding a businessdriven manifesto of priorities for Malta’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the potential impact of Brexit and the concerning implications that the proposed revisions to the Posting of Workers Directive may introduce. The overarching purpose of the visit was to gain the support of the Maltese Presidency to present qualified and widely supported counterarguments as the decision-making process on the revisions of this directive proceeds.

04. Stay on focus In a Chamberlink editorial on 5th January, the Chamber rounded up 2016 with a positive outlook, yet with a healthy dose of caution for the year ahead. The extraordinary circumstances Malta and the region shall be facing during 2017 may alter the country’s path of relative success it has positioned itself in over the recent past. “We need maturity at this time of relative prosperity more than ever, in order to maintain the favourable streak achieved in the recent past,” the editorial said. Though past results were encouraging, the Chamber warned that the country must remain watchful for the increasingly volatile situations developing around us. The editorial also listed a number of areas the country needed to tackle throughout 2017.

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05. Linking Enterprise – ‘Integrating Upward Feedback’ On 26th January, the HR Committee within the Malta Chamber organised a Linking Enterprise session focusing on the importance of employee feedback. PricewaterhouseCoopers Malta were identified as a member company with a best practice in the area of employee feedback. Members in attendance were informed of the process, scope and benefits of PwC’s Upward Feedback Mechanism, whereby, through purpose-built software, a manager can request feedback on diverse areas relevant to performance and operation from hand-picked members of the team. As the request for feedback is personalised and targeted, the response rate achieved by PwC reliably exceeds expectations, generates quality feedback and eventually leads to performance and operations improvements. Members in attendance engaged with PwC’s Human Capital Department in order to gain insight as to how such a system could be implemented in their particular business setups in order to generate effective improvements in the performance and workplace well-being of employees.

based on a European economy that has rekindled its competitiveness and provides enough quality jobs for its citizens. The Malta Chamber, together with European employers, do recognise the need for increased convergence within the EU as a way for companies to provide the best possible employment opportunities. However, the Pillar’s potential underlying aim to address gaps in EU social legislation and converge all member states towards a common high level of social standards raises concerns amongst employers and Finance ministers.

07. BDI recognises the Malta Chamber’s claim on regional aid A high level delegation from the Federation of German Industries (BDI), recognised the Malta Chamber’s cause in insisting with the European Union that in terms of its regional aid guidelines, islands should be treated in the same manner, irrespective of whether they are regions or states. The delegation, led by Stefan Mair, member of BDI’s executive board, was on a familiarisation visit to Malta as part of BDI’s

06. Social rights which are firmly rooted in competitiveness The development of a European Pillar Social Rights must be firmly rooted in sustainable competitiveness of the Union rather than pose a threat to it. On 23rd January, the Malta Chamber was invited to attend a conference hosted by the European Commission on the Pillar’s way forward. All European institutions, national governments and civil society were represented by senior figures who participated in lengthy and frank debates about the future of work and the intrinsic link between quality work and social well-being. When, almost a decade ago, the unprecedented sovereign debt crisis hit the Union’s numerous economies, the well-being of citizens was at risk, but the primary focus was on banks and national economies. In this post-crisis era, Europe’s economies are now displaying signs of recovery. Therefore, President Juncker is leading this proposal as a means to re-prioritise the well-being of citizens FEBRUARY / MARCH 2017

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visits to countries taking over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Welcoming the delegation, Anton Borg gave a short introduction on the Malta Chamber, its functions and role, and also gave details about the Maltese Presidency’s top priorities, namely migration, the single market, security, social inclusion, Europe’s neighbourhood and maritime matters. Dr Mair explained that BDI represented a number of German sectoral associations which together represent 100,000 companies that employ more than eight million people. The discussion then turned to Malta’s loss of Objective 1 status in terms of regional state aid.

08. Business stakeholders discuss geo-blocking and e-Commerce The phenomenon of geo-blocking was discussed in a stakeholders’ dialogue with MEP Therese Comodini Cachia, organised by the Malta Business Bureau and the European Parliament Information Office in January. MBB CEO Joe Tanti introduced the debate by highlighting the need to include Maltese stakeholders in discussions with decision-makers with a view to shaping European Union law, which needs to reflect the particular situations in the different member states, including Malta. 62

07. Erwan Bertrand from Eurochambres expressed the concern of European businesses on the effectiveness of the proposed Commission measures in widening cross-border trade. “We would have preferred not to need any proposal on geoblocking, as this is a symptom of a still highly incomplete single market,” Mr Bertrand said. MEP Therese Comodini Cachia, rapporteur on the copyright directive, emphasised that any legislative intervention should remain proportionate, in particular for SMEs which should not be subjected to an obligation to sell in other member

states. She also pointed out that while we need to unblock the internet’s potential in Europe, in Malta we need to take a closer look at the inherent inhibitions of companies to go online especially the prohibitive transport costs for these to offer their goods and services abroad. “Within the Maltese scenario I see a number of local traders trying to take the digital plunge, but they face steep barriers amongst which are postal costs. We need to help them address these barriers which are limiting their power to compete online,” she said. FEBRUARY / MARCH 2017

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09. Quick and fair agreement on Brexit needed “It is in the interest of both parties to quickly come to a fair agreement. Though there will be new challenges for business, there will also be new opportunities, if we act in a correct and constructive manner,” said Prime Minister Joseph Muscat who was addressing What Brexit means for Business, an event organised by the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry on 30th January. “I want to make sure we focus on citizens’ needs and what affects them in their daily lives. Tackling these issues will help create much needed trust in the institutions. The social aspect is the essence of the EU if the Union wants to remain relevant,” Prime Minister Muscat said. Turning to a local perspective, Dr Muscat said that Government had already carried out simulations and studies of the implications of a prospective Brexit, prior to the June 2016 vote. Government was focusing its efforts on maintaining a stable economy. Addressing the same event, Paul Drechsler, President of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said that Brexit was not the result the business community wanted, but one it will have to adapt to, in order to transform this challenge into an opportunity. “At CBI we are not under any illusions. Negotiations will be challenging. Our number one priority in the months and years ahead is to make sure that firms across Europe can keep trading freely with the UK and vice-versa,” Mr Drechsler said. Turning to Malta, Mr Drechsler said that openness had underpinned trade relations between the two countries for centuries. He stressed that this value was not to be taken for granted. Providing a European context to the debate, EESC Employers’ Group Vice President Stefano Mallia said that the four fundamental freedoms of the single market, namely the free movement of goods, services, capital and people, are inseparable and cannot be cherry-picked. “If we don’t take Brexit as the ultimate wake-up call, then we (the EU) does not deserve to exist any longer,” Mr Mallia said. Moderating the seminar, MBB President John Vassallo questioned whether the UK should resort to multilateralism or bilateralism. Malta Chamber President Anton Borg welcomed members to the well-attended event. FEBRUARY / MARCH 2017

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NEWS Internationalisation

01. Future business opportunities in Libya The Libyan Maltese Chamber of Commerce in cooperation with the Libya-Africa Investment Portfolio (LAIP/ LAP) organised the first edition of The Mediterranean Business Network Forum 2016 on 5th December. The inaugural event, entitled Future Business Opportunities in Libya, aimed to explore business potential in Libya. The forum was organised in conjunction with the visit to Malta of a delegation from the Libyan British Business Council headed by Sir Vincent Fean, a former UK Ambassador to Libya and also a former British High Commissioner to Malta. A number of Libyan parastatal and business representatives were present at the event to interact and network with over 240 delegates who attended the forum. The forum was addressed by Anton Borg, President of the Malta Chamber. In his speech, Mr Borg said that Malta has a lot to offer to British companies interested in re-penetrating the North African market, particularly Libya, and vice-versa. “This is due to many factors – geographical proximity, cultural similarities, as well as Maltese companies’ vast experience in doing business with Libya,” he said. Mr Borg explained how the Malta Chamber set up a number of business councils that aim at promoting and facilitating business between Malta and other markets. “These business councils are demand driven and are created by the members themselves,” Mr Borg said. Frank V. Farrugia Deputy President of the Malta Chamber and Vice President of the Libyan Maltese Chamber of Commerce, expressed his satisfaction on the success of the event, and looked forward to the organisation of similar events in the future. The forum was also addressed by Christian Cardona, Minister for the Economy, Investments and Small Business.

02. Chamber signs agreement with China Foreign Trade Centre An agreement between the Malta Chamber and the China Foreign Trade Centre was signed during a promotional event for the 121st edition of the China Canton Fair in December. The agreement is expected to provide a wider scope for collaboration between the two entities within a context of mutual benefit. Addressing the event, Malta Chamber President Anton Borg said the future of the world economy will depend directly on what 66


02. China does or does not do. “It is important to appreciate the changing nature of the role of the Chinese economy in the world. Since China’s economic miracle, it has come a long way from its role as a high costeffective manufacturer. Today, China is the world’s biggest exporter and the world’s second largest economy. Projections go as far as predicting that it is only a question of time before it will be the largest.” Within this context, Mr Borg said that the healthy relationship between one of the world’s largest countries and the European Union’s smallest one brings mutual fruit to the table. “At the Malta Chamber, we have long recognised the importance of China. Through our Internationalisation Desk, we have regularly hosted events that

shine a light on the possibilities and opportunities that exist for trade between our two countries. However more room for collaboration remains and as a Chamber we are only too eager to explore new areas of cooperation such as the one belt, one road concept and bring interested parties closer together towards reaching successful goals,” Mr Borg said. The event was chaired by Malta Chamber Vice President Tonio Casapinta and addressed by Jiang Jiang, H.E. Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to the Republic of Malta, William Wait, Chairman of Malta Enterprise, Qiu Guangling, Economic and Commercial Counsellor of the Chinese Embassy in Malta and Ma Chunzhi, Vice President of the China Foreign Trade Centre. cc FEBRUARY / MARCH 2017


Turning a cultural corner Valletta’s transition into European Capital of Culture 2018 has begun and already the country is making cultural strides forward. Here, Valletta 2018 Foundation Chairman Jason Micallef talks Jo Caruana through the planned programme of events and the legacy projects to come.


ith the European Presidency now in full force and the associated cultural programme in action, attentions are shifting towards our island’s next major opportunity in the spotlight: Valletta’s role as European Capital of Culture (ECOC) in 2018. Of course, preparations for this milestone event have been underway for years, and nobody knows that better than Jason Micallef, who was appointed head of the Valletta 2018 Foundation in 2013 and has been active in its development ever since. Now, with just 10 months to go until the

highly-anticipated ECOC opening ceremony, Mr Micallef believes that everything is in place for Malta to enjoy the success of the hard work that has gone into this so far, while also looking forward to the legacy that this year-long event will leave. “The ECOC is a beautiful concept that was first created by the European Commission in 1985,” Mr Micallef explains. “In my opinion, it’s one of the nicest culture-related activities to come out of the EC and it has certainly proved its worth in the towns and cities that have taken part since, including places like Glasgow,

Photo by Alan Carville

NYE 2016 - Photo by Chris Mangion




“Throughout 2018, Valletta, and Malta as a whole, will thrive. But it is the post-Valletta 2018 Foundation legacy that will be of most value to the island.”

Liverpool and Lille. I believe it is a project that leaves its mark long-term, especially where regeneration is concerned, and that is so important.” Mr Micallef explains how, in the years since Valletta was awarded the title, the Foundation has put a strong structure behind it. The team is now made up of over 25 full-timers, as well as many more parttimers and others working on a contract basis. “Together they have crafted a very strong programme, both for our flagship events and for the ones that will take place throughout the year.” The first flagship – a grand opening on 20th January 2018, will be followed by three others, namely the second edition of the Valletta Pageant of the Seas in the Grand Harbour, a festival of four new operas by local and international composers, and a closing event throughout December. The rest of the year will feature a huge range of over 400 events, with something to suit all tastes and across the genres of music, dance, drama, poetry, literature, film and more. “All of this is absolutely fantastic and I have no doubt that people will engage with and enjoy the programme,” Mr Micallef continues. “However, I am also very excited about the regeneration activities being spearheaded by Valletta 2018, including many that are already in action. For instance, there’s the restoration of the Triton Fountain and the completion of St James Ditch, as well as the conclusion of the City Gate Project, which will finally give a huge public space back to the people. This particular project will later grow towards Floriana, and results there will be witnessed well beyond 2018.” FEBRUARY / MARCH 2017



Malta Fashion Week 2015 - Photo by Noel Fenech


in its own right; this is visible from online search information. Valletta is now more in-demand than Malta and there’s nothing wrong with that. What was once a dead city is now thriving.

Photo by Alan Carville

Meanwhile, Mr Micallef cites other projects that will have long-reaching effects, including the ongoing restorations of Palazzo Ferreria opposite Pjazza Teatru Rjal and the Jesuits Church on Merchants Street, as well as the reopening of the Old Market on Merchants Street – plans for which are said to be on schedule and due for completion by the end of the year. The Old Abattoir on Bull Street, which has lain derelict for over 40 years, is also undergoing restoration and will be unveiled soon as Valletta’s first design cluster. Finally, the largest project of all will be MUŻA, the city’s new art museum, which will be located within the Auberge d’Italie. “In addition to all of that, we have also witnessed huge support and investment from the private sector,” he continues. “By the end of this year there will be 21 boutique hotels operating in the city, all occupying properties that were previously derelict or in a bad state of repair. They blend beautifully with our vision for Valletta, and will become an important part of our offering.” Mr Micallef believes that, throughout 2018 itself, Valletta, and Malta as a whole, will thrive. However, he also feels strongly that it is the post-Valletta 2018 legacy that will be of most value to the island. “Stats show that, already, Valletta has become a destination



Notte Bianca 2016 - Photo by Chris Mangion

“As a consequence of all this, I think we have shown the authorities and local Government that Valletta is earning her keep and that further investment into other aspects are now crucial. Logistics, for instance, need to be addressed and there is a lot to be done; we need to see how to ensure Valletta is practical for the people that live, visit and work in it everyday.” Parking, of course, is a major concern, but Mr Micallef is quick to quell worries that Valletta 2018 will present a repeat of the early days of the EU Presidency, when many of the city’s streets were completely cleared of cars, causing chaos. “I think we’re better prepared now; those involved have learnt from that experience, and I believe things will work a lot more smoothly for the rest of the Presidency, and Valletta 2018. “Then, further down the line, other elements will be introduced to further help with this, including the new 300-car car park in St James Ditch, which will be attractively obscured by a garden. Similarly, environmental decisions are also crucial for the medium- and long-term plan for Valletta, as well as constantly-improving maintenance


projects to ensure the city’s upkeep. I am pleased to say that this aspect is well under control, and that there is now plenty of smooth coordination between the entities involved, all under the supervision of the Grand Harbour Regeneration Corporation.” Now, at this stage in the process, Mr Micallef reiterates how enthused he is for Valletta – both in the 18 months to come and beyond. “The last three-to-four years have seen Valletta transform, and that will continue. Short-term we can look forward to a year of fantastic events both within the city and beyond its walls that will be enjoyed by a huge variety of people. “Further beyond that, Destination Valletta will continue to shine. Going beyond the €70 million that has already been invested by the Government alone, a further €30 million worth of European Regional Development Funds will be pumped into the lower part of Valletta for a large-scale project there. “Together, these short-, medium- and long-term investments all showcase our vision for the capital. It is one that will certainly guarantee exciting times for the city, and our country as a whole,” Mr Micallef concludes. cc

“By the end of this year there will be 21 boutique hotels operating in the city, all occupying properties that were previously derelict or in a bad state of repair.”



Results and resolutions After a productive 2016, another busy year lies ahead for many of Malta’s foremost enterprises. Marie-Claire Grima speaks to seven business leaders to find out about the milestones achieved last year, and the priorities and targets that they have set for 2017.

Marvin Cuschieri


David Abela Raymond Vassallo

Donna Greaves Bonello


Jean Claude Muscat



Natasha Pace

Ryan Borg FEBRUARY / MARCH 2017






Raymond Vassallo CEO, JM Vassallo Ltd 2016 was a very challenging year for JM Vassallo. It was a year where a number of capital investments initiated during the previous year were completed. Our new steel processing facility shed covering an area of 2000sqm, equipped with a reinforcement processing line – the first of its kind in Malta – started operating in January 2016. The introduction and integration of a new order processing software system allowed our office staff the facility to monitor the progress of every customer’s particular order in real time, during the various stages of processing. Furthermore, in April, a 621Kwp photovoltaic generation plant was connected to the electricity grid. Today, the yearly generation of this plant meets our annual electricity consumption requirements and translates in the saving of 660 tons of CO2 annually. This means that our organisation is contributing the same equivalent of electricity consumption in alternative green energy. In November, we started dismantling our steel mesh welding line in preparation for the installation of a new mesh production line with the latest technology, which will 76

enhance our production flexibility to meet increasing demand in non-standard mesh more efficiently. Our priorities for 2017 are to maximise our production and supply potential, and concentrate on improving areas of the operation, as required. During the last couple of years we have focused more on our production and processing performances while overlooking other sectors which we acknowledge can be improved. We aspire to obtain certain important certifications which will further boost the quality of our products. We also hope to finalise some important projects, both locally and for export, which are being planned to be built with EVG 3D Construction System, an energy-efficient, anti-seismic and easy construction system fully produced in our factory complex in Zebbug. This construction system already satisfies EU energy efficient levels which have not yet been implemented locally. For several years now, our biggest obstacle has been the unfair competition that continues to grow due to material entering the country from Sicily under the free movement of goods premise, surpassing the normal customs channels that normal imports have to go through. We are afraid that with the introduction of excise duty on steel materials from 1st January 2017,

unfair competition will continue to rise. Unfortunately, there is nothing much we can do about it; however, we hope there will be proper inspections and effective enforcement by customs officials. On a more company-specific level, we plan to focus more resources in the coming year to keep abreast of changes happening both locally and globally in order to ensure that we are always thinking and planning ahead and improving our operations accordingly.



David Abela Managing Director, Eurobridge Eurobridge had a fantastic year in 2016! I knew that our policy to always put the customer first in all our decisions would pay dividends, but to grow as exponentially as we did over the last two years has been truly incredible. We beat all our expectations for every single department, and I cannot thank my team enough for contributing so much to where we are today. It was not just sales though; all departments have been extremely busy and we have continued to invest heavily in training, new recruits, new trailers, office equipment and expanding our international network of correspondents. It has been a great ride throughout! Our major priority this year is to remain the most competitive trailer operator in Malta. By competitive, I do not mean just in terms of prices but also in terms of the service offered to our customers. From the feedback we get, we know our customer service is second-to-none but at the same time we have pinpointed areas where improvements needed to be made. One has already been seen to – we have increased our warehousing area substantially in Hal

Far and can therefore unload and deliver cargo much quicker than ever before. The next target is to improve the delivery service and we are already working to implement a new system soon. We always put the customer first, and to do so I believe we have to put our team in a position to give the best possible service. It is with this vision in mind that we will be moving into a new office later this year, and will implement new paperless systems. This way, our customers will always be given the service they deserve in the most efficient and economical way. Those are our targets and with them in place, the financial milestones will be achieved without compromising on anything. No matter the growth we are experiencing, we must always keep our feet on the ground and work relentlessly to keep the same commitment we have always shown. That is our biggest challenge and that is what we will strive to do. Taking the bigger picture into account, our main obstacle remains the economic environment, and the risk of becoming too complacent. Everyone is aware of

the current economic situation which is extremely positive; however this will not be the same forever, so we have to be prepared for every eventuality.

Jean Claude Muscat CEO International Operations, Saint James Hospital Group 2016 was a transition year for the Saint James Hospital Eye Clinic as we relocated the ophthalmic department from the main hospital in Sliema to a specialised clinic on the Birkirkara bypass. This move enabled us to create a specifically designed clinic that provides improved patient flow and a more professional set-up similar to other leading international ophthalmic centres. This move also came with an investment of more than â‚Ź2 million in new equipment used to perform the latest cataract interventions and laser


procedures which are now unique to our clinic in Malta. The Saint James Hospital Eye Clinic priorities and goals are clear. We are seeking to achieve a healthcare quality accreditation that no other medical facility has as yet been awarded in Malta. We have already achieved this accreditation with our eye clinic in Hungary. Such an accreditation will provide us with an internationally-recognised standard of care that places us amongst the leading medical facilities in the world in terms of patient safety and quality of care. The second goal is to continue to improve the knowledge of our team through ongoing training provided locally and abroad in order to be able to offer our patients the very latest ophthalmic services without the need for patients to travel overseas to undergo specialised ophthalmic surgery or treatment. The third goal is to increase our market share as we have invested heavily in the latest surgery platforms. In fact, we are now performing refractive laser procedures and premium lens surgery interventions that were not available in Malta until six months ago. Explaining these new procedures and their many advantages and improvements

over the previous technologies will take time. We therefore need to invest in providing the public regular information and updates on these treatment modalities which provide an amazing improvement to a person’s quality of life. This year we have teamed up with a leading refractive surgery institute in Milan, headed by Dr Francesco Carones who is one of the leading anterior segment surgeons in Europe. Through our affiliation with the Carones Ophthalmic Institute we shall be organising our first Saint James Hospital Group ophthalmic conference, which will take place in Malta in March. Leading ophthalmologists from Malta, Italy, Hungary and Czech Republic together with their supporting teams will come together for this meeting, which will take place over two days. Participants will present their results, discuss latest techniques and procedures, statistics and patient outcomes. More importantly, we will be standardising treatment procedures and protocols in line with the latest international guidelines. This is a first for Maltese private healthcare institutions and such international exchanges will ensure our quality of care is second to none. 79


Ryan Borg Sales Director, Mattress Collection For Mattress Collection, 2016 was certainly one of our most challenging years. From the consumer side of things, we are extremely satisfied about surpassing most of the targets we set. Customer service has remained at the same high level we began with, which is quite a mammoth task, especially with our unique 30-day money back guarantee. On the commercial side, the uptake could have been better; however we are delighted about the exceptional feedback from the hoteliers that have taken that important step of giving sleep its due importance in the hospitality sector. Their guests actually comment regularly on the amazing sleep they had in their hotel room, on mattresses we supplied. We have recently opened our second shop in Tal-Balal Road, San Gwann, after we saw a need for an outlet in that area to service our customers in the east side of the island. It’s funny when you think about it – Malta is only 28km by 18km – but try to get from Swieqi to Zebbug after 4.30pm and you quickly realise it’s no mean feat! It was a challenging task to ensure that the branding was carried forward in the manner expected. This year, we will be

introducing some innovative products which are currently in the R&D stage. It takes quite some time to ensure that the final product meets all the requirements and will be received well, and we are hoping to roll out the new products throughout the year. Going forward, we intend to increase our European presence. We have a lot of interest from businesses in Europe wanting to partner with us and we hope to continue

bringing our fantastic mattresses to many more households while still retaining the one-to-one customer service level that our clients have come to expect from us. Finding the right staff to accomplish this is always a challenge; however, there are many talented people on these islands, and we hope to be able to bring them on board to continue to help our clients get the best sleep possible, thus improving their health and their lives.

Donna Greaves Bonello Audit Manager, PKF Malta 2016 was a busy year for PKF as we laid the foundations for active promotion of Captives in the USA in tandem with our PKF offices in New York and New Jersey. This was a bold approach for a local firm to go against the odds in such a vast Captive Insurance market, where Malta is not well known and


where everyone agrees there is need for government agencies to invest more to secure a modest foothold. During 2016, PKF carried out six initiatives in New York including speaking at three insurance summits. In the global race for FDI, there is stiff competition from other EU countries, so it goes without saying that to succeed, the island needs all the help it can get from Finance Malta and Malta Enterprise. Although progress has been registered, it is suggested that a US desk should be fully manned by Malta Enterprise to exploit the potential of the market during the Trump administration. PKF has sown the seeds to attract a top USA university and associated business accelerator unit to set up a branch in Malta. Due to its magnitude this project needs the sympathetic ear of Government to persuade them that Malta, albeit small, has potential to attract talent due to its geographical position close to the oil-rich Middle East countries. Recently this has been amply manifested when we attracted quality investments such as Crane Printing, Barts Hospital and Medical School, Shanghai Electric and the Sadeen group of investors opening an American University.

In 2017, PKF shall continue looking for investors to encourage an R&D facility and innovation centre of global stature to set up in Malta. It is an ambitious project that the island needs to satisfy to reach its selfdeclared goal in R&D, which works out to two per cent of GDP in public and private investment by 2020. Our recent visits to Beijing have made us more aware of the FDI opportunities that emerge from the ambitious Chinese policy termed ‘One Belt, One Road.’ We shall allocate more resources to tap this market as we are certain China may open new potential for high-net-worth individuals investing in Europe. Other priorities for this year are to strengthen our core human resources through further recruitment and to proceed in attracting more foreign investment given the Brexit-related opportunities that may arise. In our quest to achieve a higher corporate social responsibility, we shall continue to provide pro-bono academic studies to the commercial and social community using our in-house economists and statisticians, through close collaboration with foreign universities such as Bremen in Germany and Bocconi in Milan. FEBRUARY / MARCH 2017


Natasha Pace CEO, Chestertons Malta 2016 was a year of frenetic activity which saw Chestertons move into their new custom-built head office in St Julian’s and the opening of another branch on the Gzira seafront towards the latter part of the year. Lettings and sales hit record levels as prices and activity in Malta continued their upward trajectory. The company had delegations which were represented at a home and exhibition fair in the Netherlands and a road show in South Africa. Since Chestertons was only introduced in 2012, we were late to the party of estate agency networks on the island and therefore have a lot of catching up to do. However, it is also an advantage for us, as we can take the best of the industry and discard the rest. Recruitment is an ongoing priority and we intend to come out with innovative packages to entice seasoned negotiators to join our team. Our marketing is also more focused this year with the intention of reaching a targeted audience within the public in Malta as well as expats

looking to buy or rent property on our island. We are doing this by collaborating with strong companies and using brand awareness to our advantage, as well as maintaining our brand new website with the latest news and properties available on the market. We will continue to build the brand recognition of Chestertons in Malta, with specialised training both locally and internationally for our growing team. Chestertons will continue to provide expert local knowledge and international marketing, all in a professional manner. Our goals for 2017 are to continue to grow our first-class service with our clients and get more referrals through our international network. We are also aiming to beef up all our branches with experienced negotiators both on lettings and sales. We also want to concentrate more on commercial leases this year as the demand is increasing tremendously, as well as on launching our brand new website,

Marvin Cuschieri CEO, FHRD 2016 was an interesting year for us, since we concluded a number of projects and consolidated others. The country is enjoying a period of economic growth leading to a number of companies expanding and going into new ventures. This has put a strain on Malta’s HR community and at the same time, the search for the right talent has become all the more difficult. Through our lifelong learning programmes and events tailormade for the local business community, we have assisted a number of entities in ensuring that they have a strong and motivated workforce. Our aim for 2017 will be to upgrade Malta’s HR professional community in a substantive way. We will soon be announcing an interesting initiative which will tie with our efforts of the past 25 years in making HR more relevant to Malta. In addition, we aim to continue offering new products and services which are innovative and more niche, rather than more of the same.


As an association, we expect to have a stronger, more focused, online presence. We also plan to work with other entities and create joint events in Malta and abroad. Working with third parties is something which we have done in the past and which if managed well, can reap a number of positive benefits. cc



Great working environments begin with wellness Corporate wellness is one of the buzz-phrases of the business world – and for good reason. Jo Caruana meets CorporateVIP’s CEO Nicholas Ponniah and its wellness and engagement director Paul Sansome to discover how they are helping top businesses boost their employees’ engagement by focusing on holistic wellness.


ellness is not to be underestimated. From our emotional well-being to our physical fitness, a variety of elements combine to determine how ‘well’ we feel at any given moment, and that in turn affects our ability to get things done. In the corporate world, all of this obviously has massive repercussions. After all, in a climate when good people are hard to come by, if an employee isn’t happy, they are unlikely to do a fantastic job or to even stay in that job to begin with. This is where employee wellness comes in, and Maltese-based company CorporateVIP


(which also operates in Serbia and Estonia, with plans to launch in Dubai this summer) is leading the way when it comes to providing viable solutions to companies eager to invest in their team’s wellness – and to see results. To this end, CorporateVIP – which is already renowned for its active digital platform for employee perks and rewards – has joined forces with leading international health consultant Paul Sansome, who is now their wellness and engagement director. Paul is extremely well-known in the field, with 25 years’ experience behind him and a portfolio of global clients that includes Grant Thornton,

the British Library, the British Medical Association, Great Ormond Street Hospital, Channel 4, Evergreen Marine, Camden Council and Network Rail. “It’s a powerful partnership,” says CorporateVIP CEO Nicholas Ponniah. “Our expertise in how to engage employees from a perks and privileges perspective fuses perfectly with Paul’s knowledge on wellness and engagement, and we can now offer a universal solution that takes all aspects of motivation into consideration.” As Mr Sansome explains, ‘’the app encourages employees to engage with the FEBRUARY / MARCH 2017


Photo by Alan Carville

“It can be hard for companies to imagine just how powerful employee wellness can be but the facts are clear – BMW in the US saved $22 million in one year alone.”


company’s wellness policy, which can provide tangible results and achieve the right return on investment. Having the CorporateVIP wellness and engagement application will save companies a lot of money in sickness, absenteeism, loss of productivity and voluntary attrition. The way that it works is by having a fantastic, easy-to-use digital, mobile platform that is built ‘bespoke’ for each company and its employees, with a social aspect, news updates and intra-company activities that pull the workforce together and keep them motivated. “The app also has brilliant engagement tools, such as individual wellness scoring and biometric data that allows for personal wellness targets to be set and targeted, followed up by support from dedicated wellness coaches. Employees are encouraged to become healthier, have more energy, be more productive and enjoy their work. What’s unique about the service is the integration of human and practical sessions with the digital platform, including seminars, workshops, health screening and organised group activities with further options for on-site facility additions such as fitness training pods, wellness zones, relaxation areas, sleep pods and lots more.’’ With this in mind, every one of CorporateVIP’s wellness programmes is completely unique and begins with an anonymous full-company survey that delves into what makes each employee happy or unhappy in their environment, as well as a complete health screening to assess the physical side of things. “The results can vary quite substantially,” Mr Sansome continues. “For instance, a project we completed for Evergreen Marine in Birmingham highlighted that religion was very important to its employees, so we worked with them to set up a multi-use communal space and give them the facilities to focus on their spirituality during their work day. On the other hand, other companies find that their team is keen to have a space to relax in at certain points during the day, or a room where they can practice yoga or other types of fitness. Meanwhile, other solutions include the creation of sleep pods, personal training pods, wellness spaces and libraries.” As a result of their investment in wellness and engagement, Mr Sansome explains that companies can expect to enjoy tangible results – including a reduction in absenteeism by up

to 39 per cent, a reduction in employee stress by up to 71 per cent, and an increase in staff morale by up to 69 per cent. In addition it helps businesses to double their retention rates, boost their reputation as a desired employer, and attract the very best talent in their sector. “It can be hard for companies to imagine just how powerful employee wellness can be but the facts are clear. BMW in the US, for instance, saved $22 million in one year alone, simply by investing in the wellness and engagement of its workforce. And despite the fantastic results, the investment needed is actually very affordable for companies of all sizes.” To achieve its outcomes, CorporateVIP approaches wellness from an eight-point perspective – spiritual, occupational, emotional, environmental, intellectual, financial, physical and social. “All of those elements combine to determine whether an employee is well and productive or not, and all of them need to be considered,” continues Mr Sansome. “Our programme achieves that by taking an individual approach to collecting the data we need to assess a company’s overall wellness, and then following it up long term through the use of our digital platform. This platform enables company employees to stay in touch with us as they work through their goals (whether they are fitness-related or otherwise), while they can also interact with other employees regarding social opportunities with like-minded individuals.” Locally, CorporateVIP is already making excellent headway using its approach among both SMEs and larger businesses. Its local portfolio includes companies like Betsson, MITA, FimBANK, MSV Life, Valletta Fund Services, Emirates and Tipico, and Mr Sansome is busy building a team of highly-trained corporate wellness and engagement coaches to help facilitate the demand. “This isn’t a model that we created overnight, but one that I have refined and streamlined over the decades to really give companies an option that engages each and every one of their employees in an affordable manner. It works and, combined with the rest of CorporateVIP’s offerings of great-fun, money-saving perks and privileges, employees come to know that the company they work for is investing in their happiness holistically,“ says Mr Sansome. “This is a solution that works.” cc 85

Tech Trends

Every January, the muchanticipated Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas sets the tone for the tech and gadget trends expected to dominate markets that year. Following the end of another successful exhibition, Martina Said selects some of the favourites. 01. Underwater drone

This odd-looking glove is actually an ingenious gadget which was developed for patients with neurological and musculoskeletal injuries. RAPAEL Smart Rehabilitation Solutions uses portable, lightweight equipment for home training, and patients can carry out rehab programmes based on ‘gamified’ training contents, which are clinically proven and customised to each patient for a faster recovery.

05. Next-level VR

This underwater drone by PowerVision, called PowerRay, is as exciting (dare we say more so?) as the invention which brought us some incredible aerial footage. It can submerge up to 30 metres and records 4K video streamed to your phone, which is used to navigate the drone. The add-on Fishfinder sonar can detect fish up to 40 metres away and lure them closer with a blue light.

The craze that is virtual reality shows no signs of slowing down; in fact, it looks like it’s only just getting started. While this headset model is still in development stages, Fove are looking like the first company to have a usable VR headset with in-built eye-tracking technology. Given how much data eye-tracking can collect to improve game designs, this technology can prove to be a hot area for development.

02. Hi-tech baby monitor

06. 8K monitor

Aristotle by Nabi is a voice-activated smart assistant which can answer your questions, as well as those asked by your children. With Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant built into a speaker, and an ability to soothe babies back to sleep automatically as well as order baby products when you’re running out, it sounds like many a new parent’s dream come true.

03. The Smart Lamp Called the Luke Roberts Smart Lamp, this start-up success sends regular light downwards but lets you cast light of any colour and in any direction on top, by picking a shade via an app on your phone. Inside the hanging lamp are over 300 light-emitting diodes and, according to its co-creators, it puts out 2,000 lumens of full colour light above the fixture and another 3,000 lumens of white light downwards.


04. Gamified Rehab

The Dell Ultrasharp UP3218K is the first 8K resolution monitor, unveiled by the computer tech giant at the CES 2017. Super crisp and a staggering 32 inches, it packs in 280 pixels per inch, which means it’s like having four 4K screens in a single panel. Though there’s barely any 8K content available to watch or play yet, it’s a mammoth monitor specifically aimed at creatives. cc


04. 03.






Office trends 01.

04. Slatted walls

Giving your workspace a well-deserved makeover? Marie-Claire Grima takes a peek at the interior design trends shaking up offices in 2017. 01. Greenery According to Pantone, who chose this fetching shade of green as the colour of the year for 2017, the “fortifying attributes of Greenery signals consumers to take a deep breath, oxygenate and reinvigorate”. We can’t argue with that – it works beautifully in contrast with neutral and monochrome surfaces, and directs the move towards the refreshing outdoors that’s become a hallmark of recent office design.

Brabbu (

02. Terrariums


Speaking of greenery, there’s no easier way to hop on the trend of bringing the outdoors in than by creating a terrarium. It’s easy to create and can be made in a variety of sizes, depending on what sort of container you have on hand and how much space you want it to take up. Maintenance is minimal once the plants are established, but as they grow, you may want to trim any parts that climb over and above the top of your container.

Gardener’s Supply (

03. Raw metal This year, we’re likely to see a move away from flawlessness and high shine finishes in metals towards a raw and earthier direction. Emerging materials include pewter, zinc, aluminium and tin, while rugged materials such as lava stone are no longer the preserve of tacky souvenirs from Etna, but are being used in a number of intriguing ways, including lighting fixtures.


Nordik Space (

05. Graphic calendars The time for buying calendars and diaries should technically be well behind us, but we’re finding it hard to resist the returning trend of outsize graphic calendars, including the famous Stendig calendar. Designed in 1966 by Massimo Vignelli, it was taken that year into the Design collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The timelessness of the design means it works with practically any office space, be it modern or traditional – and you’ll never forget what day it is again!

06. Terrazzo Terrazzo tiles, made from marble chips and cement ground to a fine finish, used to be a classic feature of Maltese spaces, both private and public. This golden oldie is now enjoying a revival because it really does have a lot of things going for it – fresh and neutral from afar but textured and interesting up close, virtually indestructible, easy to maintain and can be made to almost any specification. cc



Bentu Design (



From hygge to Helvetica, Nordic design remains a heavy-hitter in this year’s trends for interiors. And what could be more Scandi than a sauna, which slatted walls immediately put you in mind of? No need to get steamed up about it – slatted walls add dimension, calm and a contemporary flair to almost any corporate space, and are perfect for elevating a corridor, lounge or communal area.

Archilovers (


Diespeker (www.diespeke



Trending: the hip new eateries taking Malta’s restaurant scene by storm The last couple of months have welcomed a duo of newly opened eateries into the local fold. A café and a smokehouse that share a distinct young and urban style reminiscent of trendy cities around the world: Emma’s Kitchen and Fat Louie’s. Sarah Micallef discusses the concept, design and vision behind the two new hotspots with their dedicated owners. Photos by Alan Carville

Emma’s Kitchen Newly opened Emma’s Kitchen in San Gwann is the beautifully presented culmination of Emma Warrington’s food blog – Emma’s Kitchen Project – which Emma, with the help of partner and creative director Matthew Demarco, crafted with as much love, care and style as she puts into her food. “I really wanted to spend more time cooking,” Emma says, looking back at how it all started. “I was very busy in my final year studying architecture, and as soon as I graduated, I decided to start my food blog. I always thought it would be fun to have a café, but at the time, it was just a pipe dream.” Fast forward a few years and here we are, sitting in her café, which, despite only being open a couple of months, has already amassed a loyal following. “After setting up small food stalls at markets and doing some private catering, we started looking for a place to open a café, but the first time we came to see this place in San Gwann, we thought it was too big for what we had in mind, and way over budget,” she recalls. Despite this, it stuck in her mind, and she FEBRUARY / MARCH 2017

returned a year later. A year of negotiations and five long months of renovations came next, which transformed the Half Way Inn – an old-school bar where the old Darts Club used to meet – into Emma’s Kitchen. “It had been shut for 15 years after the owner passed away unexpectedly, and looked quite different,” Emma says, explaining how the layout needed to be shifted around. Pointing out the previous location of the bar along one side, Emma, whose architecture background proved invaluable throughout the renovation, explains that the opening where the current bar area stands was originally closed off. “That was a wall with a much smaller opening into the games room. We split the games room in half and put up a wall, with half being the bar and half being the kitchen.” 91


In fact, both Emma and Matthew were heavily involved in the entire process, making it a true labour of love. With a distinct vision in mind, they custom designed, hand built and hand painted almost everything inside Emma’s Kitchen, and it shows. “When you have a very specific idea of what you want, it’s very difficult to find it, so we did a lot ourselves. Apart from the fact that we were also on a tight budget,” says Emma, pointing to the copper lamps that illuminate the bar – “I wanted copper lights in that style but could only find silver, so we took them apart and sprayed them.” The bulbs hanging from the ceiling were also put together by the couple themselves. “They had to be custom made to fit the size of the room, so we bought rolls of wire, bulbs and fittings, measured each fitting and how we wanted them to hang,” Emma continues, joking that she and Matthew spent a couple of cosy Friday nights in… wiring lights! They also roped in Emma’s father and uncle when it came to installing the glass window and door panes using the traditional putty technique, after the craftsman they had lined up to do it had an accident and broke his arm. “Very few people still do this nowadays, and we couldn’t find anyone One of the major differences however was the windows and door. “These are the original openings, but for some reason in the 80s, the windows and door had been made smaller, and aluminium was put in – possibly because of the heat. Opening them up made the biggest difference to the space.” When it came to décor, Emma and Matthew had one rule of thumb – simplicity, and staying true to the space. “It’s a beautiful space, so we didn’t really feel like it needed a lot done to it,” says Emma. “There were also some elements that we wanted to keep, out of respect for the history of the place,” Matthew adds, like the darts score board which now displays the menu, as well as the original wooden panelling, which the pair removed, treated and painted for re-use around the bar. 92

else. Luckily, my uncle, who is really handy, stepped in and we did it ourselves. There are 59 panes in all, and it took ages!” she laughs. The design style they achieved is part industrial – thanks to features like the original xorok supported by steel beams – and part homely, which is just the way they intended. “We wanted people to feel at home, as if they were actually coming in to someone’s kitchen,” they say. Meanwhile, while there are a number of defining features within the space, Emma considers the patterned tiles and large windows to be the most recognisable and indicative. And what about that wonderful bar, I ask? She laughs as she tells me her final story – sourcing the repurposed wood counter top. “I love the idea of using old wood, so I was trying to explain this to my carpenter, but he couldn’t understand what I meant. At one point I looked at his work top, which was covered in sawdust, and as I started clearing it away, I said, ‘this is what I mean, like this! Why don’t you give me this?’ He said, ‘take it!’, but didn’t really believe me.” It was only when he saw it in place that her carpenter understood – and looking at how it all came together so beautifully, it would really have been hard not to.

“When you have a very specific idea of what you want, it’s very difficult to find it, so we did a lot ourselves.”



Fat Louie’s Described as New York Best’s “alcoholic older cousin”, Fat Louie’s – the latest eatery from the brothers behind the successful New York Best franchise, Tommy and Nick Diacono – threw open its metal doors a couple of months ago, and it’s not just the unique menu, comprised of interest-piquing items like bone marrow and 12-hour smoked ribs, that caught our attention.


The eclectic décor of the smokehouse is difficult to pin down, but echoes old-school taverns in downtown New York mixed in with a distinct European flair – a reflection of the brothers’ tastes and travels. “We like to follow international brands, and saw a trend for Texas-style smokehouses with a European influence – like Pitt Cue Co in London and Big Easy,” says Tommy, speaking of how the idea for Fat Louie’s came about. The cosy eatery, nestled just next door to New York Best in Paceville, started its life as the seating area of an Italian restaurant before work started on its transformation. While the Diaconos didn’t have a set brief in mind, they wanted Fat Louie’s to be a reflection of themselves first and foremost. “It’s a space for us to experiment with things we can’t do at New York Best. It’s really a manifestation of our passion. While NYB has more of a franchise feel, we opened Fat Louie’s for us,” Tommy says, referring to their edgy choices in both décor and menu. From the cracked butcher tiles on the wall to the industrial flooring, antique bistro chairs and naked neon bones on the ceiling – which have become somewhat of an icon – every aspect is intentioned, and has its own story. 95


“Having done up four restaurants before Fat Louie’s, we learnt a lot – about lighting, space and flow of kitchen. When I travel, I study the foot flow and mise en place of different spaces, and it teaches you a lot,” Tommy says, adding that they found inspiration from a variety of places around the world, like Minetta Tavern in New York. “We wanted something old-school that looks like it’s been there forever, which I feel we managed to achieve.” In fact, among the restaurant’s most defining features are the broken tiles adorning the walls – an idea that came to Tommy while dining at Anahi, in Paris. “They had taken over an old place, and the walls were covered with broken tiles which had pieces missing, and were filled with gold leaf. I loved how they turned a ruined wall into a feature, and decided to do something similar. We found old butcher tiles and emulated the effect with turquoise grouting,” he says, noting that tiles often get broken when hanging shelves and picture frames anyway. “It was quite difficult to explain that we wanted the tiles to be broken to the tilers!” Apart from collecting ideas and inspiration, the brothers were also very involved when it came to setting the place up and sourcing the different elements they needed. The turquoise grout for the tiles, for example, which Tommy wanted to match the turquoise neon, was nowhere to be found locally, so he sourced it from Sicily. The counter, meanwhile, is a 200-year-old relic he stumbled upon in Gozo, while working on a different project. “I was actually going to buy 96

it three or four years ago when my brother and I were planning to open a ‘fish and pig’ concept shop. We were about to close on a shop in San Gwann when I found this counter, but that’s when the Sliema property came up for NYB and we couldn’t do both,” he recalls. Years down the line, Tommy tracked it down for Fat Louie’s. “It was an old bar counter and still has a drawer with a hole for coins. It was then restored by my father,” he says. Indeed, the brothers have come a long way since setting up their first restaurant – a journey that is evident in every aspect of Fat Louie’s, and celebrated on its walls. “When we started NYB, I was 25. The learning

process since then, and the amount we’ve invested to learn about the industry is huge. The photos displayed on the walls really tell that story,” Tommy continues. And while experience teaches, that’s not to say it came without its challenges, as tight budgets forced the brothers to employ their creativity. “The biggest challenge was definitely financing,” Tommy says, explaining that with NYB growing so fast, financing became an issue so as not to miss out on the opportunities that came up. “It wasn’t easy, but it’s good because it corners you and makes you get creative” – and judging by the results, it’s certainly paid off. cc

“We wanted something old-school that looks like it’s been there forever, which I feel we managed to achieve.”


Food Trends

01. Sea vegetables Over the past five years, demand for seaweed food and drink products has increased by 150 per cent in Europe. It’s not surprising – not only does it taste great, but one serving of seaweed is loaded with more calcium than broccoli and is almost as rich in proteins as legumes. There are various types and varieties of sea produce to choose from too; for instance, nori, which is traditionally used to make sushi, can be shredded and sprinkled onto salad, ramen or rice bowls, while dulse (pictured) adds a briny component to food without loading it up with salt.

The Rawtarian


06. Edamame noodles Courgetti (spaghetti-like strands of courgettes) were once touted as satisfying replacements for a carb lover’s cravings, but nobody was fooled. Heartier but still healthy alternatives, such as edamame noodles, will be this year’s answer to carb alternatives. Not only do they retain the lovely al dente bite that so many pasta fans found lacking in courgetti, they’re also gluten-free, making them suitable for coeliacs who really miss their pasta fix. Other intriguing pasta substitutes taking centre stage this year include pea pasta and beetroot rice. cc

Lodi Corazza

Millennials drink less alcohol than the generations before them, and value quality, prestige and innovation in what they drink. As a result, non-alcoholic drinks are bound to become more inspiring than the sugary sweet juice bombs that were previously the only choices available for teetotallers. Expect to hear much more about turmeric shots, coldpressed juices and non-alcoholic ‘spirits’ which can be used to make cocktails so delicious you’ll barely notice the absence of a buzz.

Think of pignoletto as prosecco’s cousin, but with richer flavour and more depth. The wine is made from the Pignoletto grape, which grows in the hills between Modena and Bologna in the EmiliaRomagna region. The wine produced is refreshing and fruity, a wonderful light and sparkling alternative for those who are bored of prosecco, can’t stomach the yeasty flavours of champagne but still want something lovely to toast with.

Charcoal Venice

05. Pignoletto

02. Low or no-alcohol drinks

Not the stuff you use to light your barbeque. The charcoal used in food is derived from peat, coal, wood and coconut shells, and is ‘activated’ by heating common charcoal with a gas which increases its surface area and increases its internal porosity. Purported health benefits include detoxification, boosting the metabolism, whitening teeth and curing hangovers. Watch out for it in an increasing number of dishes, snacks and cocktails, if you can handle its slightly menacing appearance.

Tasse d’Amour

It started out as an online fundraising initiative, but the Cook For Syria cookbook, with recipes from Syrian families, as well as celebrity chefs such as Jamie Oliver, Yotam Ottolenghi and others, has become an Amazon bestseller, with another one in the works. “In the face of tragedy, a desire has grown outside Syria to know this war-torn country and its people more intimately,” says the book’s co-author, Itab Azzam, “and what brings people closer to one another than sharing food?” There are endless dishes to choose from, but favourite Syrian dishes include muhammara, freekeh and kibbe.

Marie-Claire Grima looks at the weird and wonderful dishes and drinks making their way to our tables in 2017.

03. Charcoal


04. Syrian food




Evening Standard

Cookie and Kate


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CC make the headlines

Malta is well placed to capitalise upon opportunities in an uncertain world: HSBC CEO Andrew Beane

Malta’s economy to stand out in 2017 in an unpredictable world, says HSBC Malta CEO Malta’s economy has the potential to emerge even stronger in 2017 despite a high level of uncertainty in global and European economies, said HSBC Malta CEO Andrew Beane while speaking at The Economist’s The World in 2017 Gala Dinner Malta. “There’s something quite fantastic about the smallest country in the EU holding the Presidency – perhaps the most important moment in the EU’s development itself – and doing so at a time when being small, adaptable and entrepreneurial is an

opportunity,” he said during an on-stage discussion with Daniel Franklin, executive editor of The Economist. Those opportunities, according to Mr Beane, lay in Malta’s strengths, which he signalled out as its heritage, a highly-

educated and bilingual workforce, having one of the top 10 ports in the Mediterranean, its location just six miles from Europe’s main shipping lane to China, and thriving sectors of high-tech and financial services. “In particular, if we look to the emerging markets which continue to grow twice as fast as the developed world, and we focus on those key trade flows, we focus on relationships, we use the talents in the room this evening, we will be back next year, proud of what’s taken place here in Malta,” he added. He also remarked that continued diversification within the economy is important for growth to remain sustainable, avoiding the risks associated with overdependence on a small number of sectors. HSBC Bank Malta was the Lead Sponsor of what has become the season-opener for Malta’s increasingly busy conference and meeting calendar, bringing luminaries to share their candid, sometimes bold – and always entertaining – predictions for the year ahead. The headline appearances this time were made by Pierluigi Collina, the world’s most famous football referee, and the Prime Minister of Malta Joseph Muscat. cc

His heart stopped! Will you save him? Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is the most common cause of death from heart disease, accounting for more than 63 per cent of all cardiac deaths. In SCA, the heart suddenly stops beating normally. Without a blood supply, oxygenstarved organs are irreversibly damaged and will quickly fail... within a few minutes. The only effective treatment for SCA is defibrillation. External defibrillation provides a brief, effective therapeutic electric shock through the person’s chest to the heart, restoring the heart’s normal rhythm. While people with heart problems are at high risk of death from SCA, it can strike anyone, anywhere, at any time without warning, and in some cases is the victim’s only symptom. Even young people who appear to be healthy, extremely fit athletes and people with no history of heart problems can be victims of this silent killer. The definitive survival treatment for an SCA victim is a defibrillation shock. Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) or ‘chest FEBRUARY / MARCH 2017

compressions’ and ‘mouth-to-mouth’ breaths only temporarily circulate blood to vital organs, and on their own do not restore a patient’s heart into a healthy rhythm – a shock is needed… and fast! The average national response time for the arrival of emergency personnel equipped with defibrillators is usually greater than 10–15 minutes – this is too late! This is why immediate access to defibrillators on-site is extremely important. Each minute of delay in delivering a defibrillation shock to a cardiac arrest victim reduces the chances of survival by ten per cent, meaning that, if a casualty is not

shocked within five minutes of collapse, he/ she will have less than 50 per cent chance of survival! When a sudden cardiac arrest strikes, the first few minutes are critical to survival. In the chaos and confusion surrounding the event, it can be challenging for the average rescuer with only minimal training in CPR and AED use to remember and follow the correct procedures. It’s during these critical minutes that the Powerheart AED G5 becomes priceless. cc For further details contact Technoline Ltd. T: 2134 4345. 101


Colours in motion For up-and-coming artist Annabel Zammit, a career in art was not always on the cards. She speaks to Martina Said about taking a leap of faith, facing her fears through art, and why shades of blue take centre stage in her work.



the first time I painted for this client, I did so without looking at anything, and it was a great feeling. From then on, I simply painted whatever I felt like expressing at the time.” Instinctively, her first works revolved around a blue palette. It reflected her shared love for the colour and for the sea, and as these two elements came together, it started playing out in her work. “The colour I chose to experiment with first is turquoise – it has a calming effect on me, and I found it very difficult to move away from that colour scheme for a while. However, I consider it to have been a phase, a blue phase so to speak,

and I’m making the most of it while it lasts until I move on to something else. I recently started experimenting with pink, and I’m liking the direction.” Whereas previously she’d use photos and paintings as references for her lifelike

Photo by Alan Carville

s with most young and impressionable adults with a love for art, Annabel Zammit’s interest in drawing and painting only ever stopped at that, an interest, albeit a strong one. Something she enjoyed doing, but never quite thought it could work out as her fulltime profession. But that all changed early last year, and it’s safe to say she hit the ground running. “When you’re young, many people tell you that a professional career is very important, and so I never quite equated art with a professional career. I studied accounts and economics instead, but although I graduated from University, I wasn’t happy. I still yearned to pursue art, but got into graphic design instead, and studied it in Milan for four years. With graphic design, you always start with sketches, so I got to practice my drawing skills during my studies in Italy, and when I came back to Malta, I started freelancing as a graphic designer, together with a friend of mine who worked in videography.” Her first commission was to have significant bearing on her career, although little did she know it would be the start of her artistic journey at the time. “We were working on the branding of a client of ours who has a restaurant in Valletta. He wanted to hang some paintings up in the restaurant, and when I told him I used to paint, we agreed to collaborate. This happened in November 2015, and once I got started, it all came back to me. Thankfully, he really liked the paintings too,” she says. This same commission allowed Annabel to dabble with a style she never had the courage to attempt until that moment. During her art studies at school, she mainly drew and painted landscapes, often featuring renowned and historic buildings, such as scenes of Mdina. This, she says, often led to frustration. “Certain scenes, especially buildings, require a certain level of detail and accuracy, I felt they had to be perfect to be good. I was scared to paint freely, but



“Certain scenes, especially buildings, require a certain level of detail and accuracy, I felt they had to be perfect to be good. I was scared to paint freely.”


work, Annabel changed her approach when she started painting abstract. “I’m inspired by nature and travel, so I took to observing elements in their natural setting. I spent a lot of time looking at the sea, observing, then I’d come back to my studio and interpret it in my own style. Whatever it is or was that inspired me, I wanted to avoid a realistic interpretation, or a copy of it.” Her interest and curiosity in abstract art drew Annabel to resin painting, and her source of inspiration, an Australian resin artist. “I wanted to find out how artists manage to achieve such a fluid effect, and discovered resin painting. I met an Australian artist at a time when I was very unsure about what I wanted to do with my life, and after seeing his work, I wanted to learn how he did it.


Photo by Alan Carville


After lots of experimentation, trial and error, I finally started to achieve the look and style I was after, and every week, I learned something new about the media I worked with.” Initially, Annabel explains that she worked only with acrylic paint, and later, tried out ink, oil, chalk and a selection of other materials, figuring out what works and what doesn’t along the way. Working with resin was also an experiment in itself. “It’s a hot material, used for boats and floors, and dries quite quickly,” she explains. “I started practicing on small pieces at first, and quickly learned that the process is spontaneous; you have to go wherever the painting takes you at that moment. Often, a mistake can turn out to be absolutely senseless or fantastic.” The molten, fluid effect in her paintings is fuelled by chemical reactions between all the components in a single piece. For instance, when white is layered on top of a darker colour, it rises to the surface, sometimes creating a feathered effect. Similarly, gold doesn’t blend as easily. “I learned how different materials behave together purely through experimentation, and generally use either of two techniques: mixed media with water or mixed media with resin. When using resin, I tend to use wooden boards unless a client specifically prefers canvas, as the resin

tends to cause the canvas to warp. It’s also a matter of taste though, some people like their art to be on canvas.” Last year, Annabel also launched a line of décor, starting with a collection of stools. “Since the beginning, I knew I’d want to try my hand at making and working with furniture, it’s something I’ve long had an interest in. For this line, I buy stools in different types of raw wood and paint on the seat directly, then dye the legs accordingly,” says Annabel. “One thing I really learnt through art is to be patient and focus on what you’re doing at that specific moment. Often, while doing one thing you’re already thinking about the next, and can easily make mistakes. In this case, one mistake can ruin a whole stool.” In the run up to her upcoming exhibition to be held at Palazzo De Piro in Mdina in May, Annabel will be spending two months in Italy for a change of scenery, to rediscover the joy of and patience required for drawing techniques, and also to work with a carpenter in order to learn the art of wood-working. And while she’s keen to learn new skills and how to work with different media, she also doesn’t want to rush. “I like using my creativity to produce anything that interests me, without limiting myself to paintings.

“I started practicing with resin on small pieces at first, and quickly learned that the process is spontaneous; you have to go wherever the painting takes you at that moment. Often, a mistake can turn out to be absolutely senseless or fantastic.” FEBRUARY / MARCH 2017



satisfying for Annabel, but she admits that doing everything by herself made the reward that much better. “At first, you feel the need to ask for help the moment something goes wrong, but you soon realise no one can fix your work for you. You spend ages trying and trying, but when you finally get it right on your own merit, the feeling is amazing. This was the case for this exhibition – it’s the first time I had done something of the sort, and standing there in front of everyone, it felt like being naked in front of an audience. But the feedback I got was very positive, and it certainly made me believe in myself more.” cc

Photo by Alan Carville

Besides experimenting with furniture last year, I also launched my prints, which was a big deal for me as I had to learn to take photos of my work. Rather than shooting whole paintings though, I focus on details within the paintings, ones that often get lost in the sea of colours but that could really stand alone. However, I don’t want to rush. I’m taking my time to develop, first and foremost as an artist, and I still have a lot to learn.” Her first solo exhibition, held at the Civil Service Sports Club in June 2016 in Valletta – above Michael’s Restaurant in Archbishop Street, the same client that commissioned her first work – was equal parts terrifying and

Photo by Alan Carville

Photo by Alan Carville

“One thing I really learnt through art is to be patient and focus on what you’re doing at that specific moment.”



The Commercial Courier February/March 2017  

The Official Business magazine of the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise & Industry since 1947.

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