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FOOD TRENDS 14 COVER STORY BUDGET 2021: WILL IT STEER MALTA THROUGH THE STORM? As uncertainty brought about by COVID-19 continues to cloud projections for the months and year ahead, will the 2021 Budget be enough to sustain businesses? Martina Said speaks to the experts to find out.

23 IN FIGURES BUDGET 2021 … IN NUMBERS A look into the figures related to Budget 2021 in Malta.






EXTRAORDINARY TIMES CALL FOR EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES Shadow Finance Minister Mario De Marco tells Sarah Micallef where he feels Budget 2021 has come through, and where it has fallen short.

Architect and Co-Founder of 3DM Architecture Maurizio Ascione discusses what went into the collaborative and dynamic ICI HQ with Sarah Micallef.




Rebecca Anastasi speaks to Atlas Insurance PCC Ltd’s recently appointed Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Matthew von Brockdorff, who outlines his vision for the enterprise.



“WE NEED TO SURVIVE” Following what has been described as a wartime Budget, Rebecca Anastasi speaks to Minister for Finance and Financial Services Edward Scicluna to ask: can we get through the next year unscathed?

Sarah Micallef meets James Abela, Executive Director at NIU.mt and Andrew Azzopardi, General Manager at No12 Fine Wines and Provisions to discuss their involvement with the YCN.



Last August, The Malta Chamber announced the appointment of Edward Chetcuti in the new role of Chief Executive Officer. Here, he speaks to Sarah Micallef about his plans.





FINDING BEAUTY IN UNPREDICTABILITY Inspired by the intricacies found in architecture and nature, ceramic artist Nico Conti tells Martina Said about his love for porcelain, exhibiting his work at Sotheby’s, and having a chat with Prince Charles.

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 Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry. It is also delivered to leading businesspeople across the Maltese islands.

The Exchange, Republic Street, Valletta VLT1117 Tel: +356 2123 3873 Fax: +356 2124 5223 info@maltachamber.org.mt www.maltachamber.org.mt

This issue covers the months of October and November 2020.


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.


We care about the environment Because we care about the environment, The Commercial Courier is printed on FSC-certified paper, a certification which provides assurance that the paper is from sustainable and well-managed sources, thereby minimising its environmental impacts.

Edward Bonello Sarah Micallef Content House Ltd Mallia Building, 3, Level 2, Triq in-Negozju, Central Business District, Birkirkara CBD3010 Tel: +356 2132 0713 info@contenthouse.com.mt www.contenthouse.com.mt





Sue Ann Pisani Tel: +356 2132 0713 DESIGN

Nicholas Cutajar – Design Studio at Content House Ltd

ON THE COVER Work by Nico Conti. Photo by Sylvain Deleu.






oday, as some weeks have passed from the partial lockdown and we have started witnessing the fledglings of a restart, it is noteworthy to discuss the operation that went on behind the scenes during the past months, and how The Malta Chamber kept up its business plan of renewal and regeneration, to be in the best position possible to assist businesses in the new norm and beyond. As from its election in March 2019, the current Council agreed to a determined plan that would bring about the necessary changes to the organisation, that would help it better reflect the ambitions of its current and prospective members alike. In fact, we

It is business that needs to drive the wealth and wellness of society for tomorrow In its official reaction following the Budget speech on 19th October, The Malta Chamber termed the financial plans for 2021 as rich in social measures, yet vague on economic recovery. Unfortunately, the Budget failed to be courageous enough to clearly detail with tangible measures Government’s vision for the upcoming years, and to paint a clear picture of how it means to redesign an investment-conducive environment for businesses to grow.


In the days leading up to the Budget, The Malta Chamber led a vast consultation process with all its members as well as technical experts on a number of subjects and proposed a series of recommendations to Government. These were driven by the need for this 2021 Budget to be a formative exercise that would shape the first steps towards the agreed economic vision of the next decade. Launching its pre-Budget document ‘Driving the Wealth and Wellness of Society”, The Malta Chamber urged Government to address the immediate economic woes currently being experienced by business due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but also


strategically invest in long-reaching instruments that will drive a more sustainable economy that befits a resilient Maltese society into the future. While generously addressing its social obligations, and while reconfirming the Government’s vision intents as unveiled during the Cabinet of Ministers meeting at our Chamber of Commerce, the Budget fell short of prioritising the first steps towards these objectives. Our country needs to work hard to recover for lost growth during the pandemic, support the re-invention of traditional sectors which have been prejudiced, and re-invest in new sectors to shape the country’s economic tomorrow.

This economic re-engineering that is bound to transport our national well-being towards what is depicted by our nationally agreed vision has to happen and has to happen now. The Malta Chamber shall continue to follow developments closely and seek clarity on these matters, on behalf of Malta’s business community that will drive and grow the country’s wealth and associated wellbeing. The Malta Chamber shall also continue to flag the fact that the Budget does not address the significant impact that COVID-19 is having on the relationship between revenue and operating costs for businesses. The Budget, in fact, did not introduce any new and more effective measures to support businesses that are struggling on this front. Perhaps, the Budget reflected Government’s optimism that the economy will recover in the short term, an optimism that is unfortunately not shared by businesses at large. The Chamber hopes that should the COVID-19 crisis deepen or extend beyond the next six months, further support OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020


EDITORIAL “The country must emerge out of this fog more resilient and energised today, for a more competitive Malta tomorrow.”

beyond what is included in this Budget will be forthcoming. The Malta Chamber strongly believes that economic stakeholders and decision-makers must take advantage of the disruption that has been brought about in the past months and seek new opportunities derived from it intelligently. The country must emerge out of this fog more resilient and energised today, for a more competitive Malta tomorrow. On the other hand, The Malta Chamber welcomed a number of measures and initiatives which were unveiled during the Budget. Top of the list are the measures related to the extension of the wage supplement scheme which is soon to be linked to the loss in turnover of operators in order to ensure a justified reach to all employees that are tied to businesses in peril. Similarly, the Chamber welcomed the extension of the voucher scheme, as well as


the extension of existing liquidity measures. The commitment to work towards attracting the digital and innovative economy such as E-sports, virtual and augmented reality, and 3D printing, amongst others, were also welcomed. This commitment was accompanied by measures related to the green economy that will drive the agreed vision of a zero-carbon economy by 2050. The Chamber commends Government’s resolve in terms of good governance measures such as the strengthening of the Attorney General Office and Office of the State Advocate. Furthermore, it is noted that the authorities are addressing the recommendations highlighted in the 2019 Moneyval report holistically. The positive results of the latter’s assessment will be crucial due to our country’s dependence on foreign investors and the country’s credibility as a safe and strong financial jurisdiction.

The Malta Chamber reiterates that good governance and succeeding the Moneyval test, amongst others, should be seen as a shared responsibility and the private sector is willing to offer any assistance required by the authorities to repair and restore the country’s long-term reputation. The Malta Chamber shall continue to follow developments closely and commits to make its case for the recommendations proposed by its numerous grassroot members and thought leaders as part of a wide consultation process it carried out in the past months. This is the true value that the Chamber is able to bring to the table… it channels the energies and objective and researched thinking of its membership to the benefit of the wider business community and the country. The Chamber is really the true voice of business. cc



Budget 2021: Will it steer Malta through the storm? As uncertainty brought about by COVID-19 continues to cloud projections for the months and year ahead, the 2021 Budget aims to quell some concerns by prioritising Malta’s economic recovery. But will this be enough to sustain businesses now and beyond the immediate future? Martina Said speaks to the experts to find out.


lacing economic recovery at the heart of next year’s Budget, Minister for Finance Edward Scicluna unveiled a fiscal plan for 2021, themed ‘Strongly Moving Forward’, with a total expenditure of over €5,700 million. Opening his Budget speech with the latest economic figures, Prof. Scicluna revealed an anticipated drop in real terms of 7.4 per cent in GDP in 2020, which is expected

to show signs of recovery next year, rebounding by 6.4 per cent in nominal terms, or five per cent in real terms. What of these projections? What are the implications for 2021? Do the announced measures do enough to get businesses through what many are considering to be an extremely tough start to the year? Economic and business experts weigh in.

David Xuereb President, Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise & Industry Zeroing in on the latest economic figures published by Government, specifically the real decrease in GDP, David Xuereb says there’s no doubt the situation is serious, yet it needs to be seen in a context. “The estimates for 2021 depend on a large number of variables which may sway the predictions either way. Some of these predictions include the actual duration of the current COVID-19 pandemic; the full inoculation of the local population; the evolving economic and political landscape of the world; and business/consumer confidence once the vaccine is administered.” The Chamber President adds that Government’s outlook for next year hinges heavily on the widespread availability of a COVID-19 vaccine in early 2021. “If the latter does not materialise, these predictions may well have to be reconsidered. The speedy recovery estimated by the Finance Minister seems to be based on an economy that can hit the ground running fast and as early as Q1/Q2 of 2021. Current business sentiment is more conservative on this estimate.” “We must also refer to Government’s ambitious goals for the growth of the IIP scheme planned for next year. The figure of €75 million for 2021 needs to be framed within a context of the current developments at European Commission level on this subject, the outcome of which may be very influential on these predictions.” Commenting on the overall direction of the Budget, Perit Xuereb says the Malta Chamber would have liked to see a renewed focus on business re-engineering, and considers this time to stop, think and restructure as a priority and an opportunity not to be missed. 14

“Recovery, reinvention and re-investment are key for a sustainable economic recovery. The Chamber had proposed to link the wage supplement scheme with re-training, reskilling and upskilling of our workforce in the impacted segments, and to strengthen the scheme by linking it to the re-engineering of the beneficiary business and enable adaptability to the new market realities,” says the President. He adds that, in the short-term, COVIDvulnerable sectors such as hospitality,

tourism, retail and others that were enjoying support through employee wage subsidies, have been granted an extension of their support, while the new batch of vouchers will also continue to support stimulation of customer spending. “Other sectors that started to experience the negative impacts of COVID-19 during the summer months were offered little assistance,” says Perit Xuereb. “Government has promised to restructure wage subsidy qualification through a comparative measure of reduced

“Recovery, reinvention and re-investment are key for a sustainable economic recovery.” OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020


revenue. This is welcome but is very urgent, and the Chamber augurs that preparations of business performance sensitivity is put in place as soon as possible.” In its initial reaction, the Malta Chamber had expressed that the Budget offered few measures to cover overhead costs for sectors such as manufacturing, supermarkets, importers, wholesalers and service providers, for whom overhead costs increased in a reduced revenue environment. “These sectors have all been carrying considerable extra operational costs related to utilities, masks and sanitisation, contact tracing and quarantine leave. Rent costs also remain an issue for several sectors which are not

running at budgeted potential,” he asserts. “Notwithstanding, the Malta Chamber applauds the extension of existing liquidity measures, wage supplement (linked to loss in turnover) and the re-issuance of spending vouchers.” Sharing his views on the announced measures relating to the green economy, namely the issuance of Green Bonds and the ban on importing single use plastics, Perit Xuereb states that overall, the Chamber is optimistic on this front, but would appreciate more concrete details on how these goals are to be achieved. “While appreciating that a ban on the importation of single use plastics is a positive

move, this will not support a national zero carbon economy per se, since we do not produce plastic in our country. A zero-carbon economy in Malta is mainly influenced by the transportation and the building industry. It seems that the 2021 Budget does not lay strong enough foundations to address what we are striving for,” he asserts. “The plan to organise Green Bonds, on the other hand, is a very positive move in channelling local investment interest towards projects and initiatives that are expected to be the moral front-runners of economic growth and which will consequentially improve our quality of life.”

Edward Chetcuti CEO, Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise & Industry

seasonality, is welcomed by the Chamber. Similarly, the Chamber welcomes Government’s intentions to draw up a programme of around €220 million under the Recovery and Resilience Facility targeting investment in environment, climate change, and digital transformation, which was included in our calls for action.” Ing. Chetcuti asserts that the Chamber’s proposals in favour of efforts to push the country further towards a green economy were also well-received by Government.

“Government’s plan to attract tourists throughout the year, to reduce touristic seasonality, is welcomed by the Chamber.”

While in certain areas the Budget lacked the detailed plans which businesses require to map out their future year upon, “we acknowledge that a number of the proposals made by the Chamber were taken on board by Government,” says Edward Chetcuti. “Government’s plan to attract tourists throughout the year, to reduce touristic


“The Budget in fact included initiatives such as the installation of Eco-Intermodal Hubs that would offer information on alternative transportation; a drive to encourage investment in, and use of, electric vehicles; new infrastructure for charging electric vehicles; and a strategy for low carbon development.” The COVID wage supplement, extended to end March 2021, as well as other incentives to support businesses throughout COVID, such as tax deferrals and bank loans which are guaranteed by Government, are all initiatives that reflect the recommendations of The Malta Chamber, the CEO continues. “Same as the initiative to increase the VAT threshold exemption from €20,000 to €30,000, with less red tape for small operators. The strengthening and extending of Micro Invest, Business Development and Continuity Scheme, Research & Development 2020 Scheme, R&D Feasibility Study Scheme and the Business Start scheme are all most welcome.” Highlighting Government’s plans to revise the IIP scheme with more rigorous measures, as well as the strengthening of the Attorney General’s Office and the State Advocate’s Office, Ing. Chetcuti says these will go a long way to ascertain good governance as a long-term goal for the country, which was also high on the Chamber’s priority list in the past months.



Stephanie Vella Executive Director, E-Cubed Consultants “Ever since the beginning of the pandemic, economic forecasts have depicted a significant contraction in the size of the economy. Most drivers, which in the past have fuelled economic growth, such as consumption, investment and exports are on the decline. While negative growth was originally forecasted at about six per cent, this has been revised to 7.4 per cent, indicating that the economic impact is greater than originally anticipated,” says economist Stephanie Vella in response to the latest economic figures. From a sectoral perspective, Dr Vella says that data available up to the first half of the year indicates that the most severely affected sectors are wholesale and retail, hotels and restaurants, tourism, manufacturing and construction, as well as agriculture and fisheries. “The extent of the negative impact on these sectors is expected to be higher in the second half of the year.” “On a positive note, employment levels have been relatively maintained and thus the shock to the economy has not resulted in loss of jobs. Furthermore, the economy is expected to rebound in 2021 by five per cent when compared to 2020, but similar to other countries, it will take time for the economy to reach the level of economic activity that it has registered in the past,” she asserts. “Growth is expected to be fuelled through investment, exports and consumption, while fiscal injections are expected to decline. It is however to be appreciated that the extent to which these predictions may materialise depend on several critical assumptions, including when the containment measures across the EU will gradually be lifted and that additional waves of infections are contained.” Commenting on the recovery plan outlined in the Budget, Dr Vella asserts that the injection into the economy “is mainly aimed at maintaining consumption. The wage supplement and vouchers are a testament to this, and they will serve to contain the

“Undoubtedly, the structure of the economy will change. Digitalisation and technology are gaining importance at an unprecedented rate.” OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020

negative consumer sentiment. Injections are also aimed at addressing the social challenges – widening the eligibility for the in-work benefit, increasing pensions and assistance to carers is commendable.” Dr Vella considers that the Budget presents a mix of short and longer-term measures. In the short term, measures aimed at the business community mainly relate to the wage supplement to ensure that firms maintain employment as well as the widening of the ceiling for VAT exemption. Measures that are longer-term include the development of the venture capital fund to attract foreign start-ups to Malta, the development of a scheme for firms to invest in technology, venture into new markets and employ qualified people, and the investment in industrial infrastructure. “However, concerns remain on where the economy is heading and how it will head there. Undoubtedly, the structure of the economy will change. Digitalisation and technology are gaining importance at an unprecedented rate. Some sectors are conducive towards absorbing these changes and possibly reaping benefits, but others

are not. This vision needs to outline the sectors we want to attract and the tools to attract them, including concrete action on how bottlenecks and challenges will be addressed,” she asserts. Dr Vella continues that existing concerns on the attractiveness of the country in relation to investment must also be addressed. According to the EY Attractiveness Survey, corporate taxation continues to come out on top for FDI attractiveness, “yet the extent to which the country can continue to rely on this factor alone is questionable. Likewise, a long-term strategy needs to address how stability and transparency of the political, legal and regulatory environment must be enhanced.” Commenting on Government’s launch of Green Bonds, Dr Vella describes it as “an interesting concept aimed at funding investment in renewable energy and decreasing air pollution”. While information about them, such as the amount of bonds and their attractiveness, remains to be seen, Dr Vella says the fact that these bonds would be addressing key environmental challenges is commendable. 17


Ronald Attard Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe & Central Asia Strategy and Transactions Leader, EY Commenting on the economic figures announced by the Finance Minister, Ronald Attard asserts that they are not surprising considering the unprecedented context we are living in. “Both the World Bank and the IMF have recently provided estimates for a global contraction of around four to five per cent.” He adds that Malta has been dealt a massive blow due to the role of tourism in its direct and indirect contribution to the economy, while the various Government stop-gap measures have helped in cushioning the decline in GDP. “One also needs to keep in mind the GDP growth experienced in Malta over the last years, which provided resources to implement these fiscal measures.” Reacting to the measures announced at large, Mr Attard says the extent of action, through Government measures and banking resources, mostly to aid businesses, is welcome. “Estimates indicate that the fall was reduced by circa two percentage points through these measures. The 2021 Budget is committed to continue in this direction. Economic recovery is and will, however, prove to be difficult for most countries, so our country needs to be ready to adjust further as time goes by.” Mr Attard continues that, in light of criticism that the Budget lacked a long-term vision to aid the recovery process, one must bear in mind that a Budget is a one-year planning cycle with short- and medium-term plans to be implemented, “and, clearly, this year’s actions targeted at the post-pandemic economic recovery had to take precedence. At the same time, Malta also needs to look at the pandemic as a way of reframing its longterm vision, exploiting its size to continue to be nimble and agile.” Immediately after the Budget, EY hosted a virtual week-long event, branded ‘Future Realised’, to debate the country’s future at national and corporate level. Mr Attard says that during this event, a number of speakers noted that there may be opportunities for a small country like Malta in a post-COVID world given its size, location, people and telecommunications infrastructure. “We spoke about immediate possibilities brought about by the situation (such as nearshoring and remote collaboration) as well as longer-term opportunities. This is the


time to rethink the island’s model moving forward, particularly in light of megatrends that have accelerated, including digital, and the step change in societal values and behaviours.” Mr Attard adds that now is also the time to look at both existing sectors as well as new ones, and to explore new opportunities within these sectors and skills base. “For instance, we need to revisit Malta’s position within the supply value chain in a number of industries, including financial services. Various speakers in our Future Realised week also highlighted that any long-term strategy needs to consider key priorities that clearly emerged from the current crisis – health and education.”

Delving into the green economy measures announced in the Budget, Mr Attard stresses that indeed this is an opportunity. “There is clearly a financial and economic case to making Malta green beyond environmental aspirations – and Government’s commitment to carbon neutrality, for instance, is extremely exciting,” he says. “To achieve such ambitious targets, funding will pay a key role, so instruments such as Green Bonds will play a part. On bans and regulations, Malta could take the lead in being one of the first to take pro-active actions, and not waiting for EU Directives to force a trend. In this area, we can aspire to do more – and the pandemic clearly shows that this is one of the step changes in societal values and behaviour.”

“This is the time to rethink the island’s model moving forward, particularly in light of megatrends that have accelerated, including digital.”



George Gregory Designated Managing Partner, RSM Malta “In my opinion, this Budget was directed to damage limitation more than anything else. It appears that there are plans to assist in the recovery but as yet, there are no specific details as to how,” says George Gregory. “A holistic plan with a long-term vision for recovery when things settle down is of utmost importance and is a matter of urgency.” Under the current circumstances, Mr Gregory believes that Government’s projections for a 7.4 decrease in GDP “is a good outcome when compared to other countries, also considering that one of our main economic pillars, tourism, has been severely hit. As for the five per cent growth


for 2021, I think that it is very early to project as the duration of the virus is still uncertain. If we manage a 5 per cent growth, I think that will be a great comeback and will augur well for years to come.” Meanwhile, Mr Gregory thinks discussion of new economic sectors for future economic growth is premature for this type of Budget. “One hopes that Government is continuously looking at new avenues whilst stimulating the economy and strengthening sectors where we have been a success.” Commenting on the green economy Budget measures, Mr Gregory thinks they are a start, but much more needs to be done. “Whereas the younger generation is already geared up for this type of economy, we require more education with the older demographics as, in my view, we have a generation that pays lip service to green credentials, but doesn’t act.” cc

“A holistic plan with a longterm vision for recovery when things settle down is of utmost importance and is a matter of urgency.”


BUDGET 2021 In Figures


the Gross Domestic Product projected for 2021.

€751.1 MILLION

the deficit in Government’s Consolidated Fund next year.



the country’s total recurrent expenditure and public debt servicing.



the projected rate of growth in private consumption.


the drop in public consumption likely in 2021.


the total amount Government is projecting as capital expenditure.


Government’s extended debt forecast for the coming year.



the rate at which exports are forecast to increase next year.



the investment in industrial estates over seven years.

Government’s debt in relation to GDP.



the growth in imports for 2021.


the increase in investment Government expects to take place next year.


the total revenue Government is expecting in 2021.


the inflation rate predicted for next year.

Source: Budget Speech 2021, Draft Financial Statement 2021, Economic Survey 2020.




“We need to survive” In what has been described as a war-time Budget, the Minister for Finance and Financial Services, Edward Scicluna, pledged continued help to companies impacted by COVID-19, but the measures, say some critics, are characterised by optimism which is simply not being felt by the Maltese business community. Here, Rebecca Anastasi speaks to Prof. Scicluna to ask: can we get through the next year unscathed?


n 19th October, the Minister for Finance and Financial Services, Prof. Edward Scicluna, presented his eighth budget for the country to Parliament. ‘Strongly Moving Forward’ was the theme for this year’s announcement, although the Maltese version of the title, B’Sahhitna L’Quddiem – directly translated as ‘Moving Ahead in Health’ – is perhaps more evocative of the particular circumstances facing the country, still grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic. For, in recent months, it has become clear that the coronavirus is here to stay until, at least, the end of the first quarter 24

of next year. With infection numbers still soaring, businesses across the island are bracing themselves for a tough winter – one not everyone may see out. And this was foremost in the nation’s mind when it sat down to listen to Prof. Scicluna deliver his much-awaited speech, with the island asking: what is the plan to get us through this, from an economic standpoint? As the Minister made his way through the various points, there was much to commend: an extension of the COVID-19 Wage Supplement Scheme until March 2021; the raising of the tax-free threshold for VAT-exempt businesses from €20,000

to €30,000; the re-introduction of vouchers which will be issued in January of next year, designed to stimulate consumption, and help local outlets; as well as schemes to encourage business start-ups, and innovative processes, though details were scant in this respect. Yet, Maltese employers and employees – exhausted by the unrelenting onslaught of negative news, from the coronavirus pandemic, to court revelations on controversial Government projects, and still impacted by the island-shattering events of the past few years – had to also contend with Government’s trademark (although, OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020


Photo by Tyler Calleja Jackson

“This is Government’s aim – to keep companies going so they can hit the ground running when this is over.”

now, tempered) positivity, an emotion few businesses are feeling right now. And, true to form, Malta’s war-time Budget started out with a hopeful promise: there will be no austerity here. However, the economic survey for 2020, not surprisingly, read bleak: in the first half of the year, the pandemic’s containment measures caused a contraction in economic activity of 6.1 per cent in nominal terms and 7.7 per cent in real terms; total Gross Value Added (GVA) declined by 5.2 per cent; and Malta is anticipating a decrease of 7.4 per cent in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) this year. This information was eased by Government’s expectation of a recovery as early as next year, with the economy bouncing back in 2021 with a growth of five per cent in real terms and 6.4 per cent in nominal terms. This, the Minister explains, is more a reflection of this year’s low comparative base, and partly the expected turnaround at the end of next year’s first quarter. The affordability of this year’s and next year’s deficit, according to Prof. Scicluna, can be credited to the fiscal flexibility Malta managed to accrue during the island’s economic upswing. “Our target in the past was to balance the books and we always said

we would aim for a small surplus, ensuring that we would live within our means,” he explains. The Minister points to the Individual Investor Programme (IIP) as a supplementary contributor to the island’s public coffers, saying it contributed to an even “bigger surplus which helped reduce the debt further and giving us more fiscal space.” However, this too has been the subject of much controversy, with the European Commission having launched infringement action over the sale of European passports. Indeed, economist Stephanie Fabri recently said that losing the IIP scheme will put the sustainability of Malta’s entire economic model into question. Yet, the Minister is quick to point out that – with or without the IIP – Malta’s economic model is sustainable. “We always aimed to ensure that, even without the revenue from the IIP, our expenditure would still not exceed our traditional revenues and we would not borrow [from the public coffers],” he says. But, during such a time of crisis, borrow Malta must, he admits, and, indeed, Malta’s deficit is expected to reach 5.9 per cent of GDP, while its overall debt will increase to 58.6 per cent of GDP, according to the Budget announcement.

“Government cannot cushion to the extent that everybody – industry and families – won’t feel anything.”

Photo by Jason Borg




Photo by Jeremy Wonnacott

“We’re saying the future is a combination of a green economy and a digital transformation.”

“This time we had to decide how much we would borrow, and we decided we would borrow 5.9 per cent. Once you get a forecast of the growth and understand how much Government revenue will be receiving from various sources, while also adding that 5.9 per cent of GDP being borrowed, then that’s the planning total of how much you are able to spend,” he explains. After that, he continues, it is simply “a process of allocation”, of how to spend the money budgeted. Deciding how that is done is “a big job”, the Minister continues, insisting that the authorities are not being “overly fastidious about the deficit” – in the sense that if the money needs to be spent to help see Malta through quagmire, then it will be spent – but the Minister underscores the need to keep some funds aside for the future. “We know there will be a day after COVID-19, and it will catch up with us. The rating agencies, the IMF [International Monetary Fund] and the [European] Commission will still be there when this is over, and they will then be breathing down our necks,” he says. Within such a context “we’ll stand a better chance”, he claims, of returning swiftly to economic buoyancy, with debt at under 60 per cent. “We will not be in debt at 100 per cent, so the taxpayer won’t be burdened with taxation, unlike what is happening


in other countries where they know they will eventually have to go back to fiscal consolidation,” he continues, saying that, in countries like Italy, France or the UK, the bill will eventually be passed on to the taxpayers – employers and employees. Therefore, while Government can mitigate the negative effects of the crisis and the impact being felt on businesses’ bottom lines, there are limits to such help, the Minister says. “Government cannot cushion to the extent that everybody – industry and families – won’t feel anything. There are no such resources. How can we replace the millions spent by tourists in Malta? Nobody can replace that. That revenue was required by the industry to cover its costs – electricity, rent, wages. Government cannot pay for all these. We can only assist,” he asserts, further insisting on his point by saying that “there are those who think Government can completely cushion them. But it’s a pipe dream.” Prudency is key, Prof. Scicluna says, repeating that Malta “won’t go over 60 per cent debt” and explaining, in reference to the extension of the COVID Wage Supplement and the voucher scheme, that the additional support “is generous while still allowing for some fiscal space.” But it’s a fine balancing act, he says. “It’s the private sector which generates income for Government, so it is

in our interest to give it some space, but we cannot give everything or we’ll have our backs to the wall, and be in a very difficult situation,” he continues. But what happens after the six months have elapsed, and the situation persists? “This crisis has a beginning and an end. That’s our perspective. Other diseases have disappeared as a result of progress in the creation of a vaccine, so we’re not wishing for a pie in the sky. Yes, it is a special crisis, but, in this period, you’d hope there’s enough oxygen to survive. This is Government’s aim – to keep companies going so they can hit the ground running when this is over. We want people to remain on the payroll, so we don’t have the upheaval of high unemployment, low motivation and companies dissolving only to start up again. That would be a big shock and we’re trying to avoid that. So, we’re optimistic, in that we’re giving all the support we can, and we’re saying, ‘make it till March, dig in there and we’ll take it one step at a time’,” he insists. Looking beyond the pandemic, the Minister points to some of the other Budgetary measures as indicative of Government’s commitment to improve Malta. “We’ve been bold in terms of investment in physical, health, industrial and sports infrastructure. Government knows that investment is crucial, and infrastructure has



Photo by Omar Camilleri

to catch up, and not only in terms of factory spaces and roads – we need to be modern. A modern country should have a modern infrastructure,” he says. Indeed, the Budget outlines that work is set to commence on the Msida Creek roadworks project and new tunnels next year, as well as the rebuilding of the Marsascala bypass and the subway near Portes des Bombes in Floriana. Government has also committed €450 million to revamping industrial estates, and banned the importation of single-use plastic, while aiming for carbon neutrality by 2050. Measures encouraging digital innovation, with a new Digital Strategy set to be published, were also mentioned, although few concrete examples were given. “We’re saying the future is a combination of a green economy and a digital transformation. We were bold by ending single-use plastics and the new waste-toenergy [plant] is a big investment. But, this is progress for the future. We want our


children to have clean air, so these are the priorities,” he says. “COVID showed us what it means to have fresh air so we’re giving more credit to these things which, perhaps, were forced upon us,” though he admits that it is not Government’s intention to push for more remote working. “We decided against making it compulsory. It should be encouraged, of course, but we decided that companies should be given leeway to decide for themselves.” Yet, the devil is in the detail, and so far, precise plans of how Government’s commitment to digital transformation, innovation and the environment, will be realised have not been entirely revealed. This does not perturb the Minister, who underscores that the Budget announcement is simply a plan, a set of intentions, which Government will spend the year working on. This plan will then go on to the respective heads, within the civil service, to make it a reality. “The Budget is a list of allocations and intentions, but then, project managers have

to carry it out and implement it,” he says. Concluding, Prof. Scicluna predicts that the next few months will feel like an uphill challenge – “it’s like mountaineering”, he says, “it gets harder and harder the closer we get to the top” – yet he asserts that a spirit of survival will prevail. “We need to survive. Businesses have, so far, come together like it is a time of war, during which you need to decide on the priorities for this country, for this comes first – after all, our families and futures are here. But there needs to be a balance between addressing immediate needs without losing sight of the long-term.” cc

“There needs to be a balance between addressing immediate needs without losing sight of the long-term.”



Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures


n his evaluation of the recently announced Budget 2021, Shadow Finance Minister Mario De Marco begins his analysis by detailing the criteria of employee support measures; SMEs and business support measures; measures to stimulate demand and improve cashflow; and finally, a masterplan for various sectors of the economy. “The extension of the employee support measures to March 2021 is definitely one of the more positive measures of this Budget, as this gives a lifeline to thousands of jobs that are on the line due to the current crisis,” he begins, affirming that the decision to provide for a new round of vouchers will also give a much needed stimulus to the hardest hit sectors, including hotels, restaurants and retailers. Meanwhile, from a social dimension, he notes a number of interesting measures, particularly the assistance being proposed to fostering families. Despite this, Dr de Marco expresses his disappointment at the lack of measures beyond the wage supplement extension and second round of vouchers, given the extraordinary circumstances. “The reality is that the economic crisis is starting to be felt beyond the accommodation, hospitality and retail industries, and the wage supplement eligibility criteria do not properly take


account of this state of affairs,” he says, adding that the expected new measures to assist start-ups and SMEs, especially in a period of serious challenges in their cash flow position, were largely unaddressed. Likewise, the Shadow Finance Minister feels that the direction and vision which will take Malta into 2030/2035 is “completely absent”. Arguing that the Maltese economy urgently needs to reengineer its economic model, Dr de Marco maintains that Government has failed to present a tangible action plan on the economic direction Malta needs to be heading in. “The economy tomorrow is not going to be the same as it was pre-COVID, and we need to adjust to this reality today before tomorrow,” he warns. Moving on to the announced €450 million investment over seven years for the purpose of changing Malta’s industrial infrastructure and creating spaces for businesses, Dr de Marco affirms that, whilst good in itself as investment generates economic activity, it requires “ a clear vision on the cluster of industries we need to invest in as part of a regenerated economy” in order to be successful. The same applies for the ongoing feasibility studies for the mass-transport system. “These studies have been going on for the past seven years and a final decision has not been taken yet.

Photos by Alan Carville

Following the announcement of the Budget 2021 – an economic blueprint in extraordinary times, necessitating extraordinary measures – its reception has been a mixed bag, drawing praise for its abundant social measures and criticism for its lack of a clearcut vision towards economic recovery. Here, Shadow Finance Minister Mario De Marco tells Sarah Micallef where he feels the Budget has come through, and where it has fallen short.

Meanwhile, Government has been claiming to be investing €700 million in public road infrastructure over the coming years in the absence of a critical decision on the mode of transport we want to have for the next generation,” he posits. In a statement following the Budget, The Malta Chamber noted that this Budget does not address the impact that COVID-19 is having on operating costs for businesses and introduces no new measures to support businesses that are struggling on this front. This sentiment was echoed by Leader of the Opposition Bernard Grech, and as Shadow Finance Minister, Dr de Marco feels the same. “No further measures were announced in OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020


“The reality is that the economic crisis is starting to be felt beyond the accommodation, hospitality and retail industries, and the wage supplement eligibility criteria do not properly take account of this state of affairs.”

the Budget beyond those divulged in June’s mini-budget. SMEs and businesses alike were left to fend for themselves to manage their stringent cash flow position, especially as a result of the spike in infections post-August,” he asserts. Highlighting the targeted nature of the vouchers scheme and the wage supplement, Dr de Marco believes that these alone will not have the necessary reach. “Most businesses OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020

were left without any new assistance, other than to go and ask for a facility from a credit institution, with a state guarantee granted by the Malta Development Bank. Yet, the question on whether the moratorium period would suffice pretty much depends on the duration of the pandemic,” he continues. Drawing attention to a pre-Budget document presented to Government by the Opposition, which outlined more than 100

proposals, Dr de Marco says, “we proposed, among other things, giving consideration to a temporary reduction in the VAT rate for vulnerable sectors similar to what has been done in Germany; a reduction in commercial and household utility rates and fuels to reflect current market prices, especially since many employees are being encouraged to work from home where possible; a scheme to encourage landlords to reduce rent charged 31


“The economy tomorrow is not going to be the same as it was preCOVID, and we need to adjust to this reality today before tomorrow.”

to tenants by providing for a tax reduction equivalent to the rent waived; measures to assist the culture and creative economy sectors; measures for media outlets through providing grants by establishing minimum thresholds and providing additional financial assistance based on the number of employees; grants for start-ups that are technology-related or sustainability-centric to kick start their idea; grants to kick start social entrepreneurship; and finally to start discussions on the concept of the Living Wage.” The measures, he says, were divided into three categories – namely those aimed at providing a lifeline to the economy and our core sectors as to enable them to survive, those aimed at designing the economy of the future, and those aimed at ensuring quality employment for all. Asked what he feels is necessary to help diversify Malta’s economy further and make it less reliant on vulnerable industries, the Shadow Finance Minister maintains that when in Government, the Nationalist Party “not only transformed the tourism industry with the introduction of multiple routes, low cost carriers and investment in the tourism product,and changed the manufacturing industry to a more value-added centric one with pharmaceuticals and electronics, it also introduced new sectors such as financial services, gaming, maritime and aviation among others.” Making reference to its pre-Budget document, Dr de Marco maintains that the Opposition has highlighted the urgent need of a masterplan on key economic sectors. “This plan needs to be discussed and endorsed by all key stakeholders, similar to the model used in the past to successfully reach a unilateral agreement on the Social Pact,” he says, adding that the masterplan needs to rethink the country’s economic model to attract high-value tourists, to nurture a higher value-added manufacturing sector, and to have clear and targeted activities which can prove successful once again using the principle of nearshoring. “We need to have plans in place to transform existing industries whilst diversifying through new economic sectors,” he continues, going on to point out the need for a green vision which rests on key




higher importance given to the aesthetic characteristics of built structures, as well as a drive to recycle and reuse waste to prevent it from being dumped in the environment will all be at the heart of our green vision. Last but not least, a higher drive will be given to increase our energy production from renewable sources,” he continues. On the subject of the built environment and Malta’s property sector, Dr de Marco maintains that the property market has its own challenges. “Malta’s economic model over the past seven years was driven mainly by volumes in tourism and foreign workers. The number of tourist arrivals in 2019 reached 2.7 million persons, and the official number of foreign expats last year reached 70,000,” he says, explaining that construction and real estate is a derived demand to accommodate the needs and wants of other sectors in the economy. “The pandemic resulted in a blow to our tourism numbers and thousands of foreign workers returned home. These trends will pose obvious challenges to the real estate and property market in general,” the Shadow Finance Minister continues, adding that the property measures announced in the Budget are aimed at keeping the construction sector afloat. “In every policymaking decision, sustainability is key, and in my opinion, the construction sector needs urgent rethinking to give more attention to the health and safety of workers and surrounding neighbourhoods, together with the urgent need to give more tender loving care to our environment,” he affirms, pointing out that “fallacious implementation and the lack of enforcement of present rules” are a serious shortcoming of the sector. “Reforms to address caveats and grey areas in the interest of all stakeholders within the industry would be welcomed by the society at large.” Concluding, the Shadow Finance Minister expresses his disappointment that the measures detailed in the Opposition’s preBudget document were not considered, adding that if they had, “I firmly believe that the Budget 2021 would have taken a more proactive stance rather than a reactive one.” Pointing out “serious flaws” in Government’s projected revenues for next year, and the feeling that the timeline of next year’s Budget is focused up to March 2021, he maintains that “the Budget fell


principles around the circular economy. “In this digital age era, I firmly believe that Malta can establish a successful eco-system within the digital transformation sector, generating thousands of high value-added jobs and opportunities for our youths and professionals alike,” Dr de Marco says, affirming that this strategy will include the recharging battery stations required with the gradual replacement of the present car fleet in road circulation with electric vehicles. “Tangible steps to introduce energy efficiency standards in our buildings and

short of giving the much-needed certainty in the years ahead.” And while he admits to the positive social measures which the Opposition has taken note of, maintains that “in its bid to prove a credible and effective alternative to Government, the Opposition is working on its economic plan on how the country can generate wealth in the post-pandemic period. Then we can discuss and argue on how best that wealth can be distributed equitably by all, especially on how we can best reach the most vulnerable groups in our society.” cc

“We need to have plans in place to transform existing industries whilst diversifying through new economic sectors.”



A new CEO: Taking The Malta Chamber ‘from good to great’ Last August, The Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry announced the appointment of Edward Chetcuti in the new role of Chief Executive Officer. Bringing with him a wealth of experience in industry, during which he has led teams of thousands and supported organisations through his practice in Lean Leadership, Ing. Chetcuti is making it his mission to see The Malta Chamber go “from being good to being great” and continuing to set the benchmark in excellence for the benefit of its members. A month since his appointment, he speaks to Sarah Micallef about his plans. the announcement brought about its own set of challenges. “The Government, as a result of the projected redundancies, had already started discussions to bring Crane Currency to Malta, so that employees could transfer from De La Rue to Crane,” he smiles, affirming that the country now needed to find more employees, which he also helped to do. “I worked with MCAST and developed a special training package to generate printers and technical people within that industry so that both De La Rue and Crane could co-exist and create more opportunities,” he explains. Over that period, he was also Chairman of the Bulebel Industrial Estate, through which Ing. Chetcuti utilised the close relationships built with different Government agencies for the benefit of the industrial estate and the company in which he worked. Meanwhile, throughout those years, the CEO has also supported several local companies through Lean Leadership. “I am a certified Lean Management practitioner and Lean Leadership trainer, so I help companies go from conventional management to lean leadership; to help them do more with their resources and the organisational structure that they have; enhancing the top line and improving the bottom line,” he explains. All this has served him in good stead for his new role within The Malta Chamber, an organisation within which Ing. Chetcuti has

“We are a body of professionals who seek to interact with other bodies of professionals, so that together we can form a representation for the business community.” 36

Photos by Inigo Taylor


’ve worked within the manufacturing industry for over 20 years and started my journey with De La Rue in 2012,” begins CEO Edward Chetcuti, who joins The Malta Chamber following several years with the global market leader in currency printing. During that time, he was appointed as the first ever Maltese General Manager for De La Rue Malta, until he was promoted to International Director of Operations overseeing the global business operation across Europe, Africa and Asia. Looking back on his time at De La Rue, Ing. Chetcuti recalls the difficult circumstances within which he joined. “I took it over following the announcement that the company in Malta would be closed down, so I took on the challenge of trying to make a transformation within the business and restore its viability, possibly saving 600+ jobs,” he explains. And save them, he did. After 18 months, the CEO at De La Rue publicly announced that as a result of the improvements under Ing. Chetcuti’s leadership, the company would be changing strategy. Rather than closing the Malta operation, they would invest around €30 million to make it a worldclass manufacturing centre of excellence. While it was certainly a proud achievement, Ing. Chetcuti admits that






been a member for several years. “Before De La Rue, I was Director of Operations at Methode Electronics, and my involvement at the Chamber was as lead representative of these organisations. I participated in Think Thanks and working groups within the Chamber, so not only do I know the challenges of industry; I also have experience of the interactions within the organisation,” he says. Last August, Chamber President David Xuereb referred to the appointment of a CEO as the next step for The Malta Chamber to continue to meet and exceed the expectations of members and the business community, and while Ing. Chetcuti hasn’t released his strategy yet, he affirms that “the most important strategic pillar for me will be delivering value for members and making sure that The Malta Chamber is working to deliver a higher level of perceived value – because not all value can be seen – and more tangible value.” Adding that he has joined at a peak within The Chamber’s 172-year history, his goal is “to take the organisation from being something that is really good, to something really great.” Speaking of what he can bring to The Chamber through this new role, Ing.


“In my first 30 days as CEO, I’ve met the Prime Minister twice, we’ve presented a pre-Budget document with over 130 recommendations, and we’ve influenced heavily at MCESD level, on the opening of schools.”

Chetcuti maintains that he can wear a number of hats. “I am a seasoned leader in industry, so I can wear that hat when we are interacting with businesses and bring insight into what is needed to create more value for that industry,” he says, affirming that his experience as an organisational leader will also be brought to bear. “The Malta Chamber is an organisation with a lot of people working within it, both directly, and indirectly. Unless we are organised and led in a structured and lean manner, we are not going to be able to deliver on all of the expectations of our businesses,” he adds. Finally, he counts his position as a professional – an engineer – as a tool which enables him to relate to other professions. “We are a body of professionals who seek to interact with other bodies of professionals, so that together we can form a representation for the business community.” Since the announcement of his appointment about a month prior to our meeting, I ask, what’s it been like? “There was no honeymoon period!” Ing. Chetcuti laughs. “I’ve led companies of €250 million turnover, and have had 3,000 people under my responsibility, so I’m no stranger to highpace, intensity and pressure. The Chamber is different, but in many ways similar,” he continues, adding that while at its core it is a small organisation with 20 people employed directly within it, a further 1,500 are in the fold as members, not to mention the

thousands of businesses within the business community. “In my first 30 days as CEO, I’ve met the Prime Minister twice, we’ve presented a pre-Budget document with over 130 recommendations, and we’ve influenced heavily at MCESD level, on the opening of schools,” he says, adding that as a trained corporate person, the first thing he does is look at business risk, “so I’ve Iooked at the risk internally, and I’m making sure that the Chamber is a sustainable and steady organisation that will not let its members down in the key areas that we advocate – we need to be the benchmark. It’s been an intense month!” Revealing that he has set himself a 100-day-plan, Ing. Chetcuti explains that “the first 30 days were about taking stock of the situation; the next 30 days will be about working on the business plan and the strategy to execute that plan. By the end of the 60-day mark, I can shape the organisation’s structure and resources in such a way as to deliver on this plan. From day 90 onwards, it’s go go go!” It certainly seems to be full steam ahead for the CEO, yet with 2020 continuing to be a particularly trying year, I draw his attention to the ways in which COVID-19 has affected local business, and what The Chamber can do to help. Admitting that he continues to foresee difficult months ahead and that “global 39


“We need to recover, re-invent ourselves and then re-invest in businesses. The Chamber is about growing our economy sustainably while improving quality of life.”

recession is a reality”, Ing. Chetcuti affirms that The Chamber has worked hard on collaborative agreements with most of the other associations and professional bodies in Malta, so as to be the conduit for all the challenges that are coming up. “What I consider to be the biggest strength of The Chamber is the fact that it holds a very strong position in public opinion and with the people who make decisions. When The Chamber pronounces itself, people listen, and that includes the leadership of the country. We are the conduit for all these challenges to be directed to the right place – that is how we add value to our members. The pre-Budget document was an example of that,” he maintains.

Elaborating on the recommendations made within The Chamber’s pre-Budget document, the CEO explains that the organisation has put forward 130 proposals which have been prioritised into a top 20, and 11 calls for action. “We have prioritised the wage supplements, but we are also saying that we should stop giving hand-outs, because we are not gaining anything in the long-term,” he says, emphasising the need to tie hand-outs to the re-engineering of businesses through schemes whereby everyone can benefit provided they add value to the business. “We’ve also talked a lot about education, and the fact that we cannot afford to create a skills gap in this generation, because in 10 or 20 years’ time, the business community will suffer significantly,” Ing. Chetcuti continues, maintaining that the human resource is a strong resource in Malta, and the island cannot afford to have a gap. Having said that, he continues, “we need to be cautious, and make sure that all the protocols are there,” going on to mention other priority areas relating to the manufacturing and construction industries. “We need to recover,

re-invent ourselves and then re-invest in businesses. The Chamber is about growing our economy sustainably while improving quality of life.” Looking ahead, the CEO believes that the biggest challenge is recovery, necessitating the importance of working together to start our recovery process. “We need to make sure that nobody is left behind, and we do it sustainably and in a way that improves the way we live. The arrival of the vaccine is an important milestone, and nobody really knows when that is going to happen,” he continues, admitting that the next few months are, once again, unprecedented. “We have the opening of schools and a situation where the virus is still spreading; we are probably going to have the lowest point for business. The key for us is always to have good social dialogue and to make sure that all the important parties are working together – the opportunity is there to start the recovery and re-invent ourselves,” Ing. Chetcuti affirms, adding that it does no good to think about the past. “The past is gone. We need to recognise the opportunities that can be taken from this period.” Meanwhile, the CEO’s main priorities for The Malta Chamber in the coming months centre on strengthening its membership base. “The more represented we are, the wider our view is, and the better we can propose policy and be thought leaders in favour of a business environment which is the best in terms of competitiveness and regulation,” he reveals, adding that his aim is to grow the membership base by creating higher levels of value for members, underpinned by strong communication and marketing; and by The Chamber itself being brilliant in executing its basics so as to act as a benchmark. “The Chamber Council is made up of some of the most seasoned and influential people in the business community – together they have hundreds of years of experience – this, made available to the members of the business community, offers a go-to space which is unparalleled. Within the structures of The Chamber, the network is huge and full of knowledge. Knowledge is power, and I urge members to tap into that knowledge,” he concludes. cc

“Within the structures of The Chamber, the network is huge and full of knowledge. Knowledge is power, and I urge members to tap into that knowledge.” 40



A Budget of economic sustainability Branding the Budget for 2021 “visionary”, the Minister for the Economy, Investment and Small Businesses Silvio Schembri explains to Ray Bugeja the details of relevance to businesses on the island and how the measures will aid them moving forward.


nforeseen and unprecedented, the COVID-19 pandemic has ground the world as we know it to a halt, Minister for the Economy, Investment and Small Businesses Silvio Schembri notes. Its effect, he continues, has impelled governments the world over to rapidly seek ways to mitigate its negative impact as much as possible. “While much wealthier countries have struggled to control the repercussions, Malta took an immediate proactive stance in identifying and successfully implementing the necessary mitigating measures to minimise the impact on the economy as much as possible. A robust three-phased plan was launched which sought to mitigate the fallout, to aid the continued regeneration and, eventually, the bolstering of the economy,” Mr Schembri remarks. The protection of businesses and the safeguarding of jobs remains the cornerstone of every strategy that


Government has devised throughout the pandemic, the Minister continues. He says the COVID-19 wage supplement, an investment of €240 million, was, perhaps, a watershed moment in the country’s history. It was a timely, unprecedented mechanism that sought to provide peace of mind to thousands of families whose livelihoods were endangered by the severe impact of the pandemic, Mr Schembri asserts. Saving more than 100,000 jobs, he points out, the COVID-19 wage supplement has been hailed as an essential tool which ensured the continued well-being of Maltese workers and, ultimately, businesses. Lauded by several stakeholders throughout the Budget discussions, it is now being extended beyond October, he says. “That the soundness and longevity of any structure depends on the strength of its foundations is a given. Our businesses, large and small, are the very foundations, the backbone, if you will, of our economy, and

their well-being is the yardstick by which the well-being of the whole country can be gauged.” “During these challenging times, we have strived – through the plan for the regeneration of the economy – to fully nurture and support our SMEs with a number of specific measures. These are aimed at supporting the operating expenditure of businesses which had to temporarily cease or limit their operations due to the pandemic and, ultimately, enable them to cater for exigencies and adversities which will allow them to maintain their business operations,” the Economy Minister asserts. Putting off the payments of national insurance contributions and VAT went a long way in easing the unforeseen burdens the past few months have brought about on Maltese businesses, he adds. Government, Mr Schembri explains, has been acutely aware that such a tumultuous time can have devastating consequences, which means the need to ascertain that such ill-effects are kept to a minimum is paramount. It was with that aim in mind that Government launched “the pivotal” OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020


“Our vision as a Government goes beyond our stance to simply limit the collateral damage of the pandemic.”

electricity refund bill scheme that is aimed at all businesses that are benefitting from the COVID-19 wage supplement. Through the scheme, businesses are reimbursed half their electrical power utility bills. The launch of the rent refund scheme, which has a Budget allocation of €45 million, will support more than 16,000 self-employed people and businesses throughout these challenging times and ensure that they can fully continue with their operations and, more significantly, retain their employees, the Minister continues. “But our vision as a Government,” Mr Schembri points out, “goes beyond our stance to simply limit the collateral damage of the pandemic.” A strategy without continuity would be an exercise in futility and, therefore, the restimulation of the economy was and remains crucial, he insists. OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020

It was against this backdrop that the €100 government voucher was launched. The Minister explains that “a much-needed” €65 million injection (by the end of October) into the economy through the use of the vouchers not only ensured that the wheels continue to turn for Maltese businesses’ well-being but also, that, on an individual level, the scheme instilled a sense of trust and confidence in the population, “a sense that, despite the difficult scenario, life will go on”. Just a week before the Budget was presented, Mr Schembri announced that just over 81 per cent of the vouchers had been redeemed. Just under 1.5 million red vouchers had been used in restaurants and hotels for a total spend of more than €40 million. A third of a million vouchers redeemable in retail outlets and service providers had been used, generating an expense of almost €12.5 million.

He explained during a business breakfast that the economic injection through the sole use of the vouchers at that point (14th October) amounted to €36.4 million, and the total spend over and above the vouchers worked out at €16.2 million, amounting to a total boost of €52.6 million. In Gozo, a €5.2 million economic injection through the vouchers impacted a wide range of businesses, ensuring the crucial survival of several of them as well as jobs, he said. Government is confident it has successfully mitigated the pandemic’s ramifications and, to a large extent, even restimulated the economy. What needs to be done now? The way forward in line with Government’s long-term vision, the Economy Minister asserts, was and will remain that of unlocking the country’s full potential regardless of the unfolding scenario beyond its shores. He feels now is the time when the country must find courage in the face of adversity and seek opportunities that perhaps it might have neglected or ignored in the past. In his opinion, now more than ever, Malta must strengthen the necessary foundations that have made it an attractive hub for both local and foreign investment in the past. Government, he adds, has ensured that the necessary infrastructure for investments to take root is created and maintained, including the unprecedented €450 million allocated for the upgrading of the industrial zones as well as a number of initiatives aimed at upskilling the workforce, which will, ultimately, cater for the requirements of present and future industries. “On the cusp of a new era, our point of departure remains the safeguarding of businesses and jobs and, through the maintaining of constant and continuous dialogue with all the relevant stakeholders, we believe that, in the Budget, we have been faithful to this ethos: a visionary Budget which, despite the challenges, manages to reach out to everyone.” “I am sure that the annals of history will be kind to us and this Budget will be forever remembered as a true example of Government’s continuous solidarity with our social partners, our businesses but, most significantly, with our workers, whose wellbeing determines the success of our nation or otherwise,” Mr Schembri asserts. cc



Continuity in unstable times Keeping the economic engine running is no mean feat in the midst of a pandemic. However, Enemed Company Ltd aims to do just that, providing fuel products to the inland market and to aviation as well as storage facilities to third parties for bunkering and marine. Rebecca Anastasi speaks to Executive Chairman Kevin Chircop, who outlines the entity’s drive towards sustainability in a changed world.


hen a National Emergency was triggered in the middle of March, few could have imagined the roller-coaster of a year which would be 2020. As businesses shifted to teleworking, schools shut, the airport closed and people retreated to their homes, this war-time perspective was managed with fortitude, with companies shifting operations and processes for the greater good. But, as the weeks turned into months, pandemic fatigue set in and, today, eight months from Malta’s first case, the crisis shows no signs of abating. And for a firm like Enemed Company Ltd, which oversees the importation and sale of fuel products – used by vehicles on the road, and in aviation – while also offering storage and bunkering facilities to the marine sector, the country’s movements (or lack thereof)


“We’re trying to adapt our work practices in the medium- to long-term, and we’re monitoring the behavioural practices of our consumers because, even if a vaccine comes out sooner rather than later, we still have to live with this for some time to come.”

have had a direct impact on its drive to grow. “We don’t know when the pandemic will be over, and, in terms of the business, we have taken a worst-case scenario for the coming months. We’re trying to adapt our work practices in the medium- to longterm, and we’re monitoring the behavioural practices of our consumers, because, even if a vaccine comes out sooner rather than later, we still have to live with this for some time to come,” Enemed’s Executive

Chairman, Kevin Chircop, asserts. Indeed, the firm, which was set up in 2014 under the auspices of the state-owned Petromal Company Ltd, has already had to deal with steep fluctuations in trade. “The airport being closed for three months from March had a substantial impact on our revenue. This is not only because less was actually being used, but because we had already hedged the petroleum required for the summer months – the amounts of which were quite substantial, due to the expectation of demand. So, the revenue stopped but we still had to pay for that fuel,” he explains. With reference to the decrease of the inland fuel sales, during April, the decrease for the inland market was 42 per cent, while the decrease for the inland fuel market YTD (that is, Jan-Sept 2020) was of 12 per cent, indicating that a sense of uncertainty persists. “We’re still not out of the woods. The activity at the airport is less than 50 per cent what it was in 2019, while we’re still down 10 per cent in the inland market. The marine bunkering division of the business has also taken a hit, due to the crash in the price of crude oil, from $60-$65 per metric ton range to $38-$42. And we’re not OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020


“Today we have the data, and we know that certain additives improve the quality of the product and result in fewer emissions.” assuming these prices will go back up any time soon,” Mr Chircop says. This loss of demand and price slump is significant when understood within the context of how fuel is actually sourced, purchased and distributed, the Executive Chairman continues. Indeed, Enemed paper hedges fuel months in advance, investing in the product ahead of time but not actually importing it until closer to when it is required. “So, we do not buy the physical product but we ‘hedge’ it for a set price ahead of time, for a particular span of time. If the price changes later on, we will still end up paying that original amount,” he explains, saying that this could be positive, in that it could offset potential losses should the price increase, yet has a downside when prices slump since the firm still ends up paying the higher charges. However, he stresses, the company has always retained a commitment to ensuring the best value to customers. “Our hedging policy allows for stability in prices yet, for the time being, this means we cannot actually decrease the sale prices since the fuel in distribution today was hedged in August 2019. Despite this, it is always our aim to try and purchase fuel at the cheapest prices possible since we know that any increase could have a detrimental effect on the entire economy. So, cost is uppermost in our minds when we source fuel for import and distribution,” he states. I point out that Government had affected a reduction in the price of fuel to encourage consumption during the pandemic, and he underlines that this came out of the excise duty due to the state. “We are always in favour of prices going down and of helping in any way we can. In this case, Enemed wasn’t directly impacted, since the decrease came from the excise duty. However, any measure taken by Government during or post-COVID to support the public and businesses until the economy gets back on its feet, has our full support,” he says. The pandemic also hit the firm from an operational point of view. “We took the decision not to lay anyone off, and so we took different measures to support the business, and most importantly, our employees. Firstly, we always gave a true picture of what was happening. Our

“We’ll continue striving to supply a better product, up until the last drop is used.” OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020

management style is to build trust with our employees, so we felt this was imperative. Moreover, since some of our divisions weren’t seeing a lot of business, we redeployed the employees who were heavily impacted – such as those at the airport – to other divisions so they can contribute there. This helped boost morale but also allowed for knowledge-sharing,” Mr Chircop explains. Flexi-time and remote working initiatives were also implemented for those employees who could still carry out their tasks away from their place of work, and moving forward, the Executive Chairman says that many of these changes will be retained. “There were many benefits. Of course, there were a couple of employees who couldn’t work from home, but we were always supporting our staff. Our human resources department were given training on how to notice differences in people’s mood and morale, to make sure they’re not suffering because of the situation. We sent out a message of trust to our staff and it worked. I also had proof that it worked, so I was able to argue for an extension of these decisions to the board.” Looking ahead, I ask about how the firm plans to ensure continuity in a changing market, in which more consumers are becoming aware of the environmental impact of fuel-guzzling modes of transport. For Mr Chircop, the approach towards ensuring the customers get what they need – while at the same time mitigating the environmental damage – is multifaceted. Firstly, he says, there needs to be a reduction in emissions, which can occur through the purchasing of better-quality fuel. “Today we have the data, and we know that certain additives improve the quality of the product and result in fewer emissions. Four years ago, Enemed took the decision to

ensure that we have those superior quality additives in our product. For example, the diesel we sell today produces 20 per cent less carbon than what we used to sell three years ago,” he explains. This betterquality product came at a higher price, he continues, quickly adding that the cost increase was not passed on to the client and consumer. “The board took a decision to absorb the cost, since it wouldn’t have made sense for us to give people a betterquality fuel and then pass the burden on. That would have meant that the consumer was taking the initiative, and not us, as a company.” Moreover, as a result of consistently supplying better-quality products and more sophisticated vehicle technology and design, cars have become more efficient, with the organic growth in the consumption of fuel dropping from five per cent year-onyear to approximately two per cent. “We’re predicting a shrinking of the inland fuel market over the next few years, but there is still some time to go before everyone will start to use electric-powered or hybrid models. Of course, we’re planning for this and we will also shift our priorities. But we don’t see this happening before the next 15 or 20 years. Unfortunately, there are still issues with electric-powered vehicles in that producers are struggling to find the rare metals required to make them and we haven’t found a proper way of disposing of batteries, which means we have another environmental issue on our hands.” In the meantime, Mr Chircop says that Enemed, through its Research and Development Department, will continue seeking to “improve the performance of our fuels so that they become more efficient, irrespective of whether fuel is being phased out or not. We’ll continue striving to supply a better product, up until the last drop is used,” he underlines. cc 45


On embracing change and driving growth For logistics firm Jet Freight, steady growth and a customercentric service continue to be key to their success. Here, founder and Chief Financial Officer Kevin Mifsud shares the company’s latest developments, and what the future holds.


hat started off as a small customs clearance outfit operating out of a two-room office has, over the years, grown to be a leading logistics service provider on the island, founded by company CFO Kevin Mifsud in 1994 along with business partner and CEO Olvin Galea. Able to offer transport services for anything from a small box to awkward, out-of-gauge cargo shipments, Jet Freight understands the requirements by a growing number of customers who need cargo delivered ‘just in time’. “To this effect, a close liaison is kept by our customer’s account manager, between the supplier, transporter and the customer, to ensure that shipments arrive as and when required by the customer, not early, not late, but on time,” says Mr Mifsud.

“We highly value our customers’ satisfaction as ultimately, this is one of the key pillars that drives our business forward. Regarding our customers as just another number is something we aim to avoid as much as possible.” Mr Mifsud says the company prides itself on having a staff complement that is very well versed in the intricacies of the logistics industry, “and who adopt a ‘can do’ attitude when faced with a challenge that requires overcoming. This is backed by access to a worldwide network of service providers allowing us to provide a one-stop-shop for our customers’ logistics requirements.” Jet Freight has recently embarked on a vertical integration exercise bringing in as many of the services as possible that it offers in-house and subcontracting only to selected service providers for specialised services. This has brought about the creation of Jet Transport Ltd, which caters for all local transport and logistical services. This vertical integration exercise has enabled the company to have total control over the services it provides and thus ensure that the service is second to none. The above vertical integration exercise has enabled Jet Freight to successfully service the retail fashion industry locally. This operation relies on the ability to stick to tight schedules and move cargo within the required timeframes without fail. Mr Mifsud

explains that fashion retail outlets require multiple deliveries of fresh stock throughout the week. This enables the outlet to reduce the amount of space in the shop used as storage for stocks, enables the outlet to replenish sold stocks quickly, and also bring out new items regularly and thus entice their customers to return on a regular basis. This service requires Jet Freight to provide stock management and delivery services around the clock, with deliveries to the outlets’ stock rooms being done outside shop hours, usually at night or early morning. Jet Freight similarly services the local manufacturing industry, and here too, just-in-time deliveries of raw materials and components are of paramount importance to avoid line stops at factories due to missing components, tying in with the ‘lean manufacturing’ practices being adopted by the majority of manufacturing outfits locally. Coupled with the above services, Jet Freight is now moving into the provision of

“We highly value our customers’ satisfaction as ultimately, this is one of the key pillars that drives our business forward.” 46



“Our 3PL service can take away the logistics ‘headache’ from the customer and allow them to concentrate their resources on other matters more important to growing their business.”

3PL (Third Party Logistics) services to its customers. “Our 3PL service can take away the logistics ‘headache’ from the customer and allow them to concentrate their resources on other matters more important to growing their business,” says Mr Mifsud. 3PL offers the customer cost savings, added flexibility, efficiency and an improved customer experience. This could encompass all the supply chain management functions with the end result being the timely delivery of stock to the customer, but can also include value added services such as repacking, OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020

relabelling, pick and pack, and customs clearance to name a few. Jet Freight has invested in new, centrally located, warehousing facilities, affording both indoor and outdoor secure storage. A new CRM system has been commissioned and this will enable the company to optimise its processes and have shipment related information more readily available to its customers whilst in transit to and from Malta. Turning to the current challenging scenario, Jet Freight’s CFO notes that the company has successfully managed to

‘weather the storm’ and that this would not have been possible without the dedication afforded to the company by its staff. He also proudly asserts that over the past years, staff turnover has been minimal and Jet Freight’s staff’s commitment instils confidence in him and the CEO to keep growing. He also notes that despite the currently challenging times, the company went ahead with its planned investments in new equipment and increasing its staff complement. On the subject of human resources, and in line with the company’s continuous improvement programme, Mr Mifsud notes that continued tailor-made coaching and training is being afforded to its staff at all levels. This will ensure that Jet Freight’s team members are always up-to-date on the knowledge required for them to perform their jobs and can always be on the ball to provide solutions to customers. Looking ahead, the CFO says that despite the challenging times, Jet Freight is well equipped to maintain its service quality levels and to keep delivering as required by its customers. “These times have required us to take a more cautious and careful approach to our business development plans, but have not deterred us from making calculated investments required to keep moving forward.” cc 47


A space to work and play: Creating the ultimate gaming hub Project management, interior design and quantity surveying company PMQS were recently tasked with the interior design and project management for the offices of an international online casino and iGaming company in Spinola Park, St Julian’s. Here, Interior Designer Ruth Calleja and Project Manager Michael Mercieca discuss the process with Sarah Micallef.


ith interior design, I bring my ideas to life,” maintains PMQS Interior Designer Ruth Calleja, explaining that converting, refurbishing or designing a property can feel overwhelming, with homeowners and developers facing many choices and often struggling to find the perfect fit. This is where Ruth comes in: “I just make it simpler.” Tasked with the interior design and project management for the offices of an international online casino and iGaming company in Spinola Park, PMQS was entrusted with no mean feat – to design an office space covering an internal area of over 3,000 square metres internally and 400 square metres externally. “Space planning is a fundamental element of the interior design process. It starts with an in-depth analysis of how the space is to be used,” Ruth explains, affirming that these offices were to be used for online casino and gaming operations, and were to be designed on international concepts. “This included specific meeting rooms, innovative working concepts such as micro offices, mini phone booths, satellite meeting cubicles, various rest areas and larger recreational areas for all the staff,” she adds, noting that, while employees were not subjected to fixed working hours, it was her job to create an environment they would prefer being in, rather than being at home. The interior designer outlines four phases which make up the process of putting it all together, starting with a meeting in which the


client explains the brief and what they want as the end result. “This involves excitement and exploration, while programming and budgeting is also discussed,” Ruth says. This is followed by the working phase, she continues, affirming that “the designer here draws up a plan that defines the zones of the space and the activities that will take place in those zones.” This plan will also define the circulation patterns that show how people will move through the space, and includes details of furniture, equipment and hardware placement. Next, the procurement phase sees the designer collecting quotes, detailing the proposals, placing orders and planning deliveries until the final phase, which Ruth describes as “the rush”, where works take place on site and the design is finally revealed. Project Manager Michael Mercieca explains that the office space comprises an entire floor within a larger complex designed by architects DeMicoli and Associates. “When we were first approached by the client, construction works had not yet started. This meant Ruth had to be more imaginative in her designs as she had nothing concrete to look at yet. Then, by the time all designs, planning and budgeting were ready, the construction was underway,” he says, adding that the client had a budget of €750,000 for the finishes and gave the team five months to complete the works on site. “It was tight, but doable,” Michael affirms. “To complete such a project, you must have an excellent team, so contractors and

“Space planning is a fundamental element of the interior design process. It starts with an in-depth analysis of how the space is to be used.” – Ruth Calleja, Interior Designer, PMQS suppliers have to be booked well in advance,” Ruth adds, and in order to book suppliers and contractors, the design must first be complete and defined. “This is why every project should start with the engagement of a good designer and project manager,” she smiles. “Together, we use the client’s goals to create a schedule for everything. We then move to the Schematic Design Phase which OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020


“If something isn’t done one day, it’s compounded into the next. We kept people accountable through set processes.” – Michael Mercieca, Project Manager, PMQS

includes a fully conceptualised plan for the space, the project timeline, the space plan based on the client’s desires and needs, and the products that will need to be sourced for good, better and best levels of furnishing,” Ruth continues, adding that she also prepares design concepts and mood boards to capture the ‘vibe’ or ‘feel’ of the space. “This is crucial for any successful design project, and a huge advantage for getting accurate quotes from contractors,” she reveals. Next, selections for every detail are made, including furnishings, fabrics, finishes, lighting, plumbing fixtures, draperies, trim, and so on. Upon presenting these to the client, Ruth explains, they have the opportunity to share feedback and ask for revisions. “Once approved, we move to procurement, which involves placing highly detailed orders, communicating with vendors and manufacturers, tracking shipments and deliveries, handling any issues that arise, and storing every item with the utmost care,” she details, before moving on to on-site installations. Shining a light on the materials used, Ruth made sure to incorporate the latest interior design trends. These included glazing, of which she says, “it’s almost impossible these days to walk into a modern project without lots of natural lighting.” Other elements

included wall murals and paintings, which “bring cosiness and life to the project”; reclaimed wood “paired with iron and metals for a modern, industrial feel and whitewashed for a coastal, shabby chic look for the Games Room”; fur and leather via pillows and a plush fur rug in the Thinking Room; as well as florals. “Taking natural materials and bringing them inside is a great way to have a well-balanced interior that feels both organic and refined. We decorated the waiting room, reception and recreational areas with floral decorations,” she explains. Speaking of the defining features within the design of the iGaming office, Ruth maintains that it is “every gamer’s dream” of having a fully decked out gaming hub dedicated to gaming and playing. Breaking down the different elements, the designer highlights an elegant minimalist approach for the Online Poker Casino office, which “reflects the cool and focus of the minimalist and organised staff.” Light walls were chosen to showcase their gaming adverts, with a principal colour palette of white, red and black, in accordance with the company’s branding. Completing the hub to the requirements of the most ardent gaming enthusiast, widescreen monitors were installed for intense gaming, along with comfortable chairs and floors. Moreover, Ruth adds, “the best thing about this gaming office is its DIY ingenuity – recycled crates serve the purpose and look amazing too.” Meanwhile, “bean bags and hand chairs inject a cool vibe” in a designated gaming corner, while multiple screens, ambient light and a surround sound system were used to emphasise the gaming mood, and soundproofed walls cocoon areas where employees can meet and play without outside distraction and disturbing others. “They can

play, shout, dance and hold gaming parties within these sound-proofed walls while keeping the rest of the building at peace,” Ruth explains. Elsewhere, office pods are placed within an open space, she continues, adding that “office pods are designed for privacy and comfort, and they are the perfect place for business meetings as they are suitable for informal and social talks.” And while the office consists of clean walls and floors, sleek desks and efficient lighting, the focal point, Ruth highlights, is its walls and columns in bright contrasting paints, which stand out against the white furniture. When working on a project of this scale, challenges are bound to present themselves, and this was no different. Project Manager Michael admits that while the team at PMQS had clear targets for completion which were agreed upon with the client, the construction phase, which was being carried out by others, fell behind the programme of works. “Notwithstanding, we still managed to complete and hand over on time, even if it meant working around the clock in the last few days,” he reveals. “Performance management is a key aspect of project management,” Michael continues, affirming that to implement this and keep everyone on task, the team broke down the programme of works on a daily (and sometimes even hourly) basis, splitting project-wide goals into smaller, daily targets for individuals to accomplish. “If something isn’t done one day, it’s compounded into the next. We kept people accountable through set processes. This way we kept the whole project from crumbling beneath us, and it was a success,” he concludes. cc

A word from the client: Hanro Henning, International Projects Director “Ruth’s interior design for our project in Malta proved to be not only elegant in style but now that we have been operating in the offices for a while, we find it is also very practical, and helps in the efficient running of our offices. The colour schemes chosen help give a very joyful work atmosphere while the materials chosen are of a very high standard yet economical, both in capital expenditure and maintenance. Mike’s timely project management and attention to the detail complement Ruth’s design to perfection. A great combination.”




Investment services firm FXDD eyes ‘next future’


ndividual investors, institutional traders, hedge funds, commercial entities, brokerage firms and regulated money managers use the website of FXDD Malta Ltd to access trading facilities in Forex and precious metals (gold and silver) 24 hours a day, five days a week. Clients also have access to competitive spreads, transparent real-time bid/offer pricing and different leverage and trading functions. The company’s user-friendly trading platforms are designed with multilanguage capabilities and provide a wide range of services including technical analysis


and charting whereby clients can develop personalised trading strategies contoured to their personal requirements. FXDD Malta has six departments: Compliance, Finance, Risk, Sales and Customer Support, Back Office and Marketing. Its employees hail from different countries including Spain, Italy, Colombia, Croatia, Romania and Malta. “Every team member from every department works hand in hand to get the positive results required. We, as teams, communicate with each other and, since we are a small group of 18 employees, we can all

Photo by Inigo Taylor

FXDD Malta Ltd, which, among other things, provides interbank foreign exchange pricing to clients around the world, is eyeing its “next future”. Ray Bugeja speaks to three members of its Accounting Department to learn more about what they do and what is in store.

“FXDD had always set a path to reach the finish line.” – Mandy Aquilina



“Monthly reconciliations are carried out to check that all receipts and payments are correctly received and paid.” – Leanne Bonnici

easily keep in touch,” Accounting Assistant Mandy Aquilina explains. Her colleague Shelby Cachia, also an Accounting Assistant, points out that, since its incorporation in 2010, FXDD always had an Accounting Department, which kept growing over the years. It is essential for a company existing in a heavily regulated environment and also in view of best practices to have such a department, she adds. The Accounting Department team consists of five people, Accounting Assistant Leanne Bonnici elaborates, namely three Accounting Assistants, a Head of Finance and a person who handles tax-related matters. The workload is divided according to an ‘On’ and ‘Off’ balance sheet. The Accounting Assistants, Ms Aquilina says, manage the data entry, processing and recording of transactions, updating ledgers and the daily and monthly reports. She works on both the ‘On’ and ‘Off’ balance sheets. The ‘Off’ balance sheet is where the company keeps the client funds, which are segregated from the operations of the company as per regulatory requirements. The company, she continues, receives funds from clients in the specific segregated accounts, which are then allocated to their respective trading account. On the other hand, the ‘On’ balance sheet is the operating part of the company, which is the daily running function of the business. Ms Bonnici’s main role is to prepare bank reconciliations from the clients’ side. Funds are stored in a segregated bank account, separately from operative company funds. Her duty is to reconcile these bank accounts and portals that clients’ funds are received in, and make sure that all receipts, payments and other transactions are recorded accurately in the system. In addition, she prepares other reports that are sent to management including the daily balances recorded for the company and other reports that could be required from time to time. The ‘On’ balance sheet daily transactions, which refers to the operations of the company, are Ms Cachia’s main focus. The work, she explains, consists of monthly bank reconciliations, journal entries and payments. Other work managed by the Accounting Department includes monthly management accounts, the annual budget and regulatory submissions.


The ‘On’ and ‘Off’ balances have their own ledgers in the system. Thus, the Accounting Department team members note, monthly reconciliations are done for both ‘On’ and ‘Off’ balances separately as a safeguard to ensure that the funds were credited in the company’s correct bank accounts segregated for clients. Another reason is to see that, when effecting a payment/redemption, funds were, in fact, debited from clients’ segregated bank accounts. This, they point out, is very important for the company to make a clear distinction between the two. “For accounting purposes and good governance, it is of the utmost importance to keep these two segregated. This ensures that clients’ money is safeguarded. In fact, the Accounting Department carries out periodical reconciliations to make sure that any transactions done to or from our clients are accounted for accordingly,” Ms Cachia notes. The Accounting Department ensures that clients’ money is safeguarded in a separate bank account, Ms Bonnici goes on. Monthly reconciliations are carried out to ascertain that all receipts and payments are correctly received and paid, she says, adding that it is both important and vital for the department that these tasks are carried out appropriately. It is not only clients’ funds that the company and the Accounting Department have to oversee rigorously but also regulatory requirements and standards. The company, Ms Bonnici insists, keeps up to date with the increasing number of changes within the regulatory system with regard to KYC (know your client) and AML (anti-money laundering) demands. To ensure this, she points out, internal training is provided to employees, apart from the courses that each employee has to attend in line with his/her role within the company. Ms Cachia is quick to add that the Accounting Department works hand in hand with the Compliance Department to ensure that the company abides by any regulatory changes and updates, apart from keeping all team members up to date with other requirements that affect their role within the company. She explains that being constantly up to scratch with the latest regulatory updates means that company processes and procedures are altered as required in order

to adapt to any newly introduced regulatory demands. Ms Aquilina refers to technology, noting that FXDD’s systems keep improving successfully and positively, especially during this time. Everyone can work remotely from home while daily company operations continue running smoothly as if work is being done at the office, she continues. “In today’s digitally driven business world, technology plays a very significant role. In view of this, throughout the years, FXDD always invested in the latest technology and in its personnel. “Prior to the pandemic, all of FXDD’s employees already had the newest technology and office equipment to be able to work remotely at their disposal, if necessary. Once COVID-19 cases were reported in Malta, FXDD’s management proactively supplied employees with the necessary tools, allowing the successful implementation of remote working,” Ms Cachia remarks. The pandemic, Ms Bonnici observes, forced the team to adapt to a new way of working. A roster was introduced in June to avoid overcrowding at the office, working two days from the office and three days remotely from home. This allowed appropriate and safe social distancing in line with COVID-19 safety regulations, but nothing changed with regard to operations, she points out. Ms Aquilina explains that Perspex was installed where necessary between desks, and all essential measures to ensure safety were implemented. Hand sanitizers and temperature guns are available, as are visors, Ms Cachia adds, insisting that the safety measures in place are taken very seriously. Finally, what does FXDD’s crystal ball show? “FXDD had always set a path to reach the finish line. During these years, it is focusing more on the EU sector and is looking to expand its product offering possibly in the future,” Ms Aquilina replies. The company is always on the lookout for new opportunities, both locally and within the international market, and, in fact, it is looking at expanding within the EU market, Ms Cachia adds. cc

“The company is looking at expanding within the EU market.” – Shelby Cachia



Rethinking the commercial real estate industry beyond the COVID-19 outbreak By Dr Catherine Mifsud The commercial real estate industry is exclusively used for business-related purposes or to provide a workspace to business owners. Although some businesses would most often seek to buy their own property, commercial real estate is leased to tenants to conduct their business activities. This category of real estate can be very broad and includes several economic industries such as retailers, office spaces, hotels and resorts, shopping centres, restaurants as well as healthcare facilities.





ue to its broadness, with the outbreak of COVID-19, the commercial real estate industry has faced numerous signs of stress as clients started seeking alternative models due to forced closure of their business – such as those working in the catering and accommodation and retail industries, those which might no longer afford the office spaces that they were renting out, and those who might have been required to change the structure of their office operations in order to cater for the increased health and safety measures or the requirement of more space. One of the most immediate effects on the industry was felt since clients were no longer able to honour their existing rent commitments in relation to the premises that they were operating from due to a sudden loss of income due to closure. Others who might have still been able to operate and secure some income were reluctant to let go of the liquidity due to the uncertainty that was apparent on a global basis. Commercial property owners were immediately faced with requests from clients asking for discounts or credit terms, since they were seeking to commit the lowest amount of cash possible in view of the said forced closures or a decline in their business income. Whilst big companies might not face this problem in the long run, smaller ones might need years to recover from the effects of the pandemic and might end up defaulting from their current contracts and seek alternative property within which to operate. Another problem being faced in the industry is that, whereas due to the outbreak there was an increase in awareness for health and hygiene measures, which on the one hand requires working arrangements to allow employees to have more personal working space (which in turn requires more floor space); on the other hand, businesses are more reluctant or less able to move their operations into larger premises. This would essentially lead to a change in the working model of the business, or a reduction of the workforce in order to cater for these health and hygiene requirements. Traditionally, commercial real estate property was leased for longer periods when compared to residential leases,


since whereas in the latter industry, property is likely to be leased out on a monthly or annual basis, in the former, property is leased for periods of five to 10 years or in certain cases even longer. It is highly likely that with the outbreak of COVID-19 globally, business owners looking to lease property for their operations would be wary of binding themselves with and committing to long-term lease contracts. The trend will therefore shift towards the leasing of properties with a shorter lease period and with more flexible conditions. The pandemic has caused an upheaval in most industries and brought about insecurities to businesses. Whereas some effects are temporary and are simply meant to mitigate the outbreak, others are bound to be felt beyond the outbreak and the eventual discovery of a vaccine against the virus. Another impact on the commercial real estate industry following the COVID-19 outbreak relates to the sudden shift from office work to working from home and remote working models. Prior to the outbreak, remote working models were implemented by a select few, mostly businesses working in the iGaming and eCommerce sectors, however following the outbreak, most businesses were forced to shift their operations remotely due to the requirement of social distancing in order to mitigate the spread of the virus. While some businesses have returned or will eventually return to physical operations from the office, other businesses have found that they have fared well with remote working and will keep using such a model even beyond the pandemic, in order to provide their employees with more flexibility. Big technology companies such as Twitter and Facebook have declared that they will allow their employees to continue working from home, whereas others including Google, Microsoft, Amazon and PayPal have reportedly extended their work from home policies. Should this trend continue to grow and more businesses start adopting such a model, whether for the total operations of the business or for partial operations, the impact on the commercial real estate industry might be considerable since clients would no

longer require office spaces, or at least they would need spaces which are far smaller than the ones that they used to require prior to the shift in the mode of operations. Having said this, there are other stakeholders who oppose this model, since they believe that by working from an office, a company would be able to create a community between the employees and the element of social interaction is important to preserve. It is pertinent to observe that over the last few years, the commercial real estate industry has been evolving, since several other models have started emerging as an alternative to the traditional model. Although the outbreak has brought their shortcomings to the fore, they are now reworking their models to adapt to the new reality. For example, due to the limitations imposed on travelling, the request for short-term holiday accommodation has been struggling and therefore property owners in this industry might wish to revaluate their business plans. Moreover, the co-working industry and the co-living niche had initially been brought to a halt for health-related reasons; they are now revamping themselves. Some have also held that the outbreak might lead to an eventual rise in requests for co-living spaces due to the fact that during the lockdown period persons living alone have felt increasingly lonely, and by co-living – although people would have their separate apartments – they would be able to hang out with other tenants in a communal space which benefits social interaction. As any other industry, the commercial real estate industry is an ever-evolving sector of the economy and although it might be currently facing some struggles during these times, due to its broadness, it is hardly possible that the industry will no longer be required. Although the future is still unclear on how businesses from different sectors will operate, real estate will always be required, even though the nature of the demand might change. cc Dr Catherine Mifsud LL.D. – Senior Associate, Mifsud & Mifsud Advocates M: 9921 4786; E: catherine@mifsudadvocates.com.mt



Future-proofing industrial property solutions

As the demand for industrial space has evolved over the years, reflecting the changes that the Maltese economy has been going through, so too has the role of Malta Industrial Parks Ltd (MIP), which administers Governmentowned industrial estates and related facilities around the country.


hile historically the portfolio of properties comprised mainly factories used by the various niches within the traditional manufacturing industry, as well as two villages dedicated to local artisans, nowadays the company also provides other facilities, such as laboratories for the life sciences industry, hangars for the aviation clusters, as well as office space for the ICT and other knowledgeintensive industries. This shift was mainly driven by the requirements of the new foreign investment being attracted to Malta and to accommodate further growth for those that are already operating in the country, thereby generating more wealth and employment opportunities. Within this context, one major stumbling block that has slowed down more growth in recent years was the lack of readily available properties that investors could start operating from within a short period of time, as they


would want to hit the ground running without unnecessary delays. While MIP manages over three million square metres of industrial space, almost 90 per cent of this is already contracted to ongoing operations that employ thousands of people. The current vacant space mainly consists of land, and only a very small fraction is built-up factories, most of which are already in the process of being allocated. Thus, MIP is left with minimal space that is readily available for industrial use. The importance of having a substantial stock of plug-and-play industrial facilities cannot be underestimated, as this might, in the end, prove to be the marginal impetus that is needed to attract investment to Malta over competing jurisdictions. MIP has been working very hard to address the issue in a sustainable manner that strikes a balance between optimising the space available whilst at the same time respecting the environment and the

communities that live and work within. For this purpose, the company, following the strategic objectives set, has come up with plans that shall see an investment exceeding â‚Ź400 million in the coming years, in an infrastructural investment programme that seeks to address not only the current shortages, but also the envisaged needs for the years to come, thereby future-proofing the industrial property solutions it can offer to its clients. This infrastructural investment programme, which is the biggest of its kind to ever take place in Malta, was already alluded to in the Budget 2021 speech as one of the initiatives to spur economic growth, especially within the context of helping the country overcome the challenges brought about by the current pandemic. While the details of the infrastructural investment programme are still to be announced, significant investment is envisaged to take place on the expansion of the Malta Life Sciences Park, to create additional space for the life sciences and other knowledge-intensive industries; the regeneration of the former Luqa dump, on the outskirts of the Marsa industrial estate; the upgrading of the Kordin OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020


Business Incubation Centre to facilitate the start-up phase for new businesses; as well as on various projects that will provide industrial space in multi-storey facilities. The latter is also a reflection of the dynamic nature of industry, as changes to the supply chain and logistics, as well as other technological advancements, have led to the possibility of looking at multi-storey facilities, thereby maximising the potential of the limited land that is available in the Maltese islands. Indeed, making a more efficient use of the space available and in so doing generating more vacant inventory is one of the strategic objectives adopted by the company for the coming years, along with increasing revenue; improving operating efficiency; enhancing the environmental aspect of the property owned and managed; as well as improving its customers’ satisfaction with the services they are provided. All the strategic objectives have one common underlying principle: sustainability. Based on studies that looked into the type of industry currently based in Malta, the demand being anticipated for the OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020

coming years and what type of properties are required, the infrastructural investment programme will not only be addressing the long-term needs of the country and prospective investors, but will also incorporate several green initiatives that will make them more welcoming to the people that spend long hours working there, as well as to the clients that visit them, recognising the importance that the environment plays in our lives. Investments in green initiatives are not only being made in new projects, but also to improve and enhance the living and working environment in existing facilities and common areas within the industrial estates. Such initiatives include the installation of green walls or green infrastructure, as well as general embellishment and green areas. These will be further complemented by other services that will be introduced within certain industrial estates to further ameliorate their users’ experience, including through the development of administration buildings, childcare centres, health and fitness facilities, and parking areas, among others. While naturally a lot of energy shall be dedicated towards the successful delivery of the infrastructural investment programme, MIP is also working on other initiatives that will likewise have a considerable, positive impact on the country. One such initiative is the delivery of the Airport Zone Strategy Plan, which is currently awaiting the green light. The Strategy Plan looks into the underutilised sites within the airport perimeter and comes up with proposals how these can be put to better use to facilitate further growth of the aviation servicing

cluster, as well as logistics and tourism in general, among others. The principles of the circular economy and how these can be put in practice have inspired another initiative, whereby the construction and demolition (C&D) waste that will be dug up during the regeneration of the Luqa dump will be cleaned and then transformed into aggregate. This can then be re-used by the construction industry, or else transformed into other products such as reconstituted stone, which has been developed thanks to research at the University of Malta and which MIP is also supporting. This will also help in reducing the stress on landfills as well as the demand for the limited natural resources the country has. In order to be in a better position to implement these initiatives, over the past years MIP has also undergone an extensive reorganisation. The process provided the company with the opportunity to continue to embrace change and evolve, becoming a wellorganised, performance-oriented, and proactive entity working within pre-planned and defined strategies to cater for the needs of its clients and, ultimately, our country and its people. The process will be culminating in a comprehensive rebranding that shall be launched shortly with the intention of freshening up and rejuvenating the company’s image, thereby enhancing its public profile through a more appealing brand identity that reflects its role – that of providing industrial innovative solutions. cc Malta Industrial Parks, 88, Msida Valley Road, Birkirkara. T: 2226 4400; E: info@mip.com.mt; www.mip.com.mt



Budget 2021: Wheeling the ship of state The publication of next year’s Budget has drawn mixed reactions from various sectors. A comment from Perit David Xuereb, President of The Malta Chamber, refers to the need for the Budget to be a particularly formative Budget, “which will determine the country’s future during and after this pandemic.” The GWU thinks that the country must be ready for the economic growth that is expected in the coming years, not just when the world finds a COVID-19 vaccine but also as a result of the economic stimulus Government has introduced over these past months. MHRA said it values Government’s strong focus on social initiatives in this Budget as this will inspire a feel-good factor across all society, in difficult times for all. Leader of the Opposition Bernard Grech says he was disappointed to hear nothing about electricity and water tariffs, or about how to help “83,000 people at big risk of poverty”. Finally, he laments that this is a Budget that plans for today but forgets about tomorrow. As can be expected, the pandemic has decimated one of the main economic pillars – that is the hospitality sector. Observers lament that this Budget circumvents the fact that the tourism industry needs a radical solution, and not cosmetic assistance in paying a wage supplement intended to keep its workforce ticking till March next year. Many agree that the return of three million visitors is a mirage. A reality check wakens us to the fact that the pandemic has converted 0.5 per cent of GDP (€71 million) surplus in 2019 to a whopping 9.8 per cent deficit (almost €1,200 million). This monumental deficit has never hit the economy so harshly, not even at the peak of the 2008 world crisis, and it peaks at a time when the daily number of COVID-19 cases has been racing ahead at an unprecedented rate. The cost of monitoring the virus is added to the stress inflicted on workers in the private sector who have been in constant fear of being made redundant. The stark fact that almost 100,000 workers rely on Government’s wage supplement scheme is no joke. Setting aside partisan rhetoric waxing on its success in keeping down jobless 56

numbers, in reality it omits the precarious situation of some workers forced into a three-day week. In spite of this, the Finance Minister proposed a social Budget coupled with a mild Keynesian push in continuing work on infrastructure projects. The drop of tax revenue has been a Damocles sword over our treasury that must have shaken the resolve of any Finance Minister, seeing that our deficit has exploded, and it may take a number of years to be able to repay it. All this expenditure is pushing national debt up to 58 per cent of GDP. Perhaps this was the reason the VAT rate was not reduced. The uniqueness of this Budget is exemplified by the granting of a €5 increase weekly for about 93,000 pensioners, and other claimants such as improved child allowances and a welcome grant of a onetime cash gift of €350 to elderly reaching the age of 75 years. Small traders with total revenue of under €30,000 will now become VAT exempt. The construction lobby were happy about an extension of a relief of stamp duties on property purchases introduced for first time buyers, and a novel idea to exempt from tax a quota of donations within family members. A welcome announcement is the start in building of social housing comprising 1,200

new houses over a number of years, albeit this may be seen as a little too late. A remarkable €450 million will be invested over a seven-year span to build extended Life Science centres, improvement of industrial estates, a new Kordin Business Centre and a venture capital fund for startups (previously a Cinderella concept). In conclusion, the Budget is a pivotal one, coming at a cross-roads position. It needs to assure investors that Government is serious about creating a level playing field, reducing uncertainty and ensuring good governance in the shadow of a Moneyval verdict next year. Only thus can new initiatives be taken by the private sector to rebuild a new horizon with an accent on digital and the green sector that ushers a new dawn. George Mangion FCCA CPA MA (Financial Services) is the senior partner and head of the audit department at PKF Malta. He has over 30 years’ experience in accounting, taxation, financial and consultancy services. Mr Mangion has also lectured and delivered presentations at numerous seminars and conferences worldwide on subjects relating to a wide range of topics including taxation, auditing and captive insurance. cc Get in touch via email on info@pkfmalta.com OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020



home with their children when they are not at school. Although a lot of parents have the luxury of working from home, others do not. It is therefore important to support each parent. The Deputy President concluded by saying, “we need to do all we can so that this generation can return to school, so that their parents can retain their employment while the country can continue to function as close as possible to normality.”

03. “The Malta Chamber and Government share ample common ground in terms of economic vision for the country”

01. 01. “More needs to be done to encourage adoption of renewable energy” – Malta Chamber CEO Edward Chetcuti

02. “The lives of so many people, now and in the future, depend on how well we perform as a country on this” – Marisa Xuereb

Addressing a business breakfast organised by the Energy and Water agency (EWA) in September, on the subject of energy trends within Malta’s manufacturing sector, The Malta Chamber CEO Edward Chetcuti said that more needed to be done to promote the use of renewable energy in a bid to reduce the country’s heavy dependence on the traditional generation of energy. “With this view, The Malta Chamber is once again taking a proactive leading role, as it is setting up a horizontal committee dedicated to the subject of Energy Efficiency and Conservation, with a special focus on renewable energy solutions,” Ing. Chetcuti said. The Malta Chamber CEO also said that energy audits should be encouraged further through subsidies and expert support, as they ought to become a baseline for the continuous improvement of business’ energy-efficiency. Government is also encouraged to consider the introduction of energy vouchers to incentivise private investment in alternative sources of energy, lowering the eligibility threshold for night tariffs and widening the timeframe window with immediate effect.

In September, the Deputy President noted how, although online teaching can be helpful in certain times and as a backup in drastic situations, it is not enough to provide a complete education for a whole scholastic year. In her vlog, Ms Xuereb added that it is vital to think of the parents who must stay


Welcoming the Prime Minister of Malta Robert Abela to The Malta Chamber, President David Xuereb said that the Chamber and Government shared ample common ground in terms of their economic vision for the country. He said that the alignment was expected, as both entities were after the optimal economic and healthy well-being of our people. Dr Abela was attending an event organised by the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry on 2nd September, from the ‘Meet the Prime Minister’ series, whereby members of the Chamber are offered the exclusive opportunity to ask questions directly to the head of Government. Commenting on the subject of good governance, the Chamber President said that the reputation of brand Malta had suffered considerable damage, to the extent that some companies were struggling to perform international business due to the manner in

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which business counterparts perceived the country. Perit Xuereb noted how the Chamber was concentrating its efforts on collaborating with Government and other social partners in finding the most workable solutions for students to be able to return to their classrooms later this month.

04. The Malta Chamber helps Maltese start-ups internationalise An event held in September provided a digital platform for six Maltese startup companies who met international counterparts during pre-set meetings, which brought start-ups and established enterprises together to establish new business ventures, engage in international projects, discover new ideas and exchange knowledge and experience. The Malta Chamber encourages local start-ups to stay tuned with more of its support initiatives and matchmaking opportunities in the future. These events can provide penetration in targeted markets by meeting selected investors, entrepreneurs, researchers and regional decision-makers. The Enterprise Europe Network (EEN) supports SMEs in working with other businesses in Europe and countries outside of Europe, implementing partnering, advisory, innovation projects and helping them penetrate new markets. It consists of more than 600 member organisations in contact with each other over 64 countries.

05. “Good leadership looks forward not backwards, turns challenges into opportunities, and stands out in tough times” Commenting on her personal Facebook profile, Deputy President of The Malta Chamber Marisa Xuereb said that the upcoming scholastic year was going to offer a challenge to everyone. However, with everyone’s cooperation, the interests of all children could be safeguarded, and their education could continue. “It will be a very different school environment built around protecting the integrity of bubbles to the greatest extent possible,” she said. “Every space and all technologies available need to be employed to protect bubbles and provide alternatives for those who are vulnerable or scared.” “There will be COVID-19 cases along the way,” she warned, “we will need to respond promptly and appropriately to those eventualities. Good leadership looks forward not backwards, turns challenges


08. into opportunities, and stands out in tough times,” Ms Xuereb concluded.

06. “A critical Budget for the country” During a meeting of the Malta Council for Economic and Social Dialogue (MCESD) in September, the President of The Malta Chamber David Xuereb noted how the upcoming Budget was critical for the country, as it came at a time when the economy needed a clear vision to ascertain its recovery, stimulate re-invention and entice re-investment. “In this upcoming Budget, the country needs to take stock of the current realities, take note of the lessons learnt during the COVID-19 crisis, and develop objectives that are based on a resilient and sustainable way forward for our economy,” Perit Xuereb said during the MCESD meeting. “The country should aim its medium-term Economic Vision towards achieving a smart sustainable island that seeks to increase economic growth while enhancing the quality of life of the people. It is the well-being of our people that drives the economy, and economic growth drivers must respect the country’s sustainable development goals and the physical and mental wellness of citizens together with their livelihoods.”

07. “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” Edward Chetcuti shared his initial thoughts after his first few weeks as CEO of The Chamber in September. Ing. Chetcuti expressed how initiatives such as the meeting between the Prime Minister and members, and the presentation of The Chamber’s budget proposals to Government were the perfect example of how value is offered to members. Whether they are a start-up or a large employer, Ing. Chetcuti said that all members are provided with a great and equal opportunity to voice their opinions and views regarding policymaking on a national level. Ing. Chetcuti stated that “one of the best strengths the Chamber has is its standing in public opinion as well as with the people that matter. When the Chamber expresses itself, people take note, and that includes the leadership of the country. This means that our members have one very loud, uninterrupted line of communication at their disposal that voices their opinions, concerns and ambitions where it matters most.”

08. Creative sector integral to design of new economy “The creative sector is integral to the design of a new economy for a modern



Malta,” said The Malta Chamber President David Xuereb, as he was speaking during a press conference organised by the Malta Entertainment Industry and Arts Association (MEIA) on 15th September. Perit Xuereb said that the re-engineering of business models which will need to take place in the near future to guarantee a sustainable and resilient economy require the talent of the creative sector to be at its core. Addressing the online press conference, President of the MEIA Howard Keith Debono noted how the organisation was initiated a month and a half prior. “During this period, the Executive members of this association worked around the clock to meet with all stakeholders in the industry. Recent statistics released by Standard and Poor’s have identified the arts industry as one of the sectors that was most hit by the current economic crisis,” said Mr Debono.

09. Air Malta pilots deal is not reflective of industrial relations norms and practices The Malta Chamber is disappointed by the decision taken by Government in relation to Air Malta’s pilots. The decision is not reflective of industrial relations norms and practices. Such a precedent will certainly create difficulties in the future when Government will deal with other sensitive sectors, companies and professions in society. The agreement creates an unlevel playing field, as it discriminates between workers. We have seen over the years across other industries, that when companies, both public or private, are faced with financial difficulties, redundancies are dealt with appropriately in line with industrial relations norms and practices, irrespective of the regrettable challenges that such an approach inevitably brings about on both the employer and the employee. The Malta Chamber calls for transparency on the details of the alternative employment the pilots will be engaged in, what their terms of reference will be and what they will be expected to be doing; the clear assumption is that they will not be carrying out their profession as pilots in their alternative roles.

Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry called for the introduction of new stronger measures, to urgently contain a spike in virus contagion numbers on 17th September. For this reason, The Malta Chamber called an urgent meeting of the MCESD to discuss the dire situation and the need to make this a national priority for everyone. The proposed restrictions included the reduction of size of public gatherings, wearing of masks at all times outside of homes and active encouragement of remote working wherever possible. Besides, authorities may also consider temporary closure of certain leisure establishments and communal places. With regards to education, the re-opening of schools, which remains in the best interest of our children, can only happen under heightened measures and disciplined enforcement. Targeted measures and urgent support were also overdue at care-homes for the elderly, as they faced extremely trying times.

11. MCESD meeting on Chamber’s request The Malta Council for the Economic and Social Dialogue (MCESD), met in September on the request of The Malta Chamber. During the meeting, Prime Minister Robert Abela and the Superintendent of Public Health Prof. Charmaine Gauci were present. During a telephone link on the 103 Morning Show, President David Xuereb said that the meeting was called by The Malta Chamber as members were becoming increasingly preoccupied by the deteriorating situation in relation to the growing number of registered cases of COVID-19. Perit Xuereb noted how Maltese businesses had been busy trying to get the economy moving again, however a lack of discipline resulted in a new increase in numbers of COVID-19 cases.

The President said that The Malta Chamber had suggested a number of dramatic decisions that need to be taken, in order to control the spread of the virus.

12. Recover, re-invent, re-invest Ahead of the announcement of Government’s Budget for 2021, The Malta Chamber presented its recommendations in favour of a clear vision to ascertain the recovery of the economy, stimulate reinvention and entice re-investment. The Malta Chamber welcomed Government’s decision to extend the wage support scheme up till the end of October and looks forward to further extensions until this is necessary to ensure conservation of employer-employee relationships. The Malta Chamber welcomed the Prime Minister’s vision for a zero-carbon footprint for Malta by the year 2050 during the extraordinary Cabinet meeting which was held at the Exchange Buildings in August. The Malta Chamber believes that the forthcoming Budget should strongly prioritise the long-term national interest ahead of any attempts for quick returns during this special time in the country’s history.

13. The Malta Chamber together with BOV and Saxo Bank debate on the future of businesses The Malta Chamber together with BOV and Saxo Bank co-hosted a ‘Blue Sky or Eye of the Storm’ webinar in September, during which market experts debated the expected outcomes and changes for businesses. Marisa Xuereb, Deputy President of The Malta Chamber, stated that despite the threats brought about by COVID-19, businesses can also benefit from many emerging opportunities. Group Head Macroeconomic Analyst Christopher Dembik focused on addressing the idea of a ‘New World’. The analyst from

10. Brief period of heightened measures, enforcement necessary In the interest of the physical and economic health of the country, the Malta


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15. Saxo Bank believes that automation, remote working environments and green initiatives are expected to become the common trends among upcoming industries. Steve Ellul from BOV Asset Management claimed that businesses have already stopped and re-thought their strategies, as leading CEOs are re-engineering their business natures.

14. Schools which are fully prepared to open, should do so In September, the Malta Chamber of Commerce Enterprise and Industry welcomed the recent development in relation to the reopening of schools for the scholastic year 2020/21, as it appeared that a national consensus in favour of schools opening in October had been reached. The Malta Chamber was however dutybound to express its extreme dismay at the fact that a decision for a delayed, staggered opening had been communicated at the eleventh hour. While a staggered approach may be a valuable solution to the logistical challenges being faced by our schools, the last-minute decision will certainly have further adverse effects on students, working parents as well as their employers. The Chamber argued that schools which are in a position to open should do so, citing no logical reason for schools which are ready to open to remain closed and deprive students of a week of face-to-face education at this juncture.

closely and bring the world of business and that of science closer than ever. “In a world where the advancements in technology and scientific discovery is increasingly determining the economy of the future and the quality of life of its participants, business and science are inseparable to better understand and address the ambitions of our country in all of its economic, environmental and social senses,” Malta Chamber President David Xuereb said. Malta Chamber of Scientists President Gianluca Valentino reiterated the need to bring science and R&D (Research and Development) in Malta closer to industry, and explore new ways for industry to tap and commercialise high-quality research being done locally, while providing researchers with better access to funding from industry and further career paths for researchers in industry.

16. Let’s build on the lessons learnt The lifestyle changes and challenges that COVID 19 offered society in the past months were at the centre of an online event titled ‘The Digital Future: Teleworking and Online Services’ at the start of October. “The extended use of teleworking tools and online services the world had to resort to during COVID-19 are the perfect example of solutions we must strive to build on,” said Perit David Xuereb. Addressing attendees, MEP Miriam Dalli said, “teleworking works! The COVID-19 pandemic has shocked our systems, but we believe that it can be turned into an opportunity which works in everyone’s favour.” Minister Carmelo Abela remarked that telework and remote working are important steps forward towards better family-friendly conditions of employment. He said that with the evolution of information technology, certain work can now be carried out away from the office on a regular basis.

15. Linking science with business through signing of MOU between The Malta Chamber and the Malta Chamber of Scientists The Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry and the Malta Chamber of Scientists signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the aim to collaborate 66



17. 17. The impact of COVID-19 on English Language Schools in Malta During the television programme Maghkom, Chamber’s Tourism Business Section member James Perry spoke about the current situation in the English language teaching schools in Malta and how the pandemic had affected the industry. Speaking to presenter Lea Hogg, Mr Perry noted how the industry was one of the first to be hit by the pandemic, with the first cancellations being registered in February when Italy closed off education travel. This led to 20,000 student cancellations, which started to sound alarm bells across the sector. As a member of the board of the Tourism Business Section Executive Committee and the Education thematic committee, Mr Perry commended the work of The Malta Chamber in this field. He said, “The Malta Chamber has a very strong Tourism Business Unit which represents a vast array of experts from different sectors, such as ELT schools, tour operators, tour agents and transport operators that lobby on several issues.”

18. Looking beyond the current situation During the television programme TVAM, The Malta Chamber President David Xuereb

18. weighed in on a number of issues that Malta is currently facing during the segment Ras Imb’Ras. Speaking on the subject of good governance, Perit Xuereb noted the work that was being done in the area, however, a long way remained ahead. The Chamber President concluded by saying, “as a Chamber of Commerce, we are always on the lookout to ensure that good governance, which is at the heart of our economy, is upheld.”



When asked about what issues members of The Malta Chamber are facing right now in terms of economic activity, Perit Xuereb said that a global pandemic like COVID-19, although creating a number of threats, also provides an economy with the opportunity to re-think the way forward in terms of business efficiency and personal daily lives in order to adapt our current practices for the given situation.

19. Business leaders supported through signing of MOU between The Malta Chamber and VISTAGE Malta “The MoU between the Malta Chamber and VISTAGE Malta will enable the Chamber to access a globally consistent and reliable benchmark derived from mined data, that shall provide insights from business owners and CEOs on their appreciation of the current and future state of the local economy, whilst comparing it to global



20. insights,” said David Xuereb, President of The Malta Chamber. “Through this knowledge, The Malta Chamber shall be in a very strong position to support business leaders in Malta in making reliable decisions about the resilience of the future of their business. We aspire to offer the right insights to help businesses understand that they are not alone, as their collective mindset impacts the Maltese economy,” Perit Xuereb noted. Nathan Farrugia, VISTAGE Malta Managing Director, explained, “VISTAGE is the leading global CEO network and peer coaching organisation that represents over 24,000 businesses in 20 countries. We are really looking forward to working with the Chamber and its members on such initiatives to give local businesses access to this knowledge base. We also hope that more business leaders will join VISTAGE to help grow their businesses, especially in times like these when strategic collaboration and sharing of information outweighs cut-throat competition for long-term success.”

20. Re-thinking the way forward During the television programme NET LIVE, Malta Chamber President David Xuereb discussed a number of recommendations that were put forward with regards to the upcoming Budget. “The upcoming Budget cannot focus on conservation but should rather focus on


formation. The next step is to ensure that optimal measures are put into place in order to move into the right direction and start the implementation process. Apart from helping Malta’s economy by supporting businesses and the quality of life, this new Budget should promote the conservation of all the positive elements while working towards penetrating areas that can lead to superior effectiveness,” Perit Xuereb noted. Xuereb said that although COVID-19 introduced a number of challenges, both locally as well as internationally, the pandemic also provided an opportunity to re-think the way forward.

21. “AI and digitalisation, pillars of future growth and development in all sectors” During the eSkills event Elements of AI, organised by eSkills Malta Foundation, The Malta Chamber CEO Edward Chetcuti weighed in on the importance of businesses of all sizes to adapt to emerging technologies. The Malta Chamber CEO noted that The Malta Chamber assists its members from a two-fold perspective. From a micro perspective, members are provided with insight on how to incorporate workflow and data models together in an artificial intelligence framework, with the help of external experts. On the other hand, from a macro perspective, representations

to Government are made to show how digitalisation has become paramount for industry. The Malta Chamber CEO concluded by saying “COVID-19 has brought technology at the core of our being and functioning. Going forward, technology is a key pillar of an economic revival strategy. We are confident that all these initiatives, together with others, are already placing The Malta Chamber at the forefront of support services that are relevant to enhance economic activity in the future with disruptive technologies.”

22. Members of the public should stick to official channels of information As schools gradually reopened their doors throughout the first week of October, and students found their places in their new educational lives, the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry commended the effort done by one and all. Yet The Malta Chamber was compelled to call for good sense to prevail at all times. All parties involved ought to refrain from succumbing to hearsay and rumours which are irresponsibly bandied about on social media. Members of the public are encouraged to stick to official channels of information for their news and updates, as often relying on unofficial sources leads to confusion which is not beneficial to anyone in the equation. cc




Tech Trends

Over the past few months, technology has been a lifeline, connecting us to family and friends, as well as keeping the economy turning. But, as we enter into the colder months, what tools are going to get us through to the spring? Rebecca Anastasi finds out. 01. Bean-to-cup Coffee Machine With many still working from home, or hesitant to continue with their usual coffee take-outs, the bean-to-cup coffee machine is manna from heaven. These high-end appliances promise the freshest cups, and while they may initially seem daunting to use, you can easily get the hang of them – and that first sip will be well worth the effort.

02. The Apple Watch Series 6 COVID-19 may have disrupted the exercise regimes of many, with gyms closed for some time. But, with health taking centre stage, smartwatches, such as the Apple Watch Series 6, might prove invaluable, with the device allowing you to measure your blood oxygen level, and even take an ECG!


04. The Samsung Premiere Smart Laser Projector Is cinema dead? We hope not! But, until theatres feel like safe spaces again (provided they still exist post-COVID), we can replicate the experience at home. Samsung delivers on this front, with their Smart Laser Projector boasting a 120-inch wide screen, and sharp 4K resolution.

05. The Fluance RT81 Turntable

03. Meeting Owls video conferencing cameras Now that the novelty has worn off teleworking, many are looking to see how to improve on the experience and connect with others in a more tangible way. Today’s video conference cameras are rising to the challenge. Opt for something like Meeting Owls from Owllabs, which provides users with 360-degree, high-resolution lenses, allowing those on the other end to read your facial expressions as if it were still 2019.





With the prospect of winter at home becoming an ever-increasing likely reality, it may be time to learn a new hobby (yes, again). Spin the decks with the classy Fluance RT81 Turntable which will make an essential companion to your growing vinyl collection.




06. Portable Printers Flexibility in the workplace is key, and, fortunately, many tech companies are catching on to the need for office solutions away from the office. Portable printers, such as those by Brother or Epson, mean you can get on with your tasks, even in situations where soft copies just won’t do. cc






Reimagining your business 2020 has proven to be a challenging year for many business owners. Companies often have the arduous task of keeping up with higher customer demand while dealing with reduced resources and a separated workforce. However, these new demands have also been responsible for the increased opportunity for company growth and market penetration. Therefore, it is more relevant than ever to consider the reimagining of your business. Here’s why. Reimagining through technology A recent Deloitte survey found that an impressive 45 per cent of companies that have reported a positive digital transformation experience have also reported higher net revenue growth. While the correlation between the adoption of technology and business performance is scarcely a surprise, companies that have reimagined their business processes through robust, reliable technology are being cited as one of the key factors in their success amid the difficult financial period this year has presented.

Refreshing your customer experience Despite the ongoing challenges, customers are still willing to reward vendors for notably positive customer experiences. Research conducted by PWC earlier this year revealed that more than 80 per cent of buyers were willing to pay more for better customer experience. As companies in all markets become more and more userfriendly, organisations that remain stagnant in their approach to customer experience run the risk of getting overtaken by market newcomers more willing to form meaningful

connections with clients. Achieving a multichannel approach to customer interactions, while utilising effective tracking tools to unify customer data is one of the keys to capitalising on this increasingly expanding market of eager customers.

Introduce a culture of innovation The people that form part of your organisation also contribute significantly to taking it to the next step in its evolution. Therefore, it is more important than ever before to establish a culture of innovation in your workplace. An organisation comprised of individuals eager to innovate their business processes and embrace digitisation are more likely to respond to identified customer needs, as well as explore new business opportunities. However, this cultural reinforcement cannot happen unless it begins from the very top of your organisation. Through leading by example in embracing digitisation, rethinking business models, leveraging advanced technologies and investing in upskilling and reskilling, the resistance to change within your

organisation will quickly diminish, making way for a truly innovative workplace culture.

Employ a fresh perspective The process of reimagining your business is no simple task. However, seeking a fresh perspective on how to go about doing so certainly helps simplify it. One of the biggest challenges in reimagining your business is identifying what needs to be changed, improved or updated. Generally, this difficulty stems from a developed ‘tunnel vision’ acquired after years of working under the same business processes. Thus, guidance from an entity unattached to your organisation would prove to be the key to realising the true way forward. The benefit of consulting a separate set of eyes often helps identify the weak points within your processes that would normally go unseen by other components of your management or decision-makers. Most importantly, an external viewpoint may share harsh truths about your business processes that may not have been brought to your attention otherwise. To reimagine your business, you must start by reimagining your viewpoints. These four steps are crucial for anyone interested in taking their business through the next step. As 2020 slowly draws to a close, ensure that your organisation has everything that is required to remain ahead of the competition by implementing these four key pillars. Exigy has a proven track record of successful digital transformations across a multi-industry customer base over the past 17 years. cc To get in touch with one of our experts and learn how we can help your business unlock its full potential, get in touch at info@exigy.com or by visiting our website at www.exigy.com.




Meet the people behind the Young Chamber Network Last year, The Malta Chamber launched the Young Chamber Network (YCN), a subsidiary of the organisation aimed at inducting young businesspeople into its folds. In this series of interviews, The Commercial Courier introduces its readers to YCN members. In this issue, Sarah Micallef meets James Abela, Executive Director at NIU.mt and Andrew Azzopardi, General Manager at No12 Fine Wines and Provisions. Photo by Tonio Lombardi

James Abela Executive Director, NIU.mt James Abela is the Co-Founder of three companies, namely NIU.mt – a full-service web design and development firm; ICE Malta – the island’s leading ICT academy; and TheStudentCampus.com – an eLearning solution built for educational entities and businesses. Having launched his first business with partner Matthew Sammut in their last years at University, their entrepreneurial journey has been both challenging and rewarding, Mr Abela says. “The rapid growth of our collection of companies from start-ups to medium-sized brands has led us to employ a great talent pool who are now all focused on a particular line of business and thrive on our desire to be innovative and competitive,” he maintains, adding that over the years, the team has built products and designed OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020

services from scratch and has dedicated its focus to strengthening sales, financial, legal and HR strategies to ensure they remain relevant and cutting-edge. “These last 10 years have been revolutionary for both ICT and learning, and we are proud to say that we have been at the heart of the growth of our two chosen areas of expertise,” Mr Abela says. Speaking of his experience with the Young Chamber Network, he maintains, “I believe that networking is a critical part of business success – put simply, it’s non-negotiable. Being part of a vibrant and dynamic community is uplifting, inspiring and ignites new business opportunities.” And in Mr Abela’s view, the YCN can be beneficial to young businesspeople by

“being vocal with the Government of the day to recommend ideas, policies, insights and strategies which can encourage entrepreneurs to continue to grow their ideas and businesses in a healthy, competitive environment.” Moving forward, he continues, “my experience has taught me that when individuals across all industries are encouraged to share ideas, brilliant collaborations are born, so I would suggest building a strong, effective meet-up calendar which also includes a focus on networking with entrepreneurs building brands all over the world. I am extremely eager to be a part of this community and look forward to contributing my insight, experience and goals with other like-minded entrepreneurs.”

“My experience has taught me that when individuals across all industries are encouraged to share ideas, brilliant collaborations are born.” 77


Andrew Azzopardi General Manager, No12 Fine Wines and Provisions “No12 Fine Wines and Provisions is a specialist superyacht supplier of fine wines, spirits and gourmet foods. The company forms part of the Salvo Grima Group but has expanded its reach overseas and opened offices in Mallorca and Barcelona,” explains General Manager Andrew Azzopardi. With an exacting clientele, it’s the company’s job to source and supply desired products at a specified time and place, Mr Azzopardi adds, revealing that “often, the wines and speciality foods are rare or hard to source, and the lead times short, making the job extremely interesting and challenging, where no day is exactly the same.” Looking back on how he got started, Mr Azzopardi says that he comes from a family with “a strong passion for food and wine,” and graduated in hospitality management at the Institute of Tourism Studies. After gaining experience managing restaurants and wine bars, he moved into the incoming tourism industry with a destination management company, focusing on conference and special interest travel. “I quickly got my first taste of dealing with ultra-high-net-worth individuals (UHNWI), organising a multi-million-euro private birthday party for a Russian oligarch, complete with a private performance by then-popular female group Pussycat Dolls,” he reveals. Mr Azzopardi went on to acquire a Master’s in Business Administration and took up a management role in business development and international trade for the Salvo Grima Group – a decision that would eventually lead to the birth of No12 Fine Wines and Provisions. “In 2012, during one of our usual Friday afternoon drinks, we casually mentioned the idea of supplying superyachts with specialist products, and the rest is history,” he explains. As part of the Salvo Grima management team, Mr Azzopardi became a member of The Malta Chamber several years ago, but admits that at the outset, he did not feel compelled to participate. “I remember feeling slightly detached for a number of reasons – mainly my age. I would often be one of the youngest members of any meeting,” he says, admitting that while The Chamber had modernised a lot in recent years, he still perceived it as a place for the older generation to take big decisions, leading him to feel that his relative inexperience


“The YCN can be a considerable influence with industry leaders, decision-makers and Government.”

was a barrier. That all changed when he was introduced to the Young Chamber Network. “The very first YCN meeting was hugely successful in that it was inclusive, engaging and modern. The casual dynamic of the meetings immediately set the right mood for the younger generation to pitch their thoughts and ideas in a relaxed yet professional setting,” he explains, adding that since then, “the YCN has not only become a go-to place for networking with like-minded individuals, but also a community where leaders can share concepts, bounce off ideas and gain inspiration.” “Often, discussing challenges and solutions with like-minded individuals is not only a source of inspiration, but also somewhat comforting knowing that your peers are facing the same difficulties,

especially in the current trying business environment,” Mr Azzopardi shares, adding that beyond that, as a constituent of The Malta Chamber, one of the most highly recognised independent voices of the private sector in Malta, “the YCN can be a considerable influence with industry leaders, decision-makers and Government.” “Due to the everchanging financial scenario and environmental challenges we face, businesses require creative thinking to remain a step ahead of the game, and I believe that through the modern concepts, strategies and tangible energy of its members, the YCN can become an important asset in challenging current practices and offering alternative sustainable solutions to overcome the obstacles businesses are bound to face.” cc



REVIEW Style Review

New autumn/winter collections beckon a ‘more is more’ approach. Whether through bold colour combos or layers of leather, Martina Said rounds up the top trends this season. 04. Cardigans

Strong and bold colours, some of which you wouldn’t think of pairing together, are making waves in winter collections. Think red and pink, or blue and green, worn together to create a layered, textured and right-on-trend look.

This preppy and retro clothing item is making a comeback to new season collections. Whether dressed up for the office or worn casually at the weekend, it’s a versatile piece that will see you right through to spring.

02. Prints

05. Boho

In menswear, designers are embracing prints and patterns for blouses, shirts and bomber jackets, such as this Etro silk shirt, that is equal parts loud, adventurous, and a proclamation of individuality.

03. Capes The fashionistas out there who can’t resist a classic cut and silhouette will love the return of the cape (did it ever really go away?). From high street brands such as Zara to luxe labels the likes of Isabel Marant, you’ll find all lengths, colours and cuts to keep you warm this winter. Dolce & Gabbana



As seen on the runways of desirable designer brands Chloé and Etro, winter wardrobes are getting a boho upgrade – flowy dresses worn with knits, detailed prints in autumnal shades, and plenty of accessories, including belts and hats, to channel that boho vibe.


06. Leather If there’s one trend you can bank on returning one winter season after another, it’s leather. This year, leather jackets and coats will share the rails with leather trousers, shirts and hats – this year, leather certainly seems to beckon even more leather. cc




01. Block Colours




03. Zara





TRENDS Office Trends

The rise of new trends is often The events that unfolded in 2020 have given rise to office trends that place the well-being of staff at the centre of office design. Martina Said singles out six trends we can expect to see take hold next year.

One thing 2020 has certainly accelerated is companies’ digital transformations, including bullet-proofing their processes and work practices from circumstances that were once perceived to be extreme. In 2021, investments in IT, cybersecurity, Artificial Intelligence and data solutions, among others, will take centre stage.

01. Colour of the year

05. People-focused design

Colour forecasters are predicting turquoise to be the colour for 2021 – a shade that inspires positivity and innovation, and which boasts a futuristic edge in line with the rise and rise of technology. We can expect its application in office design to be varied – from aqua-inspired décor to large bits of furniture and perhaps also statement walls.

As the workplace increasingly becomes a second home, new office trends are supporting healthy lifestyles by allocating space for recreational activities such as yoga, utilities for practicing sports, and even customisable climate control settings integrated into office design.

02. Acoustic comfort

The global pandemic has also spurred the rise of a new kind of office design: the home office. As people around the globe face an indefinite period of remote working, attention is being given to carving out a niche at home that serves as a complete workspace – greenery, inspirational wall art and all. cc

Reducing the hubbub typical of open plan spaces through acoustic comfort is becoming a priority in office design, aimed at improving employee productivity and concentration through the use of acoustic partitions, armchairs and cabins.


04. Digital transformations



06. Home offices

03. Nomadic spaces




03. Hok.com

Increasingly aware of the health implications of sedentary jobs, architects are purposely designing offices to encourage employees to move around, including break-out spaces, also referred to as nomadic spaces, located in all possible areas of an office that attract employees away from their desks.








ICI HQ: Promoting cohesion through functional beauty

Photos by Rakel Vella

With the aim of providing a space where a group of professionals who are usually housed separately could come together under one roof, the ICI HQ in Birkirkara served as a unique endeavour for 3DM Architecture, the architectural design studio behind it. Here, Architect and Co-Founder Maurizio Ascione discusses what went into the collaborative and dynamic workspace with Sarah Micallef.




“These fins were inspired by the work being done within this volume, and its relationship to magnetic fields or, more specifically, dynamic energy.”


he clients’ vision for ICI HQ was to provide a space where different aspects of the building industry could be tackled in conjunction with one other, thereby offering the ability to have one cohesive package, with a focus on creating high-quality and unique projects,” explains Maurizio Ascione, Architect and Co-Founder at 3DM Architecture, the studio entrusted with the ambitious project.




“The project was tackled through the design of non-standard solutions which kept the user in the centre of the project but still provided a continuous and well-designed finish.”


The process of creating that package took about five years, from start to finish, and resulted in a unique space which is divided into three main areas – workshops, retail and workspaces – fulfilling its function of bringing together various people from different sectors collectively under one roof. Speaking of the brief in relation to the design of the space, Maurizio affirms that it was essentially to create a distinct building within a heavily industrialised part of the island. “The architecture and construction, together with its finishes, would have to showcase the abilities of the professionals who are now housed beneath its roof,” he explains, adding that the interior spaces were to be well designed, well detailed, well balanced and harmonious, “to create an environment which reflects the requirements of the client, the ethos of the designers, as well as the capability of the team to produce a high level of finish.” Simply put, the architect maintains, the brief was to showcase the ability of a team collaboration to create high-end architectural work. The project was initially defined by a volume floating over a transparent base, keeping as close as possible to pure forms, Maurizio explains, adding that this resulted in a rigid plan in a rectangular volume, which was then broken up by the ‘fins’ which can be 87


seen along the upper floating façades of the building. “These fins were inspired by the work being done within this volume, and its relationship to magnetic fields or, more specifically, dynamic energy. This concept, when applied in 2D and related to the sun path, resulted in these fins which create a play of light and shadow, both internally and externally,” he maintains, stating that the form was inspired by a collaborative, dynamic and productive work environment. At the start of the project, the site consisted of “an old yard with some small warehouses”, at which point the architects were introduced so as to formulate a brief. Taking me through the process, Maurizio explains that once the brief was set, the team could move onto the concept, which involved massing studies, defining the programme, designing internal layouts and distribution of spaces, and so on. This was followed by the submission of the plans for approval, in order for construction to start. At this stage, the team started to tackle the interior spaces

in more detail, and other professionals were brought on board. “This starts the process again, looking back at the original concept and applying it for the interior spaces, studying natural light, shadows, artificial lighting, materiality and so on, and also keeping detailing in mind to ensure the end product would be refined, simple and clean,” the architect continues. Discussing the primary materials and finishes, Maurizio emphasises light and shadows, with glass used internally and externally to enhance the experience of an open space, as well as to form a connection both between users using the space and the surrounding context. Meanwhile, custom joinery and large format tiles allowed for a more seamless interior. Other materials included dry partitioning and aluminium cladding, as well as the introduction of greenery, particularly in the main spaces. Rather than defining the design by a style, the architect affirms that the result is more about the experience, admitting “it’s




more about the emotions, how the light has moulded the form and how the interiors are pure and detailed in such a way so as to make the user always feel in balance and harmonious. The fundamental essence of a design is functional beauty.” Emphasising the balance between aesthetic appeal and practical usage of the space, Maurizio goes on to say that from the start, there was a strong desire to keep aesthetics in mind and question the standard solutions. “For this reason, the project was tackled through the design of non-standard solutions which kept the user in the centre of the project but still provided a continuous and well-designed finish,” he says. Still, the architect continues, the collaborative environment the team sought to maintain, while advantageous, provided its own challenges. “Keeping the line of communication open between all the different professionals working in conjunction with each other can be challenging to coordinate,” he admits, explaining that this kind of integrated design process requires all parties to be made aware of the different steps and timelines within which people are working. “Luckily, now that the project is complete and a space has been provided for all parties to be under the same roof, this kind of coordination has been eased for future projects,” he says. Asked if any particular problems were encountered when it came to achieve the ambitious brief, Maurizio admits that some complications did arise due to the desire to prioritise aesthetics. “Sometimes, the simpler something looks, the more complicated it is to be achieved. However, this allowed us to innovate and solve these complications while still committing to the original design,” he maintains, citing the handling of large format tiles as a challenging factor which required a good amount of communication across different professionals to produce a refined end result. “Essentially, any element which was not standard, like the large format tiles, the timbre floor-to-ceiling doors spanning three


metres in height, floor-to-ceiling glass doors, and so on, came with their own challenges. This is why detailing is always an important part of the design process for our team, as this is what can make all the difference in the elegance of a finished project,” he continues. All things considered; the architect says, they wouldn’t have it any other way. “Even

though the process can be challenging with a lot of effort from all sides – the clients, the architects, and all other professionals involved – when one takes a step back to reflect on the whole process and experience the finished space, it all feels worth the time and effort put into such a project.” cc

“Sometimes, the simpler something looks, the more complicated it is to be achieved. However, this allowed us to innovate and solve these complications while still committing to the original design.”



Photo by Alexandra Pace. Architects Katja Abela (left) and Paula Agius-Vadala’ started their practice Atelier Maison a little over six years ago

Architecture as a tool From the moment architects Paula Agius-Vadala’ and Katja Abela set up their practice Atelier Maison, just over six years ago, their aim was to use their skills and experience in the architectural field to create spaces that mean something to the end user. Photo by Marilyn Camenzuli. Detail of kitchen and dining room of Haven Haus, an existing terraced house, which was completely renovated

A number of projects under their belt include residential conversions, office spaces, retail outlets and a couple of religious interiors. Recently, Atelier Maison was longlisted for the international awards organised by Dezeen. Dezeen is the world’s most popular and influential architecture and design website. The Dezeen Awards are the benchmark for international design excellence and the ultimate accolade for architects and designers everywhere. They were longlisted for the Emerging Interior Design Studio category and were judged on two of their latest projects – The Sacred Auditorium and The Student’s Chapel – both of which are religious spaces, but are very different in scale. But in both projects, a sense of calm and reflection can certainly be felt. In all of their projects, Atelier Maison work towards creating a sense of belonging – which they describe as that familiar feeling when you enter a space. This can be created through a composition of architectural elements coming together. Think about how an artist applies paint to a canvas, using


pigments and brushstrokes to create a well-balanced composition. In that same way, Atelier Maison work towards creating wellbalanced architectural spaces by moulding those same spaces with the help of forms and volumes, voids, materials and textures, lighting, colour and geometry.

The team at Atelier Maison believe that when designing a building or shaping an interior, there should be a clear understanding of how that building is going to be used by the client. “Architecture is a powerful tool. It can influence the way one feels. It can resonate in one’s memory. It is all around us,” says Paula, as Katja continues, “therefore, it is the architect’s responsibility to provide spaces for the client, that the client himself did not even know they actually needed – going that one step further and providing the unexpected.” They conclude by saying, “we feel a responsibility to use architecture to improve a person’s life and well-being. This pandemic we are going through right now has affected everyone. But whether we are going through a pandemic or not, we should always appreciate the spaces where we live, work, love, interact and die – the places that define our very own existence.” cc T: 7904 8106/7930 0387; E: info@ateliermaison.com.mt; www.ateliermaison.com.mt

Photo by Alexandra Pace. Custom-made kitchen with a visual connection with the living room on the other side of the glass partition



Why engage a commercial property consultant? “Good realtors know that they need to be constantly plugged into the market and continuously switched on.” – Rita Schembri, Head of the Commercial Property Division at Frank Salt Real Estate. Malta’s commercial property sector is still going strong. There are a variety of properties available on the market, from state-of-the-art office space to warehousing and retail. Besides fitting the bill in terms of size, location, value and style, a commercial property also needs to fit the investor’s business model, aspirations and economic projections. With more than 50 years’ experience, Frank Salt Real Estate boasts a core team of specialists who focus exclusively on servicing commercial clients from Malta and Gozo, as well as from overseas. “When developers and investors engage our commercial consultants, they benefit from a top-notch advisory service that gives them invaluable insight. With their knowledge, experience and training, our commercial property consultants are best placed to advise on what makes sense in the current market, and also what the market will

be ripe for by the time the project is finalised, which sometimes can be years later,” says Ms Schembri. “We make sure that our clients get a good property at the right price, saving them both time and money, whilst allowing them to devote their valuable time to their core business needs,” Ms Schembri adds. When investing in a commercial property, a professional consultant not only provides invaluable guidance but can also act as a shield of discretion to provide the muchneeded privacy in sensitive commercial transactions. This discretion and integrity are what set Frank Salt Real Estate a notch above the rest. Frank Salt Real Estate’s Commercial Consultants are housed at the agency’s Portomaso Commercial Division office and they provide an array of services – from consultations and property valuations to advice on projects and recommendations on different options, all while also ensuring the

viability and feasibility of the project at hand. This division’s client base is always growing, some of whom represent large blue-chip corporations, banks and embassies, as well as international companies and investors. For this reason, Frank Salt Real Estate is always on the lookout for ambitious commercial consultants to join its team. Whether buying, selling or leasing, Frank Salt Real Estate’s Commercial Division offers a full advisory service which focuses on each client’s specific business challenges. Frank Salt Real Estate’s Commercial Division is also the winner of the prestigious Malta’s Best Commercial Real Estate Agency for 2019 International Property Award. cc For more information, call on 2540 9000 or send an email on commercial@franksalt.com.mt

HSBCnet provides seamless connectivity

Keeping up with changes in technology, regulation and the economic environment can be demanding. That’s why HSBCnet brings powerful, intuitive online tools that help commercial customers manage even their most complex banking needs.


HSBCnet gives customers a clear picture of all their banking in one place, whenever and wherever they want it. HSBCnet provides straightforward access to clients’ critical business functions in one consolidated platform – from comprehensive cash management to trade and supply chain tools and global market solutions. With HSBCnet, customers can take advantage of flexible connectivity options

and high levels of integration with their Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems. They can also combine all their payments into one consolidated file for multiple currencies or countries. HSBC supports a range of formats to ensure smooth and costeffective integration, where customers can set up their accounts and schedule reports that they can download in a variety of forms and sizes for convenient reconciliation. The HSBCnet Mobile app is available on iPhone and Android smartphones and can be downloaded through the App Store and Google Play Store. Through the app, users can see their account information, authorise and track payments, and receive My Alerts respectively. To log onto the HSBCnet platform, visit hsbcnet.com cc For more information on HSBCnet, call HSBC Bank Malta’s Contact Centre on 2380 8000, visit www.business.hsbc.com. mt/hsbcnet or connect with the HSBC representatives via Live Chat by logging onto HSBCnet.



Spearheading business wellness As one of Malta’s largest insurance firms, Atlas Insurance PCC Ltd is playing a critical role in the ‘new normal’, with health and wellness – for its staff and clients – high on the company’s agenda. Here, Rebecca Anastasi speaks to its recently appointed Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Matthew von Brockdorff, who outlines his vision for the enterprise, underscoring the importance of trust and his determination to ensure robust relationships with stakeholders and customers. 96


’m a firm believer in a healthy work-life balance,” smiles Matthew von Brockdorff, the new Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Atlas Insurance PCC Ltd, during a Zoom interview, the format made necessary by the COVID-19 pandemic. And, indeed, this perspective informs his professional endeavours, with the firm adopting myriad initiatives to ensure its staff and clients feel valued and at ease, despite the turbulent times. It hasn’t been easy, as it hasn’t for most businesses across the globe, which have seen profits plunge and processes upended. Yet, despite this, Mr von Brockdorff – who boasts 32 years of experience in the insurance OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020


“We believe that, through our contribution, we’re also able to help raise the bar in terms of work-life balance in Malta, as well as to contribute to the psychological and physiological well-being of businesses on the island.”

“It’s all about enabling growth and being able to garner a good reputation for being the workplace of choice, and the employer of choice.”


business – is particularly well-placed to lead the company through the quagmire and, as a result, the turbulence has been navigated with a steady hand. He started his career in the family firm, R von Brockdorff Insurance Agency Ltd, while studying for his accreditation through the Chartered Insurance Institute, progressing to fellowship. In 1999, he took an active role in the merger of the family company, with a group of other local agencies, to form Atlas Group. He describes this as a “milestone” in his career, allowing him to get involved in the diverse facets of the insurance sector. “This was a real learning experience, and a stepping-stone for growth since I learnt about the different aspects of the business and how to further develop the firm,” he explains. In 2005, he was appointed Deputy Managing Director, and just a year later, Atlas Insurance evolved into a Protected Cell Company (PCC), opening the doors to foreign investment by expediting the firm’s operations in international markets. Indeed through its status as a PCC, Atlas has been able to provide direct insurance underwriting services into Europe through its cells for third parties, Mr von Brockdorff outlines. Today, the CEO – who stepped into the role in April of this year – is able to put all his expertise to good use, as the world readjusts to a seemingly-interminable ‘new normal’. His vision remains one of growth for the

company, despite the current challenges. And he is confident that this is achievable with the correct strategy, which prioritises the mental and physical wellness of the firm’s staff and its clients. “It’s all about enabling growth and being able to garner a good reputation for being the workplace of choice, and the employer of choice,” he says. Trust is key, he continues, and the firm’s strategy is to “drive an investment in digital processes as well as in our people” in order to nurture solid relationships with stakeholders including clients, distributors, intermediaries and the wider community. To this end, this summer, Atlas signed a partnership agreement with The Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry. This will see the insurance firm assist with the newly established Policy Committee for Health and Wellness, which aims to bolster awareness of the pivotal role the physical and mental health of employers and staff play in a company and how they can enable resilience and competitiveness. “Through this thematic, we’re able to contribute to the business community and, ultimately, to all the employees within that community. The Committee will be looking at the workplace, and work practices, with specific emphasis on mitigating the effects of stress, and encouraging employers to implement best practices,” Mr von Brockdorff asserts, going on to explain the reasoning 97


“The pandemic has also accelerated the take-up of technological innovation.” behind the firm’s decision to jump on board the enterprise. “Atlas is helping by providing a financial element as well as human resources. The committee is also chaired by Catherine Calleja who leads the health side of Atlas’s business,” he says. The CEO points to the serendipity which lies between the goals of the Committee and Atlas Insurance PCC Ltd, homing in on the health insurance side of the business, but also stressing that the collaboration with The Malta Chamber simply reflects the priorities set by the company. “Mental and physical well-being is one of the firm’s pillars, and we aim to be leaders in this respect,” he affirms. Indeed, the company has embarked on a wellness driven programme by providing psychological assistance to employees, as well as by organising morale and healthboosting activities – such as yoga, Pilates, boxercise and circuit training – to the team outside work hours. Moreover, Atlas Healthcare has implemented the ICAS Employee Assistance Programme – an international service to enhance mental health and motivation in the workplace – as an extension of the healthcare insurance the firm provides its staff. “We’re advocates for this approach. After all, you don’t have to work in insurance to be stressed. In fact, this is applicable to every industry and we would encourage all employers to adopt this strategy in looking after their staff,” Mr von Brockdorff encourages. And surely, there has never been a more opportune time to do so, I say, than in the midst of a global crisis. The CEO agrees and recalls the “shock” when a National Emergency was called in the middle of March. “The team really pulled together, and this was a catalyst to raise the bar. A lot of businesses experienced the same thing, and we were successfully able to continue providing our services, though other industries may not have been so lucky,” he admits, detailing the changes implemented at Atlas Insurance. “On the Monday after the national emergency was triggered, we had set up most of staff to work from home and practically all staff within the next few days. The pandemic also had a big impact on our investments, and these are still recovering, with questions remaining on how long this will take.” Seven months on, Atlas’ offices have reopened, though, the CEO is quick to underline, with an increased focus on health and safety. “Foremost in our minds was: how can we open in a safe way, so our clients and 98

staff feel safe? Of course, we immediately implemented standard measures such as social distancing and the wearing of masks, but we also went over and above by installing Perspex screens to separate clients and staff, and ensuring all internal meetings were held remotely.” The pandemic has also accelerated the firm’s take-up of technological innovation – as it has for countless others. “Prior to COVID-19, we were looking at effecting a massive digital transformation, and we had embarked on the project by looking at how IT can further assist our team, as well as ease processes for our customers. The pandemic, however, was a catalyst, confirming that digital transformation was essential, and it accelerated certain changes for us,” he asserts. These included technological solutions to enable remote working, as well as to minimise the necessity for paperwork. “Our

vision is a paperless one. We’ve already launched our new insurance platform which enables customers to purchase motor and home insurance policies online, and we’re now working on introducing other products and services on our customer online portal. The future is paperless. There’s no turning the clock back, but meanwhile we still have many customers who may not be so digitally savvy, so we will continue to cater for them through our main offices, branches and intermediaries network.” Looking ahead, the customer will remain at the heart of Atlas Insurance’s operations and strategy. “We are striving towards being known as the leader in customer experience and we are also driven to cementing long-standing relationships and solidifying innovation. We want to continue strengthening our good reputation, as this is what will drive the company’s growth,” Mr von Brockdorff concludes. cc OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020

Food Trends


04. Snacking

From the newest alcohol of choice to the ingredients that will make their way to every menu in 2021, Sarah Micallef discovers the latest food trends. 01. Rum While alcohol (or the excessive intake of it) continues to fall out of favour, some trends continue, and 2021 is set to be the year of rum. Gin has been trending for some now, but sales are pointing to rum as the new trendy drink of choice, with premium rum and spiced rum set for their time in the spotlight.

02. Takeaway With developments in technology and a global pandemic putting limitations on dining out, there has been a steady rise in the popularity of the takeaway. No longer limited to classic favourites like pizza and Chinese, takeaway options have extended to all sorts of cuisines, and technology has made it easier and more convenient than ever to order online or through an app.

03. Spicy food While spicy food has always been popular in several parts of the world, hot sauces made of a variety of different chilis have pushed it into trendy territory for 2021. Fitting in well with the recent healthconscious movement, chili varieties including the Habanero, California, Chipotle, Pasilla, New Mexico, Tien Tsin, Jalapeno and Poplano are making (heat) waves.

As the pace of our life changes, so do our eating patterns. With many opting for grab-and-go options, it’s no surprise that one of the biggest upcoming food trends is snacking. Gone are the days of the classic three-square-meals a day – nowadays, many choose to opt for several small snacks fit around their busy schedule, as well as fast dining experiences with an emphasis on healthy options.


05. Edible containers Branching out of the sustainability movement, food that acts as its own ‘vehicle’ is gaining traction, producing less waste and pushing the boundaries of eco-consciousness. But this trend goes beyond bread bowls and burritos – today’s versions include edible cutlery and plates, made out of a variety of ingenious ingredient combinations.

06. Tempeh Hailed as “the new tofu” among vegetarians, tempeh (or fermented soy) is having a moment and will become a more widespread option in 2021. There are several ways it can be prepared, including smoking, making it a versatile ingredient for those looking to reduce their meat intake. cc





The Green Creator





It’s time to do away with cheques… Pay anyone anywhere with BOV Mobile! One of the main benefits of having access to internet banking is that whether you’re effecting personal or business transactions, these can be made from the comfort of your home or office.

With mobile banking becoming ever more popular, all the benefits of internet banking are being extended to your Smartphone wherever you are! The BOV Mobile app has recently been updated, and now also has the

Pay Third Party feature, which was available on the BOV Internet Banking platform. With Pay Third Party, businesses can pay their suppliers with a mobile banking transaction, with the same enhanced technology and security features of BOV Internet Banking. The Pay Third Party feature on BOV Mobile also allows dual signatures to authorise transactions. The board resolution appointed administrator can select users and assign rights and limits. Whether you are a sole trader offering goods or services, an SME, a voluntary organisation, a consultant, an agency or a large company and you need to pay for a delivery or supply, now is the right time to ditch the cheque book and avoid cash payments. The Pay Third Party function is ideal in scenarios where the beneficiary is not a BOV Mobile subscriber, or if you want to send a payment to another bank, locally or abroad.

You will need the IBAN (International Bank Account Number), account number or credit card number and other basic details. And, if you make regular payments to the same supplier or company, you can save yourself a lot of stress by creating a payment template, and every time you pay, all you need to change is the amount and date. It is also important to include the purpose of the payment so to avoid unnecessary delays when the payment is at processing stage. With Mobile to Mobile Payments and Bill Payment already available, this latest addition makes the BOV Mobile app your convenient one-stop-shop for effecting payments. Mobile banking is as easy as using your phone! Don’t miss out… if you already have BOV Internet Banking, simply download your BOV Mobile Banking app FREE of charge from Google PlayStore™ and Apple’s App Store™. If not, talk to us on 2131 2020 and we will set you up for fast, secure, cheaper and more convenient banking! cc Discover more on www.bov.com/content/ bov-mobile-banking Issued by Bank of Valletta p.l.c., 58, Triq San Zakkarija, Il-Belt Valletta VLT 1130. Bank of Valletta p.l.c. is a public limited company regulated by the MFSA and is licensed to carry out the business of banking in terms of the Banking Act (Cap. 371 of the Laws of Malta).

EU Open for Business 2020 – BrainTrip In the health sector, business development is not just about innovation, but also saving lives. The Maltese medical devices company BrainTrip has developed a diagnostic tool to detect early-onset dementia. Ready to scale up their business, BrainTrip turned to the Enterprise Europe Network, the largest global network supporting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) co-financed by the European Union. In 2019, Jurij Dreo and David Sakic´ took their shared interest in dementia research and co-founded the Maltese medical devices company BrainTrip. At a small scale, the company developed an affordable and easyto-use solution for early-stage dementia screening (an ‘EEG’). Yet, the company needed to overcome funding and regulatory hurdles to have the desired impact on the medical sector. BrainTrip approached the Malta Council for Science and Technology, a partner of the Enterprise Europe Network located in Kalkara (Malta). The Network, with its 3,000 experts from over 600 member organisations in 60 countries worldwide, is a valuable source of support for SMEs in accessing EU funding and partnerships. OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020

Navigating the market The Malta contact point for the Enterprise Europe Network organised a meeting at BrainTrip with a medical device certification expert. The expert answered their questions about the EU certification process for medical devices. Through the Network, the company also had access to mentors with expert insight at national and EU levels. “Without the Network, expert advice would have cost an arm and a leg. And we wanted to keep our arms and legs,” says Mr Dreo.

BrainTrip Founders David Sakic´ and Jurij Dreo © BrainTrip Limited, 2020

Up to scale

the time and cost of a standard diagnosis. With the Network’s support, BrainTrip looks forward to expanding staff and business prospects with EU funding and partnerships. cc

Thanks to the Network’s guidance, BrainTrip is gearing up to enter the market with a proof of concept for a non-invasive dementia screening device, at a fraction of

Find out how your local Enterprise Europe Network can support your business. enterprise-europemalta.com 103


Superior land surveying services at an affordable price Resendes Surveying invest in the best when it comes to technology – utilising the most sophisticated tools available in order to deliver superior land surveying services at an affordable price. Resendes Surveying is a company dedicated to achieving the highest standards in the professional land surveying industry. With 20 years of experience serving the public, Nelson Resendes provides land surveying, civil engineering support, consulting, land planning and mapping services for Malta and Gozo. Using stateof-the-art technology to produce the greatest levels of accuracy, the team’s goal is to provide high quality service at a very competitive rate and a superior customer service experience. We are confident that we offer everything you’re looking for in a Land Surveyor. Resendes Surveying is one of the only few companies in Malta to own a complete package of surveying equipment, robotics, drone mapping, GPS surveying and 3D scanning to get the job done.

Join the PKF team PKF Malta is a fast-growing, progressive firm specialising in audit and assurance, tax, advisory services and internal audit insurance. We provide services to a wide array of clients in a variety of sectors. We are also a multi-disciplinary firm, bringing together the legal, insurance, economic and financial professions into a holistic and welcoming sphere. Our success is dependent on the strength of good teamwork, and we also take pride in championing individual capabilities. We are firm believers in setting the scene for an opportunity, allowing careers to naturally branch out while nurturing them.

Customer service is our main goal – we make sure that the job is done right, the firsttime round. Our clients include individuals and companies in the private sector and professions in construction, civil engineering, architectural, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and real estate. We are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Therefore, if there’s an emergency setting out, topographic survey or building measurement that needs to be done in the

middle of the night, Resendes Surveying will be there. We have been surveying since 1997 with experience in Europe, America and Canada. We guarantee to beat any price on the market, and we accept payments by cheque, cash, money order, bank deposit, credit card and PayPal. cc

from the start, both in the office and on-site with clients. You will also be working in a close-knit team in which all contributions are valued.

Current open positions

Investing in you We actively encourage all staff to study for professional qualifications. Training does not stop when you qualify, in fact, we provide training opportunities to our employees, from leadership skills to the latest software. We are also firm believers in personal development.

E: nelson@resendessurveying.com; T: 7733 0244; www.resendessurveying.com

• Senior Auditor with seven+ years’ experience, including experience managing a team • Accountant – Newly Qualified – ACCA/ University • Internal Auditor with strong Insurance background cc We look forward to hearing from you. Apply today by sending us your CV and covering letter to recruitment@pkfmalta.com

Opportunities We are currently seeking to recruit Accountancy, Tax and Legal professional staff to fill various positions within our firm. Learn more about these vacancies and if you feel you have the required skills and competencies, contact our firm today.

Why PKF? PKF Malta is a member firm of PKF International (PKFi), which is a worldwide network of 300 legal member firms in 480 locations in 150 countries, providing accounting and business advisory services. Our staff enjoys greater autonomy and diversity of work than is generally found in the Big Four firms. If you join us, you’ll get involved in a wide range of activities right 104



Rapid COVID-19 tests available from Evolve By Mark Mizzi, Head of Medical & Diagnostics Department

At Evolve, we know that this is a challenging time against the backdrop of a global pandemic, and we are committed to working to provide solutions for those who need them. Firstly, Evolve has taken all the necessary steps to ensure there is no reduction in the level of commitment you receive from us during this unprecedented time. To this end, we are following three simple principles:

Excellent service We will support our customers, suppliers and partners with excellent service. In Malta,

our ‘can do’ company culture at Evolve has proved vital during this crisis, as it has meant the transition to working from home for some employees has been seamless. As a result, the impact on our customers has been minimal and we have managed to successfully continue ‘business as usual’.

Flexibility We will do our very best to be flexible in the way we operate and in our approach to working with you. There will be times when, despite our best efforts, we might be limited but will be relentless in finding ways to overcome barriers and provide much-needed support.

By your side We are using our expertise and resources to help the communities we serve by making rapid COVID-19 tests available to our customers around the world. The BD Veritor Plus SARS-COV-2 rapid test, now available from Evolve, provides lab-quality results at the point of care using an easy-to-operate, handheld instrument. Reliable results are available in around 15 minutes, rather than hours or days, at a lower price, with less

sophisticated equipment. Mark Mizzi, the Head of Evolve’s medical department, said, “rapid tests to detect the occurrence of the virus at the point of care, which are faster and cheaper, are a powerful tool that should be added to the armoury needed to fight COVID-19.” World Health Organisation DirectorGeneral Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “high-quality rapid tests show us where the virus is hiding, which is key to quickly tracing and isolating contacts and breaking the chains of transmission. The tests are a critical tool for governments as they look to reopen economies and ultimately save both lives and livelihoods.” The rapid tests are regarded as a complement to PCR tests, which are the most accurate way to determine whether someone is infected with Coronavirus. However, PCR tests are expensive and need the expertise of specially trained lab technicians. If you would like to learn more about rapid testing for COVID-19, please get in touch with Evolve today. cc T: 2248 9900; E: info@evolveltd.eu; www.evolveltd.eu

Energised for growth: Post-pandemic opportunities The economy must prepare good foundations for businesses to build on. Businesses must have the capital available once an end to the current economic instability is in sight. They must be able to energise and refresh their position in the market, with dynamic business strategies to quickly return to growth. Using conventional approaches such as borrowing to stay afloat, our businesses will limit the access to capital required for growth due to impoverished gearing. This, together with the expected degrading of moveable and immovable asset values, means that future access to capital is going to be bleak if not impossible. Businesses should and can plan what assets or cash are required and be aware of alternative opportunities of access to capital. Businesses with a more flexible and dynamic approach will understand that this period of economic instability may instead translate into positive opportunities to replace or revive exhausted revenue streams 106

with vigour and focus on niches created due to the economic change. To enable such opportunity, businesses need access to capital. Asset valuations, the offloading of depreciated assets in exchange for investment in new product development, a focus on alternative and diversified revenue streams, R&D in potential partnerships, mergers and acquisitions are all ideas that forward-thinking businesses of all revenue sizes and all industries should be embracing. Businesses must adapt to the circumstances in order to survive in the new economic environment. Those who do not feel the

need to restructure are missing out on the opportunity to consolidate and grow. It is a wakeup call, a loud call of opportunity and time to take these tough decisions is long overdue, while for others it is time to consolidate or diversify their portfolio. cc Should you wish to seek advisors and partners with expertise in handling these fluid economic times, and are able to plan and fund change in your business, then contact us at Polymath & Boffin to request more information on 2033 0043 or email us at solutions@ polymathandboffin.com



A national plan worth paying attention to Sustainability must be the word of the decade – or even the last half-century. Time and again we are made aware that we are the generation that will make or break the planet, and advice and guidelines in this regard are abundant. Move over digital age, we are living in the age of planning for sustainable development. But along with prominence comes fuzziness. What exactly is ‘sustainable development’ and how is it achieved? Malta’s Planning Authority (PA) sought to establish this much-needed clarity through its Strategic Plan for Environment and Development (SPED) which will enter its first revision five years on. The SPED is Malta’s overarching


development vision which all national policies and local plans are answerable to and work towards achieving. It is an aspirational direction for Malta’s development that sits above and steers detailed policies on the ground. When we say ‘development’ or . zvilupp, most people think about Malta’s development zoning plan, building heights or

some other detailed level of planning. But the SPED comes before all of that. It is a vision that spans 2015 to 2035, and by its very nature, is a statement of intent. It rationalises what we want the country to look like in 2035 and puts forward a series of actions to get us there. The SPED identifies our country’s spatial structure and sub divides it into four territories – urban, rural, coastal and marine. What’s more, Gozo is regarded as a separate region to recognise the particular realities and challenges the island faces that require a customised approach to its development. The SPED clearly defines each of the islands’ spatial areas to avoid a one-sizefits-all approach. It therefore translates the country’s vision of having a more efficient economy, more sustainable use of space and improved health and well-being into a spatial vision for each area. As the SPED review kicks into gear over the next few months, the general public is being urged to get involved through public consultations. Public interest and awareness are vital. Everyone should speak up at this policy-drafting stage because, ultimately, the outcome will affect us all. cc www.pa.org.mt/strategic-plan



Research and sketching for new body of work inspired by architecture

Finding beauty in unpredictability Inspired by the intricacies found in architecture and nature, ceramic artist Nico Conti expertly combines tradition with modernity to create pieces of art that stand the test of time. He tells Martina Said about his love for porcelain, exhibiting his work at Sotheby’s, and having a chat with Prince Charles.


he work of artist Nico Conti could be described as a marriage between tradition and innovation, the combination of an age-old craft and modern techniques, resulting in profoundly interesting works of art that play with form and texture, and that embrace the unexpected. Nico’s passion for porcelain, the primary material he works with, was sparked during his years at MCAST, where he studied Fine Arts. “During my final year, I read a book by artist Edmund de Waal, called The White Road, which made me fall in love with porcelain. I was captivated by the poetic


way he talked about the material, and my fascination with it grew,” says Nico. Experimenting with the material led Nico to become enthralled by the transformative qualities of clay and the way in which “something that’s essentially earth and dust, once introduced to fire, becomes this resilient material that will last for thousands of years.” After completing his Degree, Nico felt unsure of his next move, struggling to bridge his learning experience with the real working world. After applying himself to “random jobs – like wedding planning, which for some reason I thought I would enjoy”, he decided

to attempt studying abroad. He applied to read for a Masters in Ceramics and Glass at the prestigious Royal College of Art (RCA_ in London. “I was accepted, and from then on it became my life.” For his post-graduate studies, Nico decided to focus on porcelain, realising that he had only scratched the surface of what he could learn about the material until that point. However, he was also interested to learn about the different processes that could be used and how clay behaves. “One of the processes I experimented with was a 3D printing machine that uses clay, which we got at College during my first year, so the following year, I was very keen to give it a go.” Excitement was mixed with trepidation – Nico was aware of the conflict between craft and traditionality, and a process that is attributed with mass production OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020

“I started to use this idea of failure and chance to create forms that, even though are mostly machine-made, have so much of my input in them.”

Filigree of Porcelain_ Cage, Autoritratto by Joanna Bird Gallery, 3D printed porcelain, 2020. Photograph by Sylvain Deleu


and rigidness. “Using this new type of technology, I knew I had to navigate through it thoughtfully. The experience was fun, which is one of the reasons why I decided to stick with it, but there was also a turning point during an experiment of mine when the machine experienced a fault, and the result turned out to be really interesting,” says Nico. “I started to use this idea of failure and chance to create forms that, even though are mostly machine-made, still have a lot of my input in them.” Nico’s range of artworks spans two extremes – from minimalist and smooth, to the highly ornate, intricate and textured. Asked whether he’s inclined to prefer one extreme over the other, he says that he sees his work as a slow pendulum, gradually swinging between sides and, sometimes, settling on the middle ground that brings both extremes together. OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020



“I like to see how much I can push one side before either getting tired of it or feeling stuck and trying to discover new ways of interacting with the material. I find this very exciting,” says Nico. “I’m not just pushing my work forward but, in a way, since I’m working with new methods and machinery, I’m also contributing to the whole world of craft and clay. In terms of a favourite, when I’m working on something ornate, I tend to like the simple stuff in that moment, and vice versa, so it’s always the opposite!” The artist says his work could best be described as allowing the material of porcelain to be appreciated for what it really is. “Yes, some forms are a bit complex, but at the end of the day, there’s so much of the form that’s influenced by how porcelain wants to react – how it wants to fall, sometimes collapse – that I find this to be a huge characteristic of my work, to allow the material to shine through while still allowing for a certain degree of harmony, beauty and symmetry.” His artistic process always starts with an idea, followed by lots of visual research that is heavily inspired by two of his main areas

Fired porcelain artwork allowing the natural sunlight through it


Filigree of Porcelain_ Urchin (detail), Autoritratto by Joanna Bird Gallery, 3D printed porcelain, 2020. Photograph by Sylvain Deleu

“It’s very unpredictable, including the end result, but I suppose that is one of the things I enjoy most about it.”

of interest: architecture and nature. An example of this is the skeleton of a sea urchin, which he then works to translate into porcelain. Nico starts by designing the file on a 3D programme – he likens designing intricate pieces to physical sculpting, using pixels instead of clay. “Once I’m happy with the shape, I try to see how I can manipulate the piece further, as I believe that the longer the process, the more each piece will be unique from the previous one. Even if you replicate an object using the exact same steps, most times, the result will be completely different because small variables that I can’t control will impact the outcome,” he explains. Nico goes on to process the clay using a method that varies according to the type of clay he’s using. For porcelain, he adds chemicals to make it more flexible so that it doesn’t break easily. For darker clay, he adds a mix of iron, cobalt and manganese oxides to achieve a dark hue when it fires. He then processes it to the right consistency, slices the 3D file to create layers of the print, and transfers it onto his machine. “Once it starts printing, I interact with the object and manipulate it by hand, interrupting the printing process. This changes the piece significantly, as even a small pinch will create a chain reaction,” he explains. It takes one to two weeks to dry, depending on its delicateness, after which it’s fired at 1300 degrees Celsius, where the porcelain vitrifies to a point that it resembles glass and light is visible through it. For each piece, Nico works with one strand of porcelain which is coiled from beginning to end, giving the resulting structure greater strength and flow. Having one machine to work with, he can only work on one piece at a time, and each one is created in one sitting. “It can take up to 20 hours to complete, but the amount of time depends on the object,” says Nico. “There are times when the 113


machine fails at the 19th hour. It’s very unpredictable, including the end result, but I suppose that is one of the things I enjoy most about it – not wasting a whole day of course, but learning from a mistake that I wasn’t foreseeing.” Indeed, accidents have led to some great discoveries, one of which was during his studies, when a bucket of water fell on a basket-like piece with interwoven thread, which he had made for his degree show. “It collapsed completely, but also created the most interesting texture, and since then, I continued to add water to my work to achieve this appearance,” says Nico. “On another occasion, I had left the machine printing alone only to find it had collapsed and created these unusual strands, which led to my fascination with and interest in entropy; in the relationship between chaos and order.” Over the course of his educational experience in the UK, Nico had the opportunity to meet and exchange ideas with some very important guests, including a certain member of the royal family. “We were told a VIP guest would be visiting the college, but we weren’t told who. This isn’t unusual as we often have visits from celebrity guests and important patrons of the College, but on the day, we were told it was a VVIP, who turned out to be Prince Charles,” says Nico, who had to prepare a piece that very morning to present to His Royal Highness. “It was so chaotic, but as it turns out, we had a completely normal conversation. I was terrified at first because, being of an older generation, I know how much he values tradition, but he was very interested in the whole idea of looking to the past

Ferrum_ Of Aurelian, 3D stoneware stained with black iron oxide and gold lustre, 2019. Photograph by Alick Cotterill

but also investing in new crafts for future generations.” Nico was even more star struck, however, when he met the person who ignited his love for clay and porcelain in the first place, Edmund de Waal. “We talked about my work and his work and, to me, that was one of the most memorable experiences during my time at the RCA.” After completing his studies in 2019 followed by a successful end-of-year show, Nico established connections with important people in the business, including galleries that were interested in his work. “I decided to keep the momentum going and applied for a scholarship for a studio space in London, as I needed a place to set up the expensive equipment I had and also get working.” His application was successful, and he is now using a studio space for the next two years from Cockpit Arts, which also came with a kiln. “This helped alleviate so much financial pressure and created a safe space for me to experiment further with my work,” says Nico. Is he planning on settling there for

“I never imagined that my work would end up at Sotheby’s. Seeing my art displayed with that of artists who I’ve looked up to for many years is a surreal experience.” Of Lace and Porcelain_ Soft Contort, 3D printed porcelain, 2019. Photograph by Alick Cotterill


Ferrum_ Pushing up Daisies, 3D stoneware stained with black iron oxide, 2019. Photograph by Nadja Ellinger

the foreseeable future? “For now, I’ve made the UK my home. There’s so much happening here and so many artists who I can learn from. But I do hope to exhibit in Malta at some point and experiment with Maltese stone and clay, to see how I can further connect my heritage with the work I do now.” Touching on his greatest challenges as a working artist, Nico says that being far from friends and family in Malta is tough, especially with the restrictions brought about by the pandemic. Also, “in Malta, my life felt simple and logical but in London, with a lot more opportunity comes a lot more stress. There’s always something going on, somewhere I have to be or a deadline I have to meet, and that’s often challenging.” As for his proudest achievement, Nico considers his latest one to be right there at the top. “I’m currently exhibiting my work at Sotheby’s with Adrian Sassoon, a prominent gallerist I’ve wanted to show my work with for a long time,” he says. “I never imagined that my work would end up at Sotheby’s. Seeing my art displayed with that of artists who I’ve looked up to for many years is a surreal experience. I spend many hours at my studio, but it’s something like this, seeing a small percentage of your work being exhibited in a gallery like Sotheby’s, that makes it all worth it.” cc OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020

Profile for Content House Group

The Commercial Courier October/November 2020  

The Commercial Courier October/November 2020