It may be too late to find an effective remedy for the Crafts Village saga. Hut tenants have been taken for a ride for so long that the last thing on their minds right now is succession. Most operators started at a young age and in a short time made considerable amounts of money back in the golden years. In the 20 years that followed however, all they saw was downturn – year in, year out.
Many of those who have not yet abandoned the business are waiting to retire, and very few of the original craftsmen seem to be encouraging their children (or anybody else for that matter) to learn the trade and take the baton. As a result, what was once considered to be a money-making tourist attraction – is now destined to die with its makers. Government cannot shirk its responsibilities at this sad ending, especially after having been laid the blame brought about by almost three decades of broken promises.
Some may argue that operators should have never relied on government for the situation to improve. In fact, those who took the bull by the horns and developed their business using their own wits and money (one fine example, if not the only one, would be the Mdina Glass) seem to be enjoying considerable success and high repute.
The goodwill of operators is on the other hand proven by the thousands of euros still tied in deposits on promise-of-sale contracts signed by a number of tenants who wanted to buy the huts they tenant from government.
We never found the reason why government never acted on its promises to redevelop the area, and there is a good chance that we never will. Questions sent to Tonio Fenech’s office on the issue remain so far unanswered.
It seems that what Fenech implied in parliament was that hut tenants are no more than squatters on public hand. This has deeply insulted those businessmen who back in the 1970s were already employing a workforce of 600 in a cluster of artisan workshops that had been a dumping site before they came into the picture.
If it is thought that earmarking Dock No. 1 will make up for all the ills withstood by operators over the years, it is then recommended that government thinks again.
The issue is not whether or not the site is suitable – but rather whether we can have a proper crafts village ever again. The 1970s have gone and the ship for the development of artisan trades has sailed. If Italy’s fine artisan ware – ranging from chocolate to glassware – is now known all over the world, it is only because Italian governments put their money where their mouth was at the right time.
Filling Dock No. 1 with shops selling off Italian artisan ware does not make an authentic crafts village. If government now hopes to convince 15-year-olds to take MCAST courses with the intention of reviving the Maltese crafts, then well and good – although this may be much easier said than done. If on the other hand, we think that years of inaction can ever be remedied by a magic wand, then it is a different story altogether.