The Times of Malta
Those who would rather have a Labour Opposition merely to justify the Government`s democratic credentials are now opening a barrage of criticism upon Labour`s confrontational style and denigrate it for not accepting the wishes of the majority even when expressed in a referendum.
This defies logic and betrays an in-built intolerance towards Labour`s right to oppose. It is seeking to deny Labour of its right to stick to its views hoping to persuade the majority and get elected as an alternative government through the normal workings of the wheels of democracy.
What`s so aghast in having a confrontational opposition An opposition is an opposition because it has different policies and philosophies from the government. In our particular case the Opposition commands 47% of the general electoral vote.` It needs less than a 3% swing to win over a majority. It is therefore perfectly sensible for the Opposition to stick to its policies and confront the government wherever it disagrees, whether it is on EU policy, on macro-economic policies or on whatever aspect of life happens to be the flavour of the month.
Provided the Opposition stays within its democratic rights to express and hold on to its views whilst allowing the will of the majority to prevail, any attempts to silence the Opposition smacks of arrogance with a certificate of origin from` Pinochet`s Chile.
If our political leaders agree to participate in a public debate where the public is not only invited to attend but also encouraged to participate then it is wrong to expect the audience not to show signs of approval or disapproval as it deems fit.`
Politicians have many platforms from where to speak. Occasionally they should stop and listen and if they don`t like what they are being told they should not presume that the people are arrogant and disrespectful. Otherwise why invite the people` Why not just continue with their boring speeches and debates in parliament or convince the Broadcasting Authority to launch a new schedule of political broadcasts which the population will gladly switch off from`
The same applies to the horror expressed at the Leader of the Opposition declaration that even if the EU accession project is endorsed by a majority vote in a referendum he would not consider this` as the last word and would continue seeking` to persuade the majority that there is a better option. What on earth is so devilish about this`
A referendum is a consultative procedure expressing the electorate`s view at a particular point in time. If at a subsequent point in the time the electorate expresses a different opinion, either through another referendum or through a general election where the matter concerned is major issue, then the last decision prevails. Why should those who consider an opposition as a necessary evil, manipulate in the name of democracy, the basic a,b,c of democracy`
Which brings me to the significance of today`s commemoration of Freedom Day. Twenty One years ago today we celebrated a new beginning for our nascent sovereignty.` By closing the military base Malta gave up Lm28 million of revenues earned directly and indirectly from the base in order to have an economy based on commerce, industry, tourism and services. In today`s money that would be nearly Lm55 million.
Over these 21 years we have not only survived but prospered. These last few years we lost track through unsustainable public spending. This is nothing which we cannot put right within a few years if we find the true leadership to rally a national effort to overcome these difficulties.
As we celebrate this day we should question whether the EU accession project our government seems on an irreversibly one-way road to, is about handing back our sovereignty and freedom for a much cheaper price than what we gave up in 1979.` Arguments about shared sovereignty with mightier partners sound very much like modern words for neo-colonialism and the 1955 integration model which thankfully did not succeed.
All other economic arguments against EU accession gain little of my sympathy and my residual disagreement is one of time-scales for adopting a single market with the EU with a few exceptions to take account of our peculiarities.`
On the question of sovereignty I find myself with a sharp difference of concept which deepens on 31st March.
Friday, 31 March 2000
The Times of Malta
The Malta Independent
Finally the debate about Malta`s bid for EU membership has started to deepen. And in so doing the number of persons who are having doubts about the best way forward is increasing.
In a debate between the leaders of the two political schools last Saturday the Labour leader revealed that those against membership are now 42% and those undecided are now 18% up from 8% in a previous poll. The PN` leader disputed that their survey finds those opposing EU membership at only 25% but did not dispute the 18% undecideds.
So the undecideds are at least 18% and growing. And so should it be.
My views on the matter are known.` I hold little sympathy with those who argue against membership pretending that we can keep our economy protected from the globalisation process which is changing the way the world does business.
Our challenge is not to join or stay out of the EU. Our challenge is to survive and thrive` in a world ferociously competitive. Our challenge is to` open up our economy and cut the waste without creating social upheavals.` Our challenge is to persuade one and all that we have to stop pretending` we can keep the present wasteful status quo without suffering the unsavoury consequences of an economic crash.
Rather than on whether or not we join the EU this depends upon our ability to discipline ourselves without needing an external agent to impose it on us. If the answer is that we need EU membership to do what we have to do then this is poor judgement of our political leaders who 35 years` after independence and 21 years after closure of the military base are finding that they have led the country to a` state where it has to reverse, or risk reversing,` such glorified events.
In reality the undecideds should form the majority of the Maltese electorate. How can one conclusively decide about something which is still in the works`
I could understand the no vote as it is often synonymous to the undecided vote on the pretext of when in doubt don`t.
But those who have decided in favour of joining the EU when they` do not as yet know Malta`s` rights` in the decision making process (something the EU itself is still pondering about) cannot also be proud of our statehood and freedom from military bases.
Today they would be holidaying for the wrong reason.
Tuesday, 28 March 2000
Reading Edgar Mizzi`s (God bless his soul) Malta in the Making re-awakens in me the need to pay due homage to the architect of Malta`s statehood ` DOM MINTOFF. Mintoff was not only the mind and soul behind dismantling of the military base but he was the main factor which brought about Malta`s independence.
That the actual document was signed by the late Giorgio Borg Olivier is just incidental to the fact that the British Government knew that an independence agreement with a Borg Olivier government would be much more to their favour than if they were negotiating with Mintoff.` In fact on independence Mintoff differed from Borg Olivier on one basic stance. Mintoff wanted independence as a stand-alone and then negotiate a defense agreement with Britain as an agreement between two sovereign states.` Borg Olivier succumbed to British demands to accept Independence in one package with the defense and financial agreement.
For the events which happened post 1979 Mintoff and I stand poles apart. For accepting to stay in Government after the perverse electoral result of 1981 Mintoff kicked in the face a unique opportunity to become a master statesman of this land, a man with democratic credentials bigger than his legend.
For bringing down in 1998 a Labour Government democratically elected with handsome majority on the pretext that he had his own electoral manifesto brings me conviction of the inability of the man to adjust to the metamorphosis change he himself brought about.
But for what he did to this country up to 31st March 1979 Mintoff deserves recognition as the best leader and change driver Malta has ever seen. Wiser man would have considered this event as the pinnacle of a glorious career and exit while on top. Human nature weaknesses compel mortals to stay in power longer than their true use by date.
Unfortunately the same experience is rubbing on Prime Minister Fenech Adami. He was the right man to modernise our infrastructure and build our feel good factor from the extreme purse-tightening of the Mintoff era. He has now gone too far creating economic imbalances for which has only old solutions which are totally inappropriate. No wonder also his friends at FOI are admitting the economy is still cruising at the bottom.
If we continue like this we would need a new Mintoff soon and Joe Grima thinks that Alfred Sant is a split image!
Sunday, 26 March 2000
The Malta Independent on Sunday
New Solutions Needed
Statistics are revealing that our economy is developing serious faults.` Any hopes that the Fiducja calls, which worked so well when the economy had capacity for consumption based growth, will again play the magic wand are disappearing fast.
This is understandably so.` Government spending which was sustaining the feel-good factor artificially propelled consumption. The result is unsustainable public finance deficit which has to be` scaled back before it spirals out of control. This is now probably the only policy on which there exists convergence of thought `between our two political schools.
Scaling back public finances in the context of dull economic growth can only be achieved by rolling back the artificial feel-good factor. Whether by controlling expenditure through trimming recurrent expenditure ( cutting overtime, curtailing new initiatives) and slowing down capital expenditure, or by enhancing revenue (through new taxes and better enforcement of existing ones) the result will inevitably impact negatively on the disposable income, the ultimate source of consumption.
The fact` is that we are slipping into a depressive mode that unless stalled will feed on itself. Whether you talk to retailers or to the estate agents they both have no good things to say about the business tempo.
Unemployment in January 2000 reached 5.5% and where it not for a thousand odd persons truck off the register over the last` 12 months the increase from last year would have been a whole 1%. This in spite of` direct employment in government departments having reached the highest level since December1996,` no doubt indicating that government is resorting to the much maligned direct employment to keep the sensitive jobless figure within the limits of political acceptability.
Tourist figures for the first two months of the year show that after a growth of 6% and` 5% in the previous two years we have dropped again by over 3% with very pronounced drop in the UK market.
Now I am firm believer that things have to get worse before they can get better. So if this was some part of a grand visionary scheme to re-structure out of our weaknesses and shake-off our economic lethargy I would support this change process. I would gladly recommend we hold tight until we can get through the bad patch which would be` a sacrifice worth paying for the prize at the end of the tunnel.
But this is nothing of the sort. This is just crisis management at its best!
New solutions which the country needs cannot simply emerge from empty talk of Fiducja.` The country today stands in front of a re-structuring challenge of a proportion not dissimilar to that of the 1970`s when the economic activity generated by the military base had to be wound down over a seven year period. Only this one is much more difficult as the time scale is much less than seven years and the public finances are running out of the debt capacity needed to finance this re-structuring.
Which means that privatisation is becoming a matter of necessity not of choice or ideology.
This administration`s first foray into privatisation has been a complete disaster. The method was wrong, opaque and had all the fingerprints of a crisis forced sell-out. The 30% private shareholding in the former Mid-Med Bank is now worth more than the 70% which government sold less than 10 months ago. No wonder minority shareholders have been urging me to continue to defend their interest through the Association which I am disbanding in acknowledgement of the fact that its mission has been accomplished with total success.
If Mid-Med privatisation `gaffe were to happen in a commercial environment those responsible for it would have received an instant brown envelope.` Yet the same architects of this financial disaster are preparing the recipe for the next round of privatisation.
Negotiations to unwind telecommunications monopolies in preparation for the eventual privatisation of Maltacom are in a complete state of confusion. One cannot help suspecting that Government is more minded to assist Maltacom`s competitors rather than to give Maltacom a fair chance to compete in a liberalised environment.
I decided not to seek re-election on Maltacom`s board as I need the freedom to defend, if the need arises, the minority shareholders of Maltacom with the same vigour I defended those of Mid-Med Bank.
The country needs new creative solutions.` It needs to address the excessive expenditure which a bloated and inefficient public sector is draining from its productive life blood. It needs to bring its privatisable enterprises in good shape to ensure it gets optimum reward from their disposal. It needs to create the stability to attract real productive investment and not simply an overdose of property speculation which banks are finding difficulty to finance.
This seems well beyond the abilities of the present administration whose free-lunch electoral manifesto is a mill-stone inhibiting its area of maneuverability leaving it with only the EU fast track option as a sort of external discipline to sort us out of this economic mess.
Government`s sterile approach to the country`s mounting problems is typical of the fatigue of an administration in its third term, shorn of creative ideas and loaded with a baggage of compromises accumulated by their overstay in power. Having kept the economy artificially afloat by pumping excessive borrowed funds through its blood streams in the second term, `they are `now attempting to do the same with privatisation revenues. Yet the real problems remain unaddressed while we throw down the drain the resources which are needed `address these problems.
When the Italians realised that their politicians cannot sort out the mess they had created they called in the technocrats like Ciampi, Dini and Prodi to deliver the bacon. Should we not do the same before more damage is done` New solutions are needed because the old ones are just not working.
Il-Kullhadd Il-Media Tal-Knisja
Thabbar dan l-ahhar li l-Knisja qed tippjana li jkollha l-istazzjon tat-TV taghha. Dan jizdid mar-Radju RTK u l-gazzetta ta` kull gimgha il-Gens biex flimkien mal-pulpti jiffurmaw sett komplett tal-media biex il-Knisja tkun tista twassal il-kelma taghha.
Il-Knisja ghandha dritt daqs haddiehor biex taghmel dan. La ghandhom dritt il-partit politici allura m`ghandiex dritt ukoll il-Knisja`
L-argument mhux jekk il-Knisja ghandix dritt jew le. L-argument huwa li galadarba il-Knisja tezercita d-dritt li jkollha dawn il-mezzi huwiex sewwa li dawn il-mezzi thallihom jintuzaw, kif intuzaw s`issa, biex jaghtu palata lil Partit Nazzjonalista u jzidu ostaklu iehor ghal Partit Laburista. Ostaklu li jizdied ma hafna ostakli ohra li jiffaccja l-Partit Laburista mill-mezzi ta` komunikazzjoni kontrollati minn xibka ta` poter li politikament issib rifugju fil-Partit Nazzjonalista.` Din ix-xibka jidhet li ingulfat maghha il-mezzi ta` komunikazzjoni prezenti tal-Knisja.
Perswaz li dawk li jmexxu il-media tal-Knisja jichdu bil-qawwa li huma jservu ta` forcina ghal Partit Nazzjonalista u ta` frosta ghal Partit Laburista. Izda l-Vangelu jghallimna li s-sigra ma tgharafiex mil-weraq izda mill-frott. Ghalhekk il-gudizzju tieghu m'`uwiex fuq dak li jichdu jew ma jichdux dawk li jmexxu l-media tal-Knisja izda fuq dak li jaghmlu. Partikolarment dak li jaghmlu fil-gimghat sensittivi ta` qabel l-elezzjoni generali biex jinfluwenzaw lill-poplu fuq liem naha ghandu jitfa l-vot tieghu.
Min ma jiftakarx l-edizzjoni tal-Gens ta` qabel l-elezzjoni kemm sahqet fuq kemm jigu miljuni mill-UE jekk innehhu lapplikazzjoni ghas-shubija mill-friza Bhala gurnal li jmexxi l-interessi tal-Knisja kont tistenna li l-media taghha tinqa` barra minn kwsitjoni politika bhal din, jew jekk tidhol tidhol fuq il-merti religjuzi taghha.
Jekk tidhol tidhol fuq kif fil-pajjizi kollha ta` l-UE dahal id-divorzju u fil-maggoranza taghhom anke` l-abort. Tidhol fuq kif dawn il-apjjizi ser ikollhom jibdew jaghrfu zwifijiet bejn persuni ta` l-istess sess. Dawn huma materji ta` natura morali u religjuza li l-fidila jistennew gwida dwarhom mill-mexxejja religjuzi.
Naghmilha cara li jien ma naqbel xejn ma min juza dawn l-argumenti biex jiggustifka li ma nidhlux fl-UE. Hemm argumenti ferm aktar validi u b`sahhithom biex targumenta dwar dan. Izda jekk il-Knisja jew il-mezzi taghha ghandhom jidhlu f`dan l-argument allura ghandhom jiffokaw fuq dawn l-aspetti.
Izda le il-Gens lejliet l-elezzjoni tiffoka fuq il-miljuni li suppost kienu ser jaqghu mis-shab hekk kif il-poplu fidil jaghti mandat lill-Partit Nazzjonalista.
L-istess gara bil-budget li ghadda. Dan kien budget iebes. Jekk kienx hemm bzonnu jew le jew jekk kienx evitabbli hija kwistjoni ohra. Izda li huwa budget iebes u li laqat sew il-livell ta` l-ghixien tal-klassi baxxa u medja lanqas in-Nazzjoanlisti u l-Unions li jissimpatizzaw maghhom ma jichdud illum.` Izda l-edizzjoni tal-Gens ta` war l-Budget harget bi`titolu ghal kollox newtrali` u gabet ritratti vizivi ta` familja tidhaq u tilghab flimkien qisu l-Budget kien ta` xi solliv kbir ghal familji Maltin.
Immanginaw ftit x`kien jigri kieku l-budget ghamlu Gvern Laburista. Immaginaw il-linja editorjali tal-Knisja kieku kien il-Partit laburista li jrid idahhal lil Malta fl-UE u kieku n-Nazzjonalisti qed jirrezistu poltika bhal din. Diga kellna toghma ta` sitwazzjoni bhal din fis-snin hamsin fi zmien l-Integration.` Ara kieku l-mezzi tal-Knisja kemm qed iwissu lil fidili li pass bhal dan jmur kontra il-morali u l-kultura kattolika ta` pajjizna.
Jien ma nqabilx li l-Knisja ghandha tindahal f`dawn l-affarijiet li huma materji civili izda il-Knisja jibqalha dritt li tuza l-mezzi taghha biex dawk li minn rajhom isegwu it-twemmin taghha jigu ggwidati bit-taghlin nisrani u bil-valuri nsara.
Storja zghira li grat lili biex taraw kemm huma apolitici il-mezzi tal-media tal-Knisja. Fil-gimgha ta` qabel l-elezzjoni ta` Ottubru 1996 kienu stedninu biex it-tnejn 28 ta` Ottubru f`nofs in nhar immur ghal` dibattitu live fuq l-RTK dwar itr-rizultat ta` l-elezzjoni. Accetajt mhux ghax kont konvint li l-Partit Laburista ser jirbah izda ghax dehrli li f`dibattitu bhal dan, ikun x`ikun ir-rizultat, kellu jkun hemm lehen favur il-Partit Laburista.
Il-Partit Laburista rebah u jien flok kif ghamel kulhadd dhalt il-Belt niccelebra mort l-RTK ghal programm. Kien qisu cimiterju. Wara li habbat fetahli l-gurnalista Alan Delia li qalli l-programm kien thassar u li ppruvaw jinfurmawni u hallewli messagg l-ufficcju. Jien ghedtlu li l-ufficcju ma dhaltx izda l-mobile kien mixghul u setghu infurmawni billi jcempluli fuqu. Staqsejt gha kien thassar u qalli li kien hemm problema biex jigu l-mistednin habba c-celebrazzjonijet fit-toroq. Ghedtlu li jien ma kelli l-ebda problema u li c-celecrazzjonijiet kienu civili u moderati ghall-ahhar.` Ghedtlu li dan kien skuza ghax il-programm kien intenzjonat biex jiccelebra rebha nazzjonalista u thassar ghax din ma gratx!
Min imexxi l-Knisja qabel ma jzid il-mezzi televizi jrid jara li l-mezzi li ghandu ga jintuzaw fl-interssi tal-fidili kollha anke dak in-nofs li jxaqleb lejn il-Partit Laburista. Jekk le il-Knisja tibqa` tara xejra ta` abbandun mil-fidili u jibqghu iqumu mistoqsijiet jekk RTK jfisserx Radju tal-Knisja, Radju ta` Kulhadd jew Radju tal-Klikka.
Friday, 24 March 2000
The Malta Independent
Beating the Cycle
A look at the current state of the British economy shows the blessing of economic cycles. The Bank of England has had to hike the bank rate several times to pre-empt the economy from inflationary overheating.` Sterling interest rate is some three points above the Euro rate and the British economy is well ahead of the Euro bloc in the economic cycle. This forms an inappropriate scenario for Sterling to join the Euro in the foreseeable future.` Certainly not until there is greater convergence of the interest and economic growth cycles.
Gone are the days of the early 1990`s where interest rates had to be pushed to strong double digits in spite of the recessionary state of the domestic economy with unemployment at record levels.
What`s so healthy about the British economy, in full sympathy with the US economy in one of the longest growth cycles, is that the economy has recovered its flexibility and restored the logic of the Phillips Curve.` A public deficit of just over 3% of the GDP in 1996 has gone into 1% surplus by 1998 and the latest Treasury projections are for an average annual surplus of 2% of GDP at least until 2004.` The economy is moving on its own steam restoring debt capacity to the public sector to be used for fine tuning when and if the economy would eventually go into the downward mode. Gross Public Debt of 44% of the GDP in 1996 is expected to fall to 28% by 2004.
What a far cry for our own economy! Atrocious public sector deficit, rising public debt ratios to GDP, emergency privatisations and a slowing economy is symptomatic of the economic mismanagement and waste of resources in the 90`s. Whilst other more resourceful economies admitted that they could not beat economic cycles and had to bite the bullet to re-structure and re-energise their` economy,` our supposed know-it-all created the illusion that they can spend our wealth out of economic cycles which clashed with their electoral objectives.
A meeting with reality can be delayed but not avoided. The Unions and the government through regular meetings continue to argue of how the burden can be spread more equitably. The harsh reality which the Unions will distaste is that the burden will unavoidably have to be carried by the fixed income earners in order not` to scare off potential investors. Investment, real productive investment, is the only sure way out of our economic mess.
Rather than expect the Unions to provide alternative solutions the government should re-cite the mea culpa and make a public apology for bringing us to this pitiful state.
Sunday, 19 March 2000
Il-Kullhadd Shared Sovereignty
Zgur qed tismghu hafna terminologija ta Shared Sovereignty jew Pooled Sovereignty b`konnessjoni ma l-argumenti favur jew kontra is-shubija ta` Malta fl-UE. Huwa mportanti li n-nies li m`humiex daqstant intizi fis-suggett jifhmu sew x`ikun qed jinghad b`dawn il-frazijiet li donnhom bhal moda jibdew jissemmew biex dak li jkun jimpressjona li min jisimghu..
L-Unjoni Ewropeja giet mwaqqfa fl-1958 bhala blokk ta` sitt pajjizi biex jaghmlu suq komuni bejniethom.` Dan kien iz-zmien ta` wara l-gwerra li farrket lil Ewropa u kien ghalhekk f`waqtu li dawn il-pajjizi bdew pjan biex iwahhdu l-ekonomija ma ta` xulxin biex b`hekk isiru ekonomikament jiddependu minn xulxin. Meta jigri dan jikber deterrent kbir kontra l-gwerra u l-uzu tal-forza.
Fl-1973 is-sitta zdiedu ghal disgha meta dahlu l-Renju Unit, L-Irlanda u d-Danimarka. Fis-snin tmenin saru tnax meta dahlu l-Grecja , Spanja u l-Portugall pajjizi mediterranji li kienu ghadhom hergin minn kultura dittarjoli.` Fl-1995 kibru ghal hmistax meta dahlu l-Finlandja, L-Awstrija u L-Isvezja` li kienu pajjizi ga ekonomikament fuq l-istess livell ta` UE bla htiega ta` xi aggustament ekonomiku qawwi.
L-UE ma ndiblitx biss billi kibret. Kibret ukoll billi wessghet l-iskop taghha minn suq komuni ghal Unjoni Politika.` Dik li kienet tissejjah European Economic Community ghal l-ewwel saret European Community u fl-1991 meta gie ffirmat it-trattat ta` Maastricht saret European Union.
Dan fetah it-triq biex twetqet l-Unjoni Monetarja bejn hdax mill-hmistax il-pajjiz membru. Huwa mistenni l- l-erba l-ohra jissiehbu fi zmien mhux il-boghod bl-akbar problema tibqa` dik tar-Renju Unit li ghad ghandha l-ejkonomija taghha aktar intunata mas-suq Amerikan milli ma dak ta` l-Unjoni.
L-ghaqda monetarja ghandha sinjifikat kbir ghax din tfisser li mixja lejn integrazzjoni ekonomika totali issa ma tistax titwaqqaf. Galadarba l-politika monetarja ghaddiet minn idejn il-pajjiz membri ghal idejn il-Bank Centrali Ewropew huwa minn ewl id-dinja li anke l-politka fiskali u t-taxxi irdu jimxu fl-istess direzzjoni.
L-Unjoni Ewropeja mhix tahbi l-ambizzjonijiet taghha li tkompli tersaq lejn integrazzjoni politika billi tifforma anke politika barranija u ta` difiza komuni ghal pajjizi kollha. Dan kien rwol li sa issa kien moqdi minn NATO li kienet u ghada ddominata mill-Istati Uniti. L-UE thoss li l-ghaqda taghha tippermetti tnaqqis mill-influwenza Amerikana fid-difiza ta` l-Ewropa billi l-vojt jintela minn forza komuni ewropeja.
Dan huwa ghan stuz u apprezzabbli. L-UE gibdet lejha lill Solana biex imexxi din il-poltika.` Solana sa ftit ilu kien is-segretarju generali tan-NATO. Ghalissa il-politka komuni ta` difiza mhix qeda tigi imponuta b`mod tassattiv fuq il-membri prezenti jew prospettivi ghalkemm rigward dawn ta` l-ahhar id-diskors ghad irid jiccara ruhu sewwa. Izda bhal politika monetarja din hija triq` f`direzzjoni wahda. Min jidhol,hemm irid jasal jekk mhux mal-ewwel mat-tieni jew mat-tielet.
Biex wiehed jifhem kemm dan huwa hekk rrid nishaq li l-UE qed taghmilha cara li biex jidhlu membri godda id-decizjonijiet kollha ma jistghux jibqghu jittiehdu bhal ma jittiehdu llum fejn f`hafna kazi il-membri ghandhom il-veto. Jekk ma jaqbilx xi hadd ma jsir xejn. Meta u jekk Malta tidhol membru, id-decizjonijiet jittiehdu bil-maggoranza tal-voti, maggoranza li mhux biss trid tirrsekja in-numru ta` membri izda wkoll il-popolazzjoni tal-membri kollha.
Bhal ma sahaq ferm tajjeb Romani Prodi meta gie jonorana fostna dan l-ahhar it-triq tas-shibija hija rriversibbli.` La darba dhalt ma tistax terga lura anke jekk l-affarijet jinbidlu b`mod li ma jibqghux joghgbuk. La darba tidhol ma tkunx tista` tirrezisti li mall-ewwel jew mat-tieni ikollok tifforma parti mil-politka barranija u ta` difiza komuni tal-Unjoni.
U huwa f`dan is-sens li wiehed irid jifhem ghaliex sa ftit ilu l-Unjoni kienet qed thalli l-Gvern Nazzjonalista jitkarrab fuq l-ghatba u issa hemm interess qawwi biex Malta tidhol memrbu mill-aktar fis.
L-Unjoni Ewropeja thares lejn Malta bhala parti essenzjali mil-politika ta` difiza taghha. Bis-sovranita` shiha ta` Malta dan mhux possibbli ghax Malta hija dikjarata fil-Kostituzzjoni bhala newtrali u non-allenjata u ma tippermettiex bazijiet militari fuq artna.
Bis-shubija ikollna Shared Sovereignty jew Pooled Sovereignty. Jigifieri ma niddeciedux il-politika barranija u ta` difiza taghna skond kif jaqbilna izda flimkien ma ohrajn li jkollhom voti u sahha ferm akbar minnha u anke inkunu marbutin li naghmlu dak li jiddiciedu huma bis-sahha tal-maggoranza taghhom. Ikollna Shared Sovereingty daqs kemm ikollu gurdien meta jaqsam id-dar tieghu ma hafna iljuni.
Meta ftit jiem ohra niccelebraw Jum il-Helsien infakkru fil-gest nobbli ta` pajjizna li ghalaq il-bazi militari anke jekk kellu jiccahhad minn introjtu fis-sena ta` madwar Lm28 miljun ta` dak iz-zmiene li huma madwar Lm53 miljun tal-lum.
Jekk nibqghu sejrin fl-ghama fit-triq tas-Shared Sovereignty nkunu ser nbieghu lill-pajjizna tassew b`irhis meta fil-fatt ma jmissna nbieghuh ghall-ebda prezz.
Friday, 17 March 2000
The Malta Independent
Right down the Middle
Political parties can continue analysing the local election results to their heart`s delight and stress those elements of the results which suit their purpose till there comes` a month of Sundays. None of this will change the simple fact that the electorate is split right down the middle.
This has its strengths and weaknesses.` Strengths come from the fact that any party in power ought to know that it takes just the slightest shift to lose electoral support. This` should` render the political class accountable to the electorate for their promises and performance.
It has its weaknesses in rendering the political class overly sensitive to a relative minority swinging part of the electoral vote, often avoiding taking `save nine stitch in time` unpopular measures to cure economic weaknesses in order not to alienate this important electoral minority.
The lesson to be learnt is that for the last two elections we had a government elected on a manifesto meant to please this minority which is in direct conflict with what is necessary to address the real economic problems of the country.
Labour`s impressive victory in 1996 did not promise any cures to the economic problems which though hidden were perceivable to careful commentators like JG Vassallo and myself though not admittedly in their fullest extent.` The current government`s mandate is even more unsustainable as its manifesto, in full knowledge of the economic ailments of the country, is based anything but provision of an effective though painful cure to these problems.
Only when the electorate returns to` government a party whose manifesto proposes effective measures to address our economic ailments can we really start tackling the real problems and take the structural decisions for the country`s future. The last time this happened was in 1971 when Mintoff`s Labour was returned to power on a belt-tightening manifesto. The results was 7 years of spectacular growth and effective transformation of the economy from military spending to commercial economic activity. The failures of Labour administration post 1979 should not obscure its performance up to that date.
Any structural irreversible` decision, like joining` the EU, taken by a government with an unrealistic and undeliverable manifesto is unsustainable especially if the local election results could be a fore-taste of the referendum to be held within the next two years.
Thursday, 16 March 2000
The Times of Malta
My last contribution about tongue biting has triggered misplaced speculation about my real intentions for criticising the Head of the Owners of the Radio and TV station which he tasked me to chair in a non-executive capacity.
Whoever was shocked by my pre-election comments whilst holding a public appointment chairmanship of a` bank, was quick to extol my courage to criticise my boss;` little caring that the bit concerned served also the purpose of` a credibility builder for the real thrust of the whole tongue biting article. A poor model of consistency and small appreciation of Alfred Sant`s capacity for constructive internal criticism!
Biting one`s own tongue is fairly easy and is a healthy exercise we should indulge in more often.` More difficult is Government`s attempt to bite its own nose.
The results of the local elections of last Sunday have received the usual nauseating treatment of `we won - they lost` by both political sides. Whilst this posture is inevitable for public consumption, it is dangerously simplistic to miss the loud and clear message given by the results.
I maintain that these results carry a very scientific exposition of the mood in the country at large. The segment tested was a sizeable 40% of the national voters with a spread representing a very fair sample of the whole electorate.` No local election contested so far carry these credentials of credibility as this was the first time Labour contested local elections with full preparation.
The strong message given by the electorate is that the Nationalist party has lost 1.3% from the 1997 local election, better adjusted to around 2% to take account of former 1997 independent candidates who now contested under the PN banner, and nearly 3% from the results in the same localities of the last general elections.
More importantly is that the 2% or 3% swing, depending to what one is comparing with, crosses the important 50% threshold. It is one thing losing 2% or 3% but remaining above 50% and quite another losing the same margin and passing from above 50% to below 50%. The psychological barrier crossed cannot be neglected.
Can the government really now expect that it has realistic chances of winning an EU referendum if held on this side of the next general elections` Both political parties are already neck to neck and the government has still to prescribe many doses of sour medicine to bring the economy to EU compatible mode, hoping to alienate the electorate from the free lunches promised in the electoral manifesto.
By pressing on regardless to the mad rush towards EU membership as of 2003, the government is missing the electorate`s signal to slow down, to reason things out to explore not only the alternatives but also the proper time-scales for implementing such alternatives.
By pressing on regardless the Government is conditioning the electorate to vote against the EU membership for the wrong reasons, by psychologically linking the adjustment pain to the alignment for EU membership. It is giving the Opposition a free ride to win a referendum against EU membership without being obliged to explain its alternatives beyond the foreseeable future.
The message of the local election has to be read also between the lines. The country cannot approach such a strategic irreversible decision as EU membership when it is split right down the middle on this highly politicised issue.
True national leadership demands that the issue of the unavoidable pain to re-structure the economy be separated from the issue of Malta`s long-term future relations with the EU.` This should be postponed till after the next elections when the economy is in better shape to permit a smart and not a crisis decision. When our rights and obligations as prospective members are crystallised after the internal decision making rules of the EU are overhauled through the ICG, and after a newly and properly mandated government seeks greater convergence of thoughts between our two main political schools.
Achieving pre-mature EU membership is as elusive as biting one`s own nose.
Sunday, 12 March 2000
The Malta Independent on Sunday
Truth and Objectivity
For making the simple statement that the PN in 1987 inherited a debt-free economy and that our country following 154, bar 22, months of Nationalist administration is in an economic mess I earned myself such titles as being economic with the truth and lacking objectivity.
I have a natural respect for those who whilst disagreeing` with me argue their case convincingly even though probably unsuccessfully. But I do not take lightly to charges of lack of objectivity` `or misrepresentation.` I do on the other hand elate at` unfair criticism to` my arguments, proof of` nothing more serious to respond with.
The criticism` can be condensed as follows:
Whilst in 1987 the economy inherited by the PN was relatively debt free the country was in desperate need for an investment upgrade to its infrastructure.
The accumulated debt which is burdening our economy results from the investment undertaken post 1987 and the need to carry 8000 persons engaged by Labour in the run-up to the 1987 elections in public service employment.
Our economy is not in a mess as it is growing by a real 4% p.a., inflation is at around 2% and unemployment is at around 5.3% which are respectable numbers compared to EU economies.
Malta would not lose sovereignty by joining the EU because small countries like Luxembourg and Ireland have not lost their sovereignty.
This is quite a mouthful especially considering that my original contribution was condensed in a mere 500 words and that this criticism comes signed from a minister and an ex-minister.
Firstly it`s good to see that the claim that the PN inherited a debt free economy when they took over administration in 1987 is unchallenged. I stated this as a fact. I did not justify that this was an overly good thing when confronted with the sub-standard infrastructure the country was let in during the mid-80`s recession.
I have no problem in opining that Labour was then excessively cautious in allowing the country to overcome the recession by the slow-responding wage and price freeze rather than by stimulating the economy through infrastructure investments for which the economy had ample debt capacity. This was economically wrong and politically unwise. Stretching this to mean that the national debt amassed by the PN since then is the result of infrastructure investment is illogical and untrue.
Most of the infrastructure investment was not financed by central government and is not represented in the national debt. Most of the infrastructure, be it airport, power station, telephone exchanges, or water producing plants were financed by direct debt incurred by the corporations or government owned commercial companies often` guaranteed by central government.` But this is not part of central government debt. A look at the financial statements of Freeport, Enemalta, Maltacom, MIA will confirm this.
Furthermore privatisation revenues from sales of Bank of Valletta, Mid-Med Bank, Lombard Bank and Maltacom, all investments which did not drain one lira out of central government funds following the 1987 change of government, produced exceptional revenues to central government. Yet during this period we have amassed close to one billion lira central government debt and this went to recurring expenditure, fictitious investment ( dockyard subsidies) and social investment which leave no direct economic return.
Blaming a condemnable event which occurred 13years ago for amassing this debt gives little consolation.` If government cannot solve a problem like this in 13 years after so many thousands more left and joined the public sector then we hardly need one.
Denying that the country is in a financial mess is a very bad start to addressing the problem. Problem identification is the first crucial step towards a solution and it seems we have not yet even taken this first step. Do we need a total collapse to spot the problem` Our inflation and unemployment are rising, structural deficit remains obstinately out of control and real productive investment is nowhere near comfortable levels. We are heading for stagflation just as EU countries have shed it off and are rediscovering the good sense of being in control of the economy by re-establishment of the price / employment trade-off of the Phillips curve.
Taking consolation that Luxembourg and Ireland have managed to preserve their sovereignty has two flaws.` Firstly it overlooks that none of these is a small island in the periphery bordering the Islamic world. Secondly it is like driving the car by looking at the rear mirror.` Tomorrow`s rules of the EU which Malta will be invited to join will be substantially different from the rules which have preserved present members sovereignty so far.` It`s like the` warning on advertising of financial investment products ` past performance is no guarantee of future results!
Truth is the first casualty of war.` Much worse is that truth is a casualty even when there is no war,` when our Don Quixotes interpret hard plain unpalatable truths as a declaration of war.
Romano Prodi, il-President tal-Kummissarju tal-UE huwa bniedem stuz, ghaqli u serju. Ghax huwa dak li hu xoghlu jaghmlu sew. U xoghol Prodi bhalissa huwa li jkabbar l-UE minn hmistax ghal tmienja u ghoxrin membru billi dawn il-membri jaccettaw ir-regoli ta` l-UE, kif ser jinbidlu, halli l-Ewropa ssir mhux biss blokk ekonomiku b`sahhtu izda wkoll blokk politiku u ta` difiza li jhabbatha ma dak Amerikan.
Prodi huwa espert fl-ekonomija u fit-tmexxxija azjendali tal-management u zgur huwa negozjatur tajjeb.` Fix-xjenza tan-negozjati li jghallmu l-Universitajiet u skejjek tan-negozju hemm certi principji ta` kif ghandek iggib ruhek biex meta tinnegozja tiehu dak li trid bla ma toffendi il-parti l-ohra li maghha tkun qed tinnegozja.
Fost dawn insibu li ghandek tipprova izzerzaq xi kliem bil-lingwa domestika tal-parti li tkun qed tinnegozja maggha u tfahhar il-kapacita` tan-naha l-ohra ta` kemm hija kapaci tinnegozja u kemm ser tmur tajjeb bil-ftehim li jkun qed jigi negozjat.
Fl-esperjenza twila tieghi fil-qasam tal-konsulenza tan-negozju u fil-finanzi ghaddejt minn hafna negozjati tqal u kumplikati. U din l-ghodda tan-negozjati uzajta kemm il-darba.
Ghalhekk stajt ninduna mal-ewwel kemm gharfu juzaw din it-tattika Prodi u Verheugen fiz-zjara ta` anqas min 24 siegha li ghamlu f`Malta l-gimgha l-ohra. Zerzqulna xi frazijiet bil-Malti. Qalulna kemm kienu tajbin is-civil servants taghna` waqt lis-screeing avolja dawn ma kien fihom negozjati ta` xejn. Kienu biss `gap analysis` biex jigi identifikat fejn il-ligijiet taghna iridu jinbidlu biex jigu konformi ma tal-UE. Qalulna wkoll kemm ser ikunu generuzi biex jifthu kemm jista` jkun hafna kapitli ghan-negozjati u qalulna li dan huwa deal tajjeb hafna. Daqs li kieku kien ic-cekk ta` Lm 100 miljun lira li bl-akbar irresponsabbilita` il-gvern prezenti kien wieghed li jinzlu bhax-xita hekk kif il-bidla fil-gvern terga tiftah l-applikazzjoni ghas-shubija.
Lil Gvern dawn ix-xinxilli jimpressjonawh. Dan ghaliex il-Gvern jidher li qata` qalbu li jista` jmexxi lil pajjizna u jrid dhul urgenti fl-UE` biex din timponi fuqna il-mizuri li hemm bzonn biex nevitaw il-kollass ekonomiku tal-pajjiz. Ghal gvern m`hemmx negozjati. Kull prezz huwa ahjar mill-kollass. Alternattivi ghas-shubija ma jezistux fil-vokabularju tal-Gvern avolja hija elementari li biex tinnegozja tajjeb irid ikollok, jew ghallanqas tippretendi li ghandek, alternattivi ohra.
Ghall-oppozizzjoni Laburisti dawn ix-xinxilli huma li huma` xinxilli.` Is-sustanza mhix fid-diskorsi sbieh izda fir-rejalta` li l-poplu Malti jrid jghaddi minnha skond l-ghazliet li jghamel. Ghazliet li jridu jigu mfehma lilu bl-aktar mod car, bla habi u bla xinxilli.
Lil hinn mid-diskorsi ppreparati minn qabel u mil-pozi ghar-ritratti, il-konkluzjoni ta` sustanza li hadu maghhom Prodi u Verheugen kienet li f`Malta ghandhom problema ghax Malta hija l-uniku pajjiz mill-applikanti kollha fejn il-korp politiku, u mhux biss il-poplu, huwa maqsum kwazi nofs b`nofs fuq l-ghazla ghas-shubija fl-UE.
Ghal` UE dan huwa fatt inkwetanti ghax Prodi stess lejn l-ahhar taz-zjara tieghu ammetta li dan huwa pass irriversibbli. Din mhux decizjoni li jehodha gvern elett fil-kors normali tieghu.` Din hija decizjoni li dwarha huwa mhux biss mixtieq, izda bzonnjuz, li jkun hemm konvergenza fil-hsieb bejn il-faxex poltici li jhaddmu d-demokrazija fil-pajjiz anke jekk jifdal xi differenza dwar dettalji jew metodi tan-negozjati.
U Prodi ta` negozjatur tajjeb jaf li qabel ma jkun hemm din il-kovergenza tal-hsieb l-ebda referendum ma jista` jgib stabbilita ghal decizjoni daqstant importanti.` X`obbligu ghandu gvern alternattiv li jkun marbut bir-referendum jekk il-programm elettorali tieghu jkun mibni fuq politka kuntrarju ghad-decizjoni tar-referndum` Jew forsi issa qed nassumu li qatt m`hu ser ikun hemm gvern alternattiv u li `nazzjonalisti ser jibqghu fil-poter ghal dejjem`
Ir-referendum isir wara li jkun hemm konvergenza tal-hsieb fost il-faxex poltici biex id-decizjoni tkun imbaghad tal-poplu u mhux biss tal-politici. Izda r-referendum ma jistax ikun sostitut tal-konvergenza bejn il-faxex politici.
Ghalhekk l-UE trid tifhem li qabel ma jsir referendum jehtieg li ssir elezzjoni. Elezzjoni fejn il-partiti politici jipprezentaw il-vizjoni taghhom b;mod rejalistiku ghal futur ta` pajjizna u` mbaghad la l-poplu jaghzel il-partit politici jkollhom id-dover li jibdlu l-politika taghhom b`rispett ghad-decizjoni tal-poplu. Huwa ferm koncepibbli li dan isir possibbli ghaliex wara elezzjoni ohra min jitlef ikollu mexxej gdid li jkollu bilfors jiehu konjizzjoni tax-xewqa tal-poplu.
Jidher li Prodi u Verheugen dal-messagg haduh maghhom u l-partit Laburista ghandu jizgura li jzomm kuntatti kontinwi magghom skond ix-xewqa ta` Prodi stess.
Ta` negozjatur tajjeb Prodi jifhem li meta quddiemek issib lil xi hadd li ma tghamihx bix-xinxilli allura diskors isir aktar serju u tangibbli u n-negozjati jkunu tassew fl-interess taz-zewg nahat. F`dal kuntest Prodi ma jibqax jippretendi li huwa Malti aktar minnha u jifhem li l-ahjar ghal-pajjizna jghazluh il-mexxejja taghna wara elezzjoni fair, cara, hielsa mil-weghdiet fierha. Imbghad ikun jista` jinkiseb kunsens kemm jista'`jkun wiesgha ghal politka ma l-UE tal-Gvern elett.
Friday, 10 March 2000
The Malta Independent
Professore Prodi we bid you warm welcome. You know us `da vicino` and surely you will not be taken aback by our petty squabbles and parochial mentality.
As an economist and a business manager with an envious track record you can tell that our country is in an economic mess. You probably know that the current administration which extols with nauseating` repetition the virtues of joining the EU as members at the earliest opportunity, is responsible for this grave state affairs. They have been in government all the last 154 months` bar 22.
They inherited a debt free economy and are now presiding over a deficit and debt situation similar to the one which Italy was in when it signed the Maastricht agreement in 1991. With the vision of people like yourself Italy worked an economic miracle to straighten its act after so many political compromises. Our pro-EU administration just did the opposite!
So when our Prime Minister tells you in glorious rhetoric that the country is looking forward to joining Europe as soon as you are ready to take us on, make a mental note that to staighten 13 years of public spending largesse in just two years will break the social fabric of this small country and will turn people against the EU for the wrong reasons.
The Opposition is not anti-EU. It is simply more pragmatic about it. As a small island state we need to know what our rights and obligations as members will be and this will only be known after conclusion of the ICG just started.` You expect to conclude this within 10 months but frankly I think you are a bit over-optimistic. Parochialism is not unknown in Brussels when it comes to re-align the rights and obligations of existing EU member countries.
If as you are recommending most decisions will be taken by double majority rule of members and` populations, then you cannot blame us for concluding that this will wipe away our` sovereignty to a very large degree.
You may argue that other countries do not feel the same way even though they are small. Well firstly they are not as small as Malta and secondly they have not enjoyed sovereignty and economic advancement the way we have enjoyed it since` the 1964 independence.` They see EU membership as protection of their newly acquired new sovereignty from` former oppressors who are still experimenting with democracy.
Professore,` I think you should tell our leaders that it would be wise firstly to sort out our economic mess and secondly to build some consensus about our future relations with the EU even if this has to take more than some` years beyond their personal agendas.
But with your regatta system for membership you will be there for us if we ever decide as one nation that membership is for us. You will be there for us even to achieve a Swiss model economic integration whilst preserving our sovereignty by keeping out of the political chapters.
Thank you Professore and if you ever get bored with the EU bureaucracy which will obstruct your modern systems to bring fresh air and transparency, then we will definitely need you to advise us on how to sort out our economic problems.