Sunday, 23 April 2000

New Life New Hope

The Malta Independent on Sunday

New Life, New Hope

Easter is the source of new life. It is the victory of life over death.` It brings renewed hope` where everything seemed lost.

Every Easter is special. We leave behind the dull winter days and smile in` light, fresh air and hope from the myriad of colours which spring gardens to life. This Easter is even more special as it falls on the second birthday of my little girl, a special gift I never thought I would have at my mature age after a string of boys.

Looking at my little two year old gives me all the reasons why I should look at life more confidently. Why I should emphasise the solutions without belittling the problems.

I do not repent any of my contributions where I have been extremely critical of the way we are trying to work our way out of the economic crisis that is deepening. The situation is serious also because our economy is way out line from` the bullish results being generated by our trading partners in the US, UK, Continental Europe and the Far East. The economies of major countries with whom we conduct our trade are booming and their concern is about over-heating.` Recent interest rate hikes and others prospected bear proof of this. These countries are reaping the benefits of the great sacrifices and national efforts made to modernise , liberalise and sanitise their economy over the last few years.`

Spain and Greece are two countries that `recently have confirmed their incumbent government in office. A vote of confidence for` extracting their country from the high inflation,` structural deficit loop to sustainable economic growth which is creating new jobs and` restoring maneuverability to fiscal policy.

In both countries Governments were elected with clear electoral manifestos to deliver the necessary reforms and could therefore demand and obtain unions agreement to undertake the necessary re-structuring. In each case the transition pain was not under-estimated but the benefit of the end-result was continuously kept in focus to ensure that the pain was rendered bearable by the prospect of the prize at the end of the dark tunnel.

Our country is in the fifth consecutive year of under-performance growth and excessive fiscal deficit. It is overdue that the electorate raises its maturity above the level of crass gullibility and demand from our political leaders either delivery of the electoral programme which was voted for,` or a referral for electoral endorsement of a new manifesto which is based on current and acknowledged problematic scenario.

The general feeling growing in the country at large is that the government will have an impossible task to present a budget for 2001 with huge financial commitments emerging from the civil service collective agreements and the economy not producing increased tax revenues through growth.

Whether it likes it or not government is boxing itself into a corner of having to choose from further tax increases, irresponsible crisis privatisations or serious over-shooting of an already precarious budgetary position.

Easter optimism should propose a better management to our economic ills. We deserve a` government that seeks a realistic medium term mandate to deliver true solutions. We can then do what Greece and Spain have done these last few years. We can modernise the economy, liberate it from the excessive unproductive recurring expenditure which is draining its life blood of investment funds, attract new massive direct productive` investment, and create new jobs with a faster tempo than that with which re-structuring destroys the old fictitious ones.

We have to ensure that the burden of re-structuring is equitably spread even on those who remain in employment and not only by those who are rendered `unemployed. We must ensure that gradually, without causing disruptive shocks, a culture of fiscal morality is rooted by restoring fiscal agility permitting` reduction` of the general direct tax impact rates to reduce further the incentive to cheat and stimulate the incentive to invest.

Easter optimism tells me we can do it faster and better than the Greeks and the Spaniards. All we need is real leadership that will not promise us heaven when they mean purgatory. Leadership that takes us into its confidence that we are able to solve our problems without needing big daddy to show us the stick.` Leadership that can make Easter confidence and optimism a permanent part our life.

Svizzera Mlahhma

Il-Kullhadd Svizzera Mlahhma

Il-messagg li hareg mill-meeting kolassali tal-Fgura kien li l-Partit Laburista issa ser jghaddi biex ilahham ahjar il-proposta tieghu ta` Svizzerra fil-Mediterran. Mhux biss ser jghid u jispjega kif ilu jaghmel ghaliex shubija fl-UE mhix fl-interess ta` Malta, ta l-anqas fil-kundizzjonijiet ta` bhalissa, izda ser juri x`inhi t-triq l-ohra.

Il-Partit Laburista mhux kontra li nissiehbu fl-UE ghax jahseb li Malta tista` tghix izolata.` Dan jippruvaw jghiduh l-avversarji taghna biex ipengu l-ghazla taghna kerha u b`hekk l-ghazla taghhom imqar jekk b`hafna difetti tidher l-ahjar.

Il-Partit Laburista kontra li Malta tiehu fuqha l-obbligi kollha ta` shubija li jikkonsistu f`regoli estensivi li ma jghoddux ghal pajjizi zghar bhalna.` Izda xorta irridu li l-ekonomija taghna timmordenizza ruhha, tilliberalizza u ssir kompetittiva f`dinja globali.

Mela wasal iz-zmien issa li nlahhmu l-proposta ta` Svizzera fil-Mediterran. Perswaz li l-Partit fi zmien mhux il-boghod johrog dokument ta` policy li jispega il-pozizzjoni tieghu dwar dan b`mod formali u dettaljat.` Izda tajjeb li kummentaturi bhali jibdew jiffurmaw l-opinjonijiet halli jigi stimulat il-hsieb.

F`mohhi il-kuncett ta` Svizzera fil-Mediterran jibda bil-progett ta zona ta` kummerc industrijali hieles ma` l-UE. Dan huwa progett familjari ghax kien imwieghed fil-programm elettorali ta` l-1996 u beda jitwettaq b`pass tajjeb fis-sentejn ta` amministrazzjoni laburista.

Jekk konna nghidu li irridu bejn hamsa u sebgha snin biex dan isehh ifisser li meta tissejjah elezzjoni ohra b`mod jew iehor dan il-progett ikun twettaq b`mod irriversibbli. Izda il-progett ta` Svizzera fil-Mediterran ma jieqafx hemm. Jipprovdi biex fuq medda twila ta` snin, bejn hamsa u sebgha snin ohra nkomplu nilliberalizzaw u nwessghu iz-zona ta` kummerc hieles billi ninkludu s-servizzi, il-kuntratti tal-gvern, xoghol ta` kostruzzjoni u wkoll cirkolazzjoni libera tan-nies u tal-kapital.

Dan isir b`pass meqjus skond kemm timxi sewwa l-ekonomija taghna biex nizguraw li nkunu nifilhu ghal dawn il-pizijiet bla ma noholqu skossi zejda.

Izda il-progett ta` Svizzera fil-Mediterran ghandu jeskludi Ghaqda Doganali. Din m`hiex fl-interessi taghna u trendina anqas kompettivi u ngerrxu `l hemm l-investiment li diga` qieghed hawn flok nigbdu l-gdid.` Jekk ingielghu, permezz ta` l-Ghaqda Doganali, lill-fabbriki maltin ihallsu dazji talli jixtru l-materja prima minn barra l-UE dawn jitilfu raguni principali ghaliex ghazlu li jinvestu fostna. Jekk nghollu l-hajja tal-maltin ghall-istess raguni jkollhom joghlew il-pagi u tintilef il-kompetittivita`.

Svizzera fil-Mediterran thalli barra ghal kollox is-settur agrikolu li huwa zghir u strategiku u ghalhekk` bilfors irid jibqa` protett u` mghejjun.

Svizzera fil-Mediterran tibqa` barra mil-ghaqda poltika ta` Ewropa li miexja lejn il-federalizmu u thallina liberi li ngawdu l-vantagg ta` pozizzjoni geo-poltika strategika li tista` tissarraf f`gid ekonomiku. Svizzera fil-Mediterran isseddaq in-newtrailta` taghna u tirrispetta l-impenn li pajjizna qatt ma jservi ta` bazi militari.

Dan izda ma jeskludix li pajjizna jaghmel trattati bilaterali ta` sigurta u poltika barranija li jkunu jirrispettaw l-ineteressi taz-zewg nahat u li Gvern sovran Malti jkun jista jibdel minn zmien ghal zmien u mhux isir seftur ta` dak li jiiddeciedu pajjizi ohra fil-fora ta` l-UE.

Inheggeg biex il-Partit Laburista isawwar politika mlahhma mibnija fuq il-kuncett ta` Svizzera fil-Mediterran biex meta il-poplu jintalab jaghzel f`referendum mhux biss jivvota kontra shubija fl-UE izda jivvota favur dan il-progett li huwa fl-ahjar interessi ta` pajjizna.

Alfred Mifsud

Friday, 21 April 2000

Exporting Capital

The Malta Independent

Exporting Capital

Isn`t funny that just about when everyone admits that re-structuring is not working as no new direct productive investment is being undertaken, two Maltese Groups in the hospitality sector announce plans to tap the Maltese capital markets to finance overseas hotel projects.

There is absolutely nothing wrong in Maltese entrepreneurs seeking to expand their productive operations beyond our shore. Indeed this has to be encouraged to ensure that we partake our fair share of the growth being experienced in the region.

But something must be seriously wrong with the workings of our economy if foreign projects can be financed on the local capital markets but no one taps these markets to launch new investment initiatives that could provide new employment opportunities and facilitate the re-structuring process.

Ministers and their mouthpieces can continue to turn statistics on their head as much as they like to pretend that the economy has been placed on a sustainable growth path. They are only fooling themselves.

The Director of the Planning Authority was on TV recently proclaiming that accusations that the PA is slowing down the economic tempo are unfair.` He stated that if the projects, which were approved by the PA, were to actually start there would result a shortage of manpower.

The fact that our capital markets have capacity to finance foreign projects proves that shortage of investable funds is not a barrier to realisation of these projects.

The only logical conclusion is that entrepreneurs cannot muster enough confidence in the economic feasibility of many such projects already approved, given the grey clouds which as dulling the economic scenario.

Yet as re-structuring involves destruction of fictitious or protected jobs we could be facing unsustainable unemployment levels if the investment drought persists. This could well be tolerable within an EU which left high unemployment as the safety valve to bring within the Maastricht criteria the other economic variables to qualify for Monetary Union.

But within our close-knit society can we take such high levels of unemployment without causing grave social friction`

Alfred Mifsud

Sunday, 16 April 2000

Opportunitajiet godda


Opportunitajiet Godda

Biex il-pajjiz johrog mil-problemi kbar li jinsab fihom jehtieg jinholqu opportunitajiet godda. Dan jista` jsir biss permezz ta nvestiment produttiv gdid u bil-galbu. M`hemm l-ebda mod iehor magiku kif jistghu jinholqu il-gid, ix-xoghol u l-impjiegi.

F`dawn l-ahhar ghoxrin xahar ta` gvern nazzjonalista kellna provi bizzejjed li dan il-gvern la jista u lanqas jaf kif johloq dawn l-opportunitajiert godda. U r-rizultat ta` dan jidher kullimkien.

Ekonomija stagnata li qed tivvjagga fuq ix-xifer tal-kollass. Hadd ma jhallas lil hadd. Bejgh dipress, profitti baxxi, pagi mnaqqsa u hadd ma jithajjar jinvesti f`xejn. S`issa kien biss it-turizmu li kien qed jimbotta l-ekonomija u jiggenera xi ftit xoghol izda anke hawn jidher li l-imbuttatura li kien ta` gvern laburista issa bdiet tizvinta.

Ghandna sitwazzjoni fejn il-gvern u l-unions mqabbdin f`xahar xulxin bla ma hadd minnhon joffri soluzzjoni vera ghal dak li ghandu bzonn il-pajjiz. Il-gvern imtaqqal mil-piz ta` kompromessi li jaghmel kull min jaghmel aktar minn zmienu fil-poter,` jinsab bhal miflug jimbotta blata akbar minnu waqt li b`nifsu maqtugh jiftahar kemm fadallu energija.

Il-poplu, ghoxrin xahar biss wara li ta mandat qawwi lil Partit Nazzjonalista jinsab jishet din is-siegha u l-mument,` u ma jistax jifhem kif min weghdu s-sema u l-art issa qed joffri biss ghazla bejn l-infern u l-purgatorju.

Huwa f`dan il-kuntest li qed isiru spekulazzjonijiet ta` elezzjoni bikrija.` Jien nahseb li dawn ghalissa huma spekulazzjonijiet li wiehed ma jridx jorbot hafna fuqhom. Izda meta tkompli taghsar u tipprova tifhem x`ghazliet ghandu f`idejh il-Gvern huwa car li din ta elezzjoni bikrija hija wahda mill-ghazliet li l-gvern jista` jasal ghaliha wara li jkun warrab kull ghazla ohra bhala aktar riskjuza jew imprattikabbli.

L-ghazla naturali tal-gvern hija li jibqa` ghaddej kif inhu. Juza l-poter ta` maggoranza komda parlamentari u bil-forza, bil-qorti jew mod iehor ikisser ir-rezistenza tal-unions li tiqliel hekk kif il-gvern ikollu jkompli jiehu mizuri aktar iebsa biex ikompli jipprova jbaxxi d-deficit.` Din l-ghazla izda fiha riskju kbir li l-pajjiz jistagna ekonomikament u l-gvern jitlef ir-referendum dwar l-Unjoni Ewropeja meta dan isir.

L-ghazla l-ohra li jidher li bhalissa qed tiehu s-sopravvent hija dik li jerga jsostni l-pass tal-privatizzazzjoni. B`hekk il-Gvern ikollu dhul staordinarju li ghal ftit taz-zmien jippermettilu jillaxka ftit l-ghafsa fuq il-poplu maqrus u imdejjaq. Din izda fiha riskji ekonomici kbar. Nkunu qed narmu l-flus tal-privatizzazzjoni flok nuzawhom biex innaqqsu d-dejn jew ninvesttuhom biex inseddqu l-infrastruttura produttiva tal-pajjiz.

Bhal ma gara fil-kaz tal-Mid-Med il-poplu malajr jiskopri kif jekk poter ekonomiku jigi privatizzat dan idur kontra l-konsumatur li jsib ma wiccu taxxi ohra mposti mil-privat flok mil-gvern. Ghalhekk din l-ghazla filwaqt li tidher li tista` sservi ghal certu zmien hemm min jaf li xorta tkattar flok issolvi l-problemi.

U jekk dawn l-ghazliet jigu skartati allura wahedha tipporspetta l-ghazla ta` elezzjoni qabel zmienha. Elezzjoni fejn jintalab mandat gdid li ghal Gvern ikun bizzejjed biex f`hames snin mibdija mill-gdid jaghmel it-tibdil li hemm bzonn u jdahhal lil Malta fl-Unjoni Ewropeja issa li jidher li dan huwa difficli li jsir qabel is-sena 2005.

`X`ghandu mahzun il-futur hadd ma jafu.` Li naf huwa li dal-gvern ghandu mandat sterili li ma jippermettix azzjoni serja u dinamika.` Li naf hu li opportunijaiet godda jinholqu biss permezz ta` gvern li jfittex mandat gdid b`weghdiet rejalistici u li joffri vizjoni lill-poplu dwar kif ser nohorgu mill-bahar imqalleb li dhalna fih.

Alfred Mifsud

Saturday, 15 April 2000

Our Own Worst Enemy

The Times of Malta

Our Own Worst Enemy

` Only hard work and discipline will realise Europe`s dream of sustaining growth` wrote FT correspondent Peter Norman last week.

The same recipe is the only one which could extract our economy from the structural problems it has been locked in for the last 5 years.

It borders on the tragic that the unions are pushing the Government to turn problems on their head. Even more so that government seems only too willing to oblige.

The UHM pins all its solutions upon fiscal enforcement. Its General Secretary went as far as admitting rubbing shoulders with tax evaders to learn how they manage to get away with it and thus suggest effective fiscal enforcement methods.

Fiscal enforcement is a virtue. It is indispensable for sustainable economic growth. It cultivates an environment of social justice where the cost of the workings of civilised society is borne equitably and not by over-taxing the sitting ducks whose earnings are subject to at source deductions. It also keeps the fiscal impact` bearable without having to raise rates to levels which scare away investments.

Equitable tax systems and efficient enforcement thereof may be likened to the` physical exercise which the body of society needs to keep it fit and healthy.

Sudden extensive physical exercise to a sick overweight body that has lost agility will do more harm than good. Sudden fiscal enforcement, even if it were possible, could indeed complicate not solve our economic ills. Funds otherwise available to service commitments already incurred or to finance new investments would flow to the exchequer.` This can only raise the latter`s temptation to continue financing unsustainable recurring expenditure or pseudo capital expenditure in the form of wasteful subsidies, rather than address the problem at its source.

The GWU on the other hand seems to be focussing its demands on just one side of the equation, that of government agreeing to wave the magic wand promised in the electoral manifesto to alleviate the adverse impact of the budget on the working class. As noble as such objective is, one cannot but look at the other side of the equation and ask how the cost of any concessions` is to be financed.

Only hard work and discipline can save us from the misery which the expenditure largesse` and loose purse policies of the last decade has got us into. There exist no easy, magic solutions.` The world around us is speeding away whilst we continue digging deeper the whole in the firm spot which we continue to pretend to run on.

Can this country make economic progress if we continue to burn resources by having its public service run by 38% of the national work-force when in competitor countries it is run by 16%` A simple calculation would show that even if only half of the 30,000 public sector employees which must be re-deployed in the private sector, to reach the 16% average mark, are so effectively placed, recurrent expenditure would reduce by Lm100 million and the tax take could increase by Lm30 million. A full Lm130 million permanent improvement in government finances without having to sell off the family silver through` crisis measures! Furthermore this redeployment of resources would increase the GDP by a good 20%.

This is by no means simple or easy. It can only be achieved through hardwork, discipline and leadership which is unfortunately so missing.

A solution to our economic problems cannot be found in industrial disputes. It can only come from realistic bi-partisan action plan to restore to our economy the agility to compete in a ferociously competitive world. It can only come through productive investments ( not mere property speculation) to create new employment opportunities.` Real re-structuring cannot happen unless the economy produces new employment at roughly the same tempo` with which` the process itself destroys the old fictitious jobs.

Sudden application of fiscal enforcement diverts funds in a directly opposite direction to where they are needed to re-structure properly.

The problem is that government has no mandate, aptitude or energy to drive real re-structuring. Swelling public sector`s employment to honour irresponsible electoral pledges seems more within government`s realm particularly if the endemic waste continues to be financed for some more time by privatisation revenues.

The political nightmare of the last four years has to be brought to an end before we inflict more pain on ourselves. We need true leadership to pass from problem analysis to capturing the electorate`s imagination with real solutions and then to proceed with democratic authority based on a clear mandate to do what we have to do.

There is no other way we can put our economy on a realistic growth path as part of the economic boom which our trading partners are enjoying. Failure to meet our responsibilities with tempestivity will make us our own worst enemies.

Friday, 14 April 2000

Social Pact

The Malta Independent

Social Pact

The Governor`s Statement in the Central Bank Annual Report for 1999 has admirable attributes of condensed wisdom. We were aptly reminded of the unsustainability of productive investment drought, excessive public deficit, merchandise and services trade deficit, rising unemployment, inflation above that of our trading partners, and wage settlements twice as large as the rate of inflation without comparable efficiency gains.

Yours truly and others have been repeating this to the point of boring repetition. It is good to see the Governor adding the weight of his office to these arguments. What we are missing is an action programme to pass from problem identification to problem resolution.

This country wasted almost the whole of the 22 months Labour administration arguing whether the problem really exists. This when it was glaringly visible with roots going back to the gross miscalculation of introducing VAT fiscal changes in the last two years of the political administration. VAT needed strong enforcement which` was impossible at a time so sensitive to voting preferences.

A Nationalist administration, forced to early election before revealing the financial mess in the 1997 budget,` found it comfortable to deny from the cold seats of the Opposition the very same financial problems which brought it down.

We have now had 19 months` old consensus about the existence of the financial problem. In the year 2000 Budget the Minister has started to address it and the pain is there for all to see. Everybody thinks there are better ways. Unions urge` tax enforcement whereas the government opts for` tax increases.

Both unfortunately miss the point that it would be suicidially wrong to address the problem purely from the revenue side. The source of the problem is the expenditure side and this has to bear the brunt of delivering true solutions.

Government has now come out with the rally cry of the Social Pact. It is re-cycling of failed ideas which politicians normally resort to when seeing the situation spinning out of control.

More than a Social Pact` the country` needs a Government with electoral authority enshrined in its manifesto to deliver a medium-term but unavoidably painful solution to our problems, to render this country again competitive in a globalised world.

Everything else can wait including the European Union.

The Central Bank has a role to play in this. It must be ready to use the interest rate policy if wage increases continue to exceed` productivity levels. It must be ready to review its` exchange rate policy if the economy continues to perform below its maximum potential. Central Bank`s readiness to use these instruments more flexibly and autonomously will hopefully force the parties to start seeking real solutions and abandon the sickly games of finger-pointing as to who is responsible for the mess we find ourselves in.

Alfred Mifsud

Sunday, 9 April 2000

First Monday of April

The Malta Independent on Sunday

First Monday of April

The first Monday of April seems reserved for HSBC to announce important acquisitions. It was on 5th April of last year, Easter Monday to be exact, that Minister John Dalli announced to the Press that he had reached agreement for sale of Government`s 67.1% shareholding in Mid-Med Bank to a then undisclosed buyer which later resulted to be Midland Bank plc, now HSBC.

It was never explained why the Minister felt the need to make this announcement to the Press before he actually sought and obtained Cabinet approval for such a big decision. Cabinet approval was obtained on Tuesday 6th April in a rather short cabinet meeting which could not have provided the opportunity to examine the matter with sufficient detail that it deserved. There was speculation that the unorthodox announcement to the Press was meant to suffocate the expected resistance for the deal within the Cabinet, but such matters cannot of course be proven.

Similarly we would never know why the Government and HSBC included in their agreement a totally unheard of condition to procure the suspension of trading in Mid-Med Bank shares from the Malta Stock Exchange until the whole deal is concluded following a due diligence which had to take several months. Again one can be permitted to speculate that the intention was, and this was oft repeated by HSBC spokesman,` to use the period of suspension of trading to twist the arms of the minority shareholders to sell and therefore get the shares de-listed from the Exchange by turning Mid-Med Bank into a wholly owned subsidiary. This would have saved blushes for the Government and would have given a total bargain to HSBC.

A year almost to the day, on Monday 3rd April 2000. HSBC announced its success in beating ING ( of Barings fame) in the acquisition of a controlling shareholding in the 8th largest French Bank Credit Commercial du France regularly known as CCF. This is an important acquisition for HSBC as it gives the group its first significant retail banking presence in a continental Euro zone country. It is one of the largest trans-border EU acquisition in the banking sector and will surely set the pace for others.

Some comparisons between the two acquisitions, made on the first Monday of April distanced by one year,` would be appropriate.

Consider the price. HSBC paid for Mid-Med 1.53 times the book value and 9.5 times its realised price earnings. For CCF,` HSBC are paying 3.5 times its book value and 18 times its future anticipated earnings.

If Mid-Med was sold for 3.5 times its book value the share price would have been Lm6.61 rather than the Lm2.90 which the Government realised. This would have enriched the public coffers by no less than an additional Lm93 million, very badly needed to finance economic restructuring.` Much the same result would have been obtained if an 18 price earnings ratio would have been attached to future earnings of Mid-Med Bank given its impressive growth of profits and a return on equity ratio far superior to that of CCF.

The second comparison is that the shares of CCF were not suspended from trading for one minute. The announcements was made when the market was closed during the weekend and the market was allowed to regulate its own price levels.

The third is how in deal the parties negotiating the sale were assisted by expert investment bankers even though they themselves are not novices in this business. According to the Financial Times` CCF were advised by Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, Rotschild` & Cie, and CCF Charterhouse. A three pronged set of advisers with some of the best heads in mergers and acquisitions.` HSBC were advised by Goldman Sachs, the largest investment bank in the world, and by their own HSBC Investment Bank.

In the acquisition of Mid-Med Bank HSBC were advised by their own HSBC Investment Bank. The Malta Government was advised by no one.` Not only that` but Minister Dalli went on record stating that he had no detailed knowledge of the inside strengths of the Bank but still felt confident in concluding the sale single-handedly without any advice from anyone.

I have expressed my concern that the workings later published on which the Bank`s valuation was made have fingerprints of being prepared by someone who was more concerned to protect the interest of the buyer than` of the seller. Including a risk premium of 6% in the discount factor of the bank`s future earnings is not something any Government would do in negotiating a price for its prized Bank controlling 50% of the market. And if no one else was involved in the negotiations if it was not prepared by the seller it was prepared by or for the buyer.

The last comparison of the deals is that in acquiring CCF, HSBC was bidding in competition with ING who were already a significant though not controlling shareholder in CCF.` In case of Mid-Med Bank there was no competitive bidding and on the contrary the Malta Government incredibly bound itself in the confidentiality agreement not to make parallel negotiations with other interest parties.

These comparisons raise again the question as to whether future privatisations can be left in the hands of whoever messed up the sale of Mid-Med Bank so badly. At least not before a public apology is offered and signs of repent given for the gross mistakes committed.

Inkwiet bla Bzonn

Il-Kullhadd Inkwiet Bla Bzonn

Bir-rizultat ta` l-elezzjoni li ghaddiet 19 il xahar ilu kien kwazi inevitabbli li l-pajjiz jasal fil-punt li wasalna fih illum. F`sitwazzjoni li l-ekonomija qed tistagna, l-investiment skarsa, il-qaghad qed jizdied u l-inflazzjoni qed tiggarka.` Dan meta l-pajjizi li maghhom l-aktar li naghmlu kummerc ghaddejjin minn tkabbir sostanzjali ta` l-ekonomiji taghhom li allura suppost dan jghina nkabbru l-esportazzjoni u l-investiment.

Il-Gvern u l-Unions jinsabu fi dwell dirett li minnu jistghu johorgu biss telliefa. Mandankollu filwaqt li dan jafu kullhadd` qed tinbena certu arja ta` inevitabbilita` li m`hemmx alternattiva ghal din il-mizerja li qed tersaq lejn pajjizna.

Il-Gvern jaf illum aktar minn qabel li qieghed fuq platform insostenibbli. Jaf li hafna weghdi li ghamel biex gibed lejh bizzejjed voti halli jakkwista poter qabel zmienu, illum qed ixekklu milli jittiehdu l-passi li verament hemm bzonn.

Waqt li sa qabel l-elezzjoni ma kienu jaraw problemi xejn u allura weghdu hafna affarijet impossibbli, illum il-Gvern ikollu jammetti li l-problemi huma kbar, serji u jehtiegu trattament urgenti. Izda kif jista` Gvern jippretendi li l-poplu, il-unions, u l-haddiema jaghtu l-appogg mehtieg halli tittiehed il-medicina morra li hemm bzonn tittiehed meta l-Gvern fil-manifest elettorali wieghed cejca u perlini` Kif jistghu il-Unions jaccettaw li l-membri taghhom jitilfu dak li kisbu fil-passat meta jaraw Gvern jisparpalja l-flus bl-addocc Bizzejjed wiehed jara kemm hela flus il-Gvern meta biegh il-Mid-Med bir-rebass. Nikkalkula li` tellef il-kaxxa ta` Malta mhux anqas minn Lm50 miljun u probabbli hafna izjed` izjed kieku l-affarijiet saru bil-galbu u bis-serjeta kif xieraq.

Fuq kollox il-Gvern jaf li l-politika principali tieghu ta` shubija fl-UE fi zmien qasir qed tizzarattlu b`mod li ma tistax tissewwa. Il-pajjiz m`huwiex johloq il-gid mehtieg biex jaghmel ir-risturizazzjoni li hemm bzonn bla ugiegh zejjed.` U l-UE stess qed tara li l-hsieb li ddahhal mebri godda qabel is-sena 2004 m`huwiex rejalistiku.

Fi kwadru bhal dan il-konfrontazzjoni mal-Unions, mhux mal-GWU biss, toffri soluzzjoni biex il-Gvern isalva wiccu. Toffri skuza biex il-Gvern ikollu skuza f`min iwahhal ghal gwaj li l-Gvern stess ser igib fuqna. Il-Gvern lest jahraq il-pajjiz biex isalva wiccu.

Il-Unions fil-fond ta` qalbhom jafu li minghajr passi iebsa il-pajjiz ma jistax jiehu r-ruh.` Jafu wkoll li l-haddiem, ghalkemm bla htija jehtieg iross ic-cinturin biex jingheleb il-gwaj li gej. Izda l-Unions ma jistghux jaccettaw li l-piz jintrefa mill-haddiem biss.` Ma jistghux ihallu dak li bnew b`tant sagrificcju jinhatt qisu xejn filwaqt li min jiflah jithalla bla piz.

Il-Unions fil-fond ta qalbhom jafu li l-istrikes ma humiex is-soluzzjoni vera tal-problema. Jafu li l-konfrontazzjoni ser tohloq problemi akbar ghal pajjiz li minnhom ikompli jwegggha iz-zghir u l-batut ghax is-sinjur hobzu mahkuz.

Izda l-Unions ukoll maqbudin f`arja ta` inevitabbilita` li ma hemmx mod iehor kif tirraguna ma min ma jridx jirraguna, ma min qed ifittex il-konfrontazzjoni, ma min jippretendi li l-poplu jinsa dak kollu li gie mwieghed biex il-Gvern rebah il-poter.

Il-pajjiz quddiem sitwazzjoni gravi bhal din ghandu bzonn soluzzjonijiet godda. Soluzzjonijiet li jistghu jigu biss minn tmexxija gdida li mhix marbuta b`weghdiet fiergha u li jkollha mandat mil-poplu biex isir ir-ristrutturar li hemm bzonn, bil-galbu, bis-serjeta u b`mezzi fejn kulhadd igorr daqs kemm jiflah u fejn il-Gvern jibza ghal kull centezmu.

Soluzzjonijiet bhal dawn jistghu jigu biss minn mandat gdid li l-poplu jaghti lil min ifehmu sewwa l-problemi x'inhuma u x`soluzzjonijet li qed joffri. Soluzzjonijiet rejali u mhux diskors fl-ajru.

Jekk min qed imexxi tassew ihobb lil pajjiz u ma jridx jarah jitfarrak aktar milli diga` qed jitfarrak ekonomikament, finanzjarjament, moralment u socjalment , allura jrid jammetti li bil-mandat li ghandu ma jistax joffri soluzzjonijiet serji lill-pajjiz u ghandi jdur lejn il-poplu biex dan jaghzel it-triq li toffri soluzzjonijiet vera. Min jikseb mandat bhal dan jista` mbaghad idur fuq il-Unions u jitlob min ghandhom u minghand il-haddiema is-sagrificcji mehtiega wara li jizgura li l-piz jingarr anke min minn iffoxxna, staghna u hataf bla ma hallas dak li hu dovut skond il-ligijiet tal-pajjiz.

Jekk dan ma jsirx hekk u bla dewmien ser ingiebu fuqna nkwiet bla bzonn.

Friday, 7 April 2000

Liberalise Today

The Malta Independent

Liberalise` Today

Liberalisation of the telecommunications sector is overdue. Technological developments` render the monopolies given to Maltacom and Vodafone until 2010` clearly unsustainable.

Liberalisation should in any case precede any privatisation plans for Maltacom and consequently Government`s policy for liberalisation` is being promised with monotonous regularity. Indicated target dates for announcement of the said policy are being sadly missed with the same repetitive monotony.

It is the sole prerogative of the Government to establish its policies for liberalisation of the telecommunications sector and existing contractual or license obligations cannot be allowed to come in the way of establishment of a sane policy for liberalisation.` If anything such matters such be resolved either through bilateral agreement` or where this is not possible by reference to arbitration. But liberlisation must proceed. And any licenses given in a liberalised environment must be much shorter than the 20 years originally given to Telecell in 1988. Twenty years is eternity in this fast moving sector.

In promulgating its policies for liberalisation,` Government must take steps to ensure that the exercise is fair and transparent and that the schedule for liberalisation is not structured in a way to give advantage of grabbing of market share ahead of liberalisation to any of the would be contestants.

Unfortunately this is exactly what is happening.` By approving Vodafone`s request for rate reduction whilst withholding Maltacom`s application for frequencies for its mobile service,` Government is playing unfair to a company of which it is still 60% owner. It is exposing itself to criticism that it is favouring private sector operators who are in a better position to continue showing appreciation even beyond the expiry date of the political incumbent`s term of office. Following the disastrous experience of Mid-Med Bank`s privatisation this represents a bad omen for the next one.

Government`s policy for liberalisation of this crucial sector has to be firm, transparent and fair. It is also urgent.` It has necessarily to take into account of who is going to bear the cost of carrying, retraining, and re-deployment of excess labour resources which would otherwise deprive Maltacom from the possibility of fair competition in a liberalised market.

If Maltacom is expected to compete without addressing these issues than clearly the liberalisation is meant to condemn Maltacom for a slow death and the country to painful and expensive` industrial unrest.` It might even compel me to organise the private shareholders of Maltacom in an Association to defend their interest with the same vigour as I did for the private shareholders of Mid-Med Bank.

Alfred` Mifsud

Sunday, 2 April 2000

Is-Skiet Kunsens

Il-Kullhadd Is-Skiet Kunsens

Fid-dibattitu Pjazza Ewropa bejn il-Prim Ministru Fenech Adami u l-Kap ta` l-Oppozizzjoni Alfred Sant hareg punt li ma ghandux jithalla ghaddej qisu xejn.

L-ewwel nett ta min jghid li dawn il-laqghat huma strutturati biex il-politici jiehdu diskussjoni fuq materja mportanti bhal din tal-UE ghand il-poplu u l-poplu jkun jista` jippartecipa fid-diskussjoni. Dan jaghmlu billi jaghmel mistoqsijiet u kummenti u fejn jaqbel icapcap u fejn ma jaqbilx jiddazapprova b`mod civili.

Nhar is-Sibt 25 ta` Marzu hekk ghamel il-poplu. Il-laqgha kienet miftuha ghal kulhadd u mar kull min ried.` Il-fatt li taht it-tinda kien hemm izjed nies li ghandhom simpatija mal-politika Laburista huwa sinjal li l-laburist qed jerga` jaghmel kuragg ghax qed jara l-affarijiet iduru favur tieghu, filwaqt li n-nazzjonalist huwa ddisgustat u mhux jaghti appogg entuzjazmanti lil mexxejja tieghu.

Kien propju ghalhekk li l-medja nazzjonalista flok iffokat ir-rappurtagg fuq il-kontenut tad-diskussjoni ghamlet emfasi fuq il-mod dispregattiv li bih l-udjenza laqghet id-diskorsi tal-Prim Ministru.

Jekk se naghmlu laqghat bhal dawn biex il-poplu jiehu sehem u mbaghad nippretendu li l-poplu joqghod qisu baqqa jisma biss bla ma juri dak li qed ihoss allura qed nahsbu li l-Maltin saru robots u ma ghadhomx tad-demm u l-laham. Min qabez il-limitu zbalja izda l-maggoranza kbira ta` l-udjenza zgur ma ghamlet xejn hlief dak li` huwa mistenni minn udjenza tad-demm u l-laham.

Jekk il-Prim Ministru dan ma ghogbux jew jekk il-media nazzjonalista ma tridx tiffoka fuq il-kontenut tad-diskussjoni allura dik haga ohra. Imma l-Laburisti jaqbillhom sew jiffokaw fuq il-kontenut tad-diskussjoni milli fuq l-incidenti vvintati mil-media nazzjonalista li ma kienu incidenti xejn.

L-aktar li spikka fil-kontenut kien meta l-Prim Ministru tmashan li huwa qatt li qatt ma qal li hekk kif Malta terga taqbad it-triq tas-shubija fl-UE niehdu Lm100 miljun fondi kull sena li konna qed nitilfu ghax il-Gvern Laburista kien ifriza l-applikazzjoni.

Qatt ma kont nobsor li politiku espert bhal Prim Ministru kien ser jaghmel zball bhal dan. Mela l-Prim Ministru qatt ma qal hekk u minn daqshekk huwa veru. La qatt ma qal hekk allura jaf li min qal hekk kien qed jivvinta u jharref. U la dan huwa l-kaz allura l-Prim Ministru kif halla esponenti qawwija tal-partit tieghu,` esponenti tant qawwija daqs il-Vici kap u Ministru , jghidu kliem bhal dan fil-prezenza tieghu, fil-jiem tal-kampanja elettorali, u huwa jhalli kollox ghaddej`

Kif ihalli min iqarraq bil-poplu Malti b`mod daqshell sfaccat u huwa b`mod irresponsabbli bhala Kap taghhom ma jikkoregihomx biex il-poplu ma jitqarraqx`

It-taljan jghid chi tace consente. Min izomm is-skiet ikun qed japprova. Hekk ghamel Fenech Adami u ghalhekk il-mandat tieghu huwa difettuz ghax ibbazat fuq il-qerq u tgahwwig ta` fatti maghrufa.

Hazin il-Prim Ministru jiggustifika ruhu li huwa qatt ma qal hekk. Jekk qatt ma qalha halla lil min jghidha bla ma kkoregih meta kien jaf li din kienet hazina u meta kien jaf li b`hekk kien ser igieghel lil min jivvota fuq pretensjonijet foloz. Is-skiet kunsens u min siket huwa responsabbli daqs min pacpac.