Sunday, 28 May 2000

Strategija ta' Bondi'


Strategija ta Bondi

Li n-Nazzjonalisti jinsabu fi krizi ta` direzzjoni huwa car daqs il-kristall. Daqstant huwa car li meta jigri dan normalment n-nazzjonalisti jaraw kif jaqilghu xi haga biex jiddevjaw l-attenzjoni fuq xi difetti tal-Partit Laburista.

Normalment jirrikorru ghal ghajnuna ta` hbieb li ghandhom vuci fuq il-media u li jistghu imexxu xi storja jew tnejn biex idawwru l-agenda ta` diskussjoni fil-pajjiz. Ewlenin fost dawk li dejjem lest biex ikun parti minn strategija bhal din huwa il-habib tieghi Lou Bondi` permezz tal-programm tieghu fuq` PJAZZA 3.

Ghal gimghatejn fuq xulxin kien hemm attentat biex dan isehh. L-ewwel meta ddiskutta il-`Media tal-Knisja` fi programm li jien kont fost il-kelliema ghax kont wiehed li kkritikajt bil-qawwa il-mod partiggjan kif kienet qed titmexxa il-media tal-knisja. Ma nahsibx li nista` nkun gudikant objettiv ta` kemm intlahaq l-ghan originali ta` Bondi` li ried jipprova li Fr Joe Borg gie mnehhi mhux ghax kien imexxi b`mod partiggjan izda ghax in-naha Laburista, fosthom jien, konna krudili fil-kritika taghna u Monsinjur Arcisqof b`hekk gie ppressat biex jiehu decizjoni zbaljata.

Izda nahseb li tajt provi bizzejjed li l-kritika tieghi kienet msejjsa fuq fatti rejali u hrigt fid-deher il-makkakkerija ta` min jilghaba imparzjali meta iz-zmien ma jkunx politikament krucjali halli jibni kredibilita` li mbaghad isarrafha f`imbuttaturi favur il-partit nazzjonalista u kontra l-partit laburista fl-aktar hinjiet krucjali ta` qabel l-elezzjoni u wara kull budget.

Gimgha wara kien imiss lil Manwel Cuschieri. Bondi` hawnhekk kellu objettiv car. Ried l-ewwel ipingi lil-Cuschieri, u b`implikazzjonilil partit laburista, bhala persuna bla skrupli fil-kritika ezagerata tieghu kontra l-gvern in generali u l-Prim Ministru in` partikolari. Ried ukoll jaqbad lil Manwel fuq sieq wahda u jikkomettih minn issa biex jghid kif il-Partit Laburista fil-gvern ser jindirizza il-problemi li holqu u qed ikomplu joholqu n-nazzjonalisti halli mbaghad ikun jista` jiggustifika l-mizuri li qed jiehdu n-nazzjonalisti fil-gvern.

Manwel kien intelligenti bizzejjed biex ma waqax fin-nassa ta` Bondi` u kien car li b`dan Bondi kien dizilluz li l-programm kien qed jahrablu mill-objettivi tieghu. Ghalhekk lejn l-ahhar tal-programm Bondi` laghab l-ahhar karta. Il-karta li saru jhobbu jilghabu n-nazzjonalisti meta jaqblilhom. Il-karta

Friday, 26 May 2000

Maltese Euro

The Malta Independent

Maltese Euro

How are Maltese exporters to the Euroland countries supposed to remain competitive when the Maltese Lira has strengthened by 7% against the Euro over` the last 12 months whilst running a higher level of domestic inflation`

All this is the result of our ill-conceived policy of basing the external value of the Maltese Lira on the basket of `supposedly trade weighted currencies including the Euro, the US Dollar and the Pound Sterling.

This method has two big defects. The first is that it takes trade weighting to include imports, including imports of commodities which are ordinarily priced in the US Dollar as invoicing currency rather than because they are imported from the` US. Secondly no allowance is made to the fact that one particular industry, ST Thomson, dominates the industrial import and export scene, in a way that statistics are falsified by their dominance. If ST Thomson does exceptionally well and everybody else performs poorly, the overall trade statistics could still reveal a satisfactory performance when reality outside Kirkop is very different.

No matter how important ST Thomson is, it would be wrong to discard the rest. I have often argued that Malta should produce two sets of trade and economic statistics, one including and one excluding ST Thomson.` After all whilst ST Thomson handles` more than half of our exports, their share of manufacturing employment and value added is much more restrained.

Through the current` exchange rate system we are allowing the strength of the US Dollar, over which we have not the remotest control, to undermine the competitiveness of the larger part of our export productive base` for goods and services to our major Euroland` markets. Can we allow our exporting sector to be hostage to events outside our control` Is this not a repeat of the horrible 1982-1985 recessionary experience`

As a small resourceless country we need to export before we can import. The composition of our rate of exchange reference basket has to be export weighted and not simply trade-weighted. And exports have to be measured in value added not in gross invoice terms.

I am convinced that if this measure is adopted the US Dollar will drop out of the basket of currencies which will be restricted to just Euro and Sterling and eventually just Euro. This is not the same as saying we must have a monetary union with Euroland. The flexibility to change the composition and adjust the parity remains an important part of our economic tool-set which cannot as yet be given up.

As to the appropriate level for the exchange value of the Maltese Lira I would take as a reference point our last year of economic equilibrium which goes back to 1994 when the average exchange rate with the Euro was 2.23 compared to the current 2.50,` a variance of 12%. This over-valuation is to some extent also borne out by the Central bank`s measurement of the real exchange rate level.

Isn`t this` a case where our Central Bank is showing insensitivity or inertia which is `sustaining `imported consumption at the expense of fundamental erosion of our production and export earning capacity.

Alfred Mifsud

Monday, 22 May 2000

Rare Breeze of fresh air

The Times of Malta

A rare breeze of fresh air

Anyone trying to debate seriously the issue of Malta`s future relations with the EU is in for a hard time.

I have been trying to elevate the debate above the rigid positions adopted by the two political schools. My more flexible approach is built on the following premises:


Membership in the EU within the next 30 months is unrealistic.` Not only we are not ready for it considering that our economy cannot be brought into membership compatible mode within such a short time after so many years of neglect and improper spending, but the EU itself will not be ready for us or for anyone else before 2005, at the earliest.


Bringing our economy into shape is therefore much more urgent than the nature of our relationship with the EU. The two issues should in fact be separated as otherwise in a referendum people could vote against the EU for the wrong reasons.


Considering that the EU issue is politically charged and consequently a source of division, the country is in no position to take such irreversible decision before reasonable congruence is brought to bear between the position of our two political schools.


Malta has a realistic choice between membership and Swiss style special relationship. It is therefore strategically and tactically wrong for the government to write-off the Swiss model off-handedly as it could be an indispensable step on the route to membership and a very valid tool to use in the negotiating process. It is equally inopportune to be categorical against membership even in the long term.` Whilst such concept of time is abstract and unquantified, it cannot ever be` recommended to depart from the wisdom of never say never.

As the EU itself has still to evolve and somehow find the right balance between two opposing forces, enlargement and harmonisation, it is not inconceivable that the EU will be forced to start considering limited form of membership which could be an acceptable variant to the Swiss model.

These premises have not yet been seriously challenged. If anything they have been avoided rather than used as a platform to base serious debate.

The euro-phile political school plods on with its `regardless` approach to membership.` Rather than accept my more flexible position as a source of inspiration they use it to chastise the other side that one of their own is not in perfect agreement with their rigid no.

In the Times of` May 15th they` criticised me directly for two diametrically opposed stands which cannot co-exist. The Opinion cartoon on page 9 shows me` in a pro-EU mode contradicting the MLP position depicting me as if I were firmly in the euro-phile camp.` On page 12 the Prime Minister is reported as criticising my writing in KULLHADD promoting the fleshing up of Labour`s swiss model and reporting ` Mr. Mifsud had also written that it did not benefit Malta to join the EU`.

Is it inconsistency or lack of proper communication on my part` I hardly think so as modesty apart I` am rather better than average in communicating abilities and consistent logic. More likely it is the arrogance of those who think that everything is either black or white without any room for shades of grey. The arrogance of whoever pretends having` exact solutions to all future imponderables.

Such criticism elicited a rather worrying development. The Prime Minister asserted that Malta will not be able to exclude a Customs Union arrangement from the Swiss model free-trade agreement with the EU.` If this is typical of the soft approach our negotiators take with the EU than we can just as well accept whatever is proposed, weakened as we are in our negotiating stand with government`s `regardless` approach.

It was a rare breeze of fresh air that finally someone from the government ranks had the courage to add a conditional if to a hitherto categorical yes to EU membership. If eventually the political schools could mature from a rigid yes or no, to a `yes if` and `no, but` position we could be laying the ground for gradual convergence of currently opposing stands.

How sad that soon after this bit of fresh air the same nationalist MP had to argue the party line in a TV political debate where rather than continue to develop the `yes if ` concept, he unceremoniously wrote-off the alternative Swiss model approach` The `yes, if` mode of accessing the EU would be hollow without having an alternative fall-back position.

Sunday, 21 May 2000

Reforming Public Transport

The Malta Independent on Sunday

Reforming Public Transport

`Traffic Accidents in the First Quarter up by 21.4%` was the title of Central Office of Statistics News Release 27/2000 on 2nd May 2000.

On our roads there are 238,878 licensed vehicles producing a high motorization rates of 614 vehicles per 1000 inhabitants. This excessive density coupled with the poor, indeed atrocious, state of our road network cannot but result in a serious upward trend in` traffic accident statistics causing grief and pain to those unfortunate enough to be involved in such accidents.

Meanwhile` public transport service continues to deteriorate in spite of sharp increases in bus fares. The higher these go the more unsatisfied all parties become. Those who have no option but to use public transport rightly complain of a higher price for a reduced quality of service. The public transport operators continue to be hit by the reduced number of people using` public transport as commuters `desert the unsatisfactory service to arrange their own private transport means.` And those who are forced to use private transport means add to the traffic congestion problem which leads to an increase in the impact rate of traffic accidents.

The consequences of such an inefficient transport system propagate widely. The importation of cars much more than we really need, the use of petrol and diesel far beyond what would be` necessary if an efficient public transport service were to be available, drain away scarce resources. `The loss of life in fatal accidents and lost man-days of work due to serious traffic injuries translate into unquantifiable waste of needed resources.

Unless a radical new approach to public transport is taken the situation will gradually spin out of control.

The end solution is simple and clear. We need to have an efficient and reliable public transport system which motivates commuters to use it in preference to` private transport means. This would reduce congestion on our roads, make a much more efficient use of energy ( and help protect the environment), and restore economic feasibility to our public transport without over-taxing those who must use it and without relying on government subsidies.

Whilst the solution is simple, how to get at it is much trickier and complicated. It would demand some unpleasant discipline which might initially find resistance until its benefits start emerging in the medium term.

The first reform necessary is that we need to clear our city and village centres from all traffic except public transport means.` Coupled with parking enforcement this would provide the necessary motivation to prefer public transport.

A further reform would be in favour of public transport routes on fixed rails free from traffic blockages. This would ensure timely arrivals of public transport services making it reliable enough to re-build confidence and custom by the general public.

This would need to be further supplemented by service up-grading in terms of cleanliness, customer service, frequency and reach of network services.

No partial or half-hearted approach would bring home the desired results. Public Transport requires a total solution which would demand an investment which can only be recouped if the volume of users is increased in multiples within a relatively short period of time.

It is unlikely that the Government can itself find` the necessary energy and resources to bring about the necessary changes. It would seem that the best solution is to invite private bidders to propose a solution on the built operate and transfer model which would safeguard the interest of current bus-owners who are otherwise destined to a slow death by attrition. Government could subsidise fares for an intitial period until confidence in the system is re-built by levying a corresponding tax from those using private transport means and/or from enforcement of parking regulations.

I see this as much like the revival of the cinema industry that until some ten years back was almost annihilated until the Decesare`s provided a totally new approach to Cinema entertainment.

It is these sort of privatisations that add value, bring about an improvement in the quality of life, and make us all winners at the end of the day.

Unfortunately like so many other issues, we seem to think` we can solve problems by continuing to talk about them waiting for a magic solution to fall from heaven. Solutions come from creativity, leadership, determination and hard work. Unfortunately these are ingredients which a fatigued administration in its third quasi-consecutive term has run out of.` We continue to wait for Brussels to send us their magic formula to solve this (and other) problems whilst we stand by idly and impotently seeing the country driving itself into a dead-end.

Rashom fl-istilel

Il-Kullhadd Rashom Fl-istilel

Il-Prim Ministru Fenech Adami ma ghandux dubju. Malta ma ghandiex ghazla ohra quddiema hlief shubija fl-Unjoni Ewropeja.` Din hija pozizzjoni fqira u miskina minn kull angolu li thares lejha.

Anke kieku dan kien minnu zgur li ma jghinx fin-negozjati li tammetti minn qabel li m`ghadekx triq ohra hlief dak li qed tinnegozja dwaru. Allura x`ser tinnegozja jekk minn qed jinnegozja minn naha l-ohra tal-mejda jaf li int idejk marbuta u taccetta kollox bla tlaqliq`

Izda dan mhux minnu. Fis-sensiela ta` artikli li ktibt dan l-ahhar shaqt li hemm il-mudell alternattiv ta` Svizzera fil-Mediterran. Fhemt li dan mhux talli ma jwassalniex ghal izolament izda jintegrana ma dinja globali ferm aktar wiesgha mill-UE u dan bla ma nitilfu l-vantagg li nkunu differenti minn haddiehor u bla ma nxellfu s-sovranita u n-newtralita` taghna.

Meta tisma l-Prim Ministru jwarrab anke dubji li jesprimu nies li huma ferventi favur l-UE u jishaq u jitmashan li Malta ghandha quddiema biss ghazla wahda jaqbadni l-bard. Ghax l-unika triq li jrid jaghddi minnha l-Prim Ministru Malti sal-lum ghadna ma nafux x`inhi.` Hija ghazla fid-dlam.

Filwaqt li nafu sewwa l-obbligi li ser ikollna ma nafux xi drittijiet se jkollna, jekk ikollna. Ma nafux jekk Malta tkunx imissha l-presidenza ta` l-Unjoni ewropeja daqs il-membri prezenti. Ma nafux jekk ikollniex Kummissarju Malti di sentu fil-Kummissjoni. Ma nafux kemm ser ikollna membri Maltin fil-Parlament ewropew ta` 700. Ma nafux b`liema metodu ser jibdew jittiehdu d-decisjonijiet fil-Kunsill ta` UE. Ma nafux kemm ser ikun imissna fondi, jekk imissna , mill-fondi strutturali.` Nghid jekk imissna ghax jekk jidhlu l-ghaxar membri ta` l-Ewropa tal-Lvant probabbli Malta ma tkunx tikkwalifika ghal fondi strutturali.

Ma nafux jekk il-lingwa maltija hux ser ikollha xi rwol fl-UE. Ma nafux jekk hux ser ninghataw xi derogi jew zmien twil ghal aggustament. Ma nafux jekk bil-metodu li ser jittiehdu d-decizjonijiet il-parlament Malti jkunx sovran bizzejjed li ma jigix imgieghel jattwa decizjonijiet li ma jaqbilx maghhom.` Ma nafux meta ser isir it-tkabbir.

Hemm bizibilju ta` affarijiet ohra li ma nafux.` Allura b`liema serjeta` jigi l-Prim Ministru u jishaq li ma ghandniex triq ohra hlief dik ta` l-UE`

Ha nfiehem kemm hija serja bicca bhal din.` Il-Germanja huwa l-akbar pajjiz ta l-UE u bhala il-pajjiz li l-aktar jikkontribwixxi fondi huwa wiehed mill-aktar influwenti flimkien ma Franza. Jekk xi haga ma jaqblux maghha l-Germanizi u l-Francizi m tantx timxi `l quddiem fl-UE.

Joschka Fischer huwa l-ministru ta l-affarijiet barranin tal-Germanja.` Issa li n-negozjati ghar-riformi ta` kid iridu jinbidlu r-regoli ta` l-UE qabel jiddahhlu membri godda qed jilhqu l-qofol taghhom il-Germanja qed titfa` il-piz taghha dwar kif tixtieq li jsiru dawn ir-riformi. Taht it `titlu `Fischer spells out EU federalist vision` il-Financial Times tas-sibt 13 ta` Mejju 2000 irrapurtat li Fischer `called on member states to move towards a European federation governed by a new treaty dividing powers between national governments and the union`.

Dan id-diskors juri zewg affarijiet li l-Partit Laburista ilu jishaq fuqhom u li z-zmien ghad juri kemm kellu ragun. L-ewwel li tibdil li jrid isir ser jigbed fit-tul ghax hemm hafna nteressi li jehtiegu negozjati twal. Ghalhekk kulhadd qed isir aktar konvint li t-tkabbir ser ikarakar sa l-2005 jew izjed. It-tieni li l-UE riesqa lejn mudell federalista li ghalkemm ma jogghobx lil xi pajjizi, bhar-Renju Unit, huwa l-uniku mudell prattiku biex jippermetti t-tkabbir.

Il-mudell federalista jkun qishu li l-UE ssir pajjiz wiehed bi gvern taghha elett dirett mill-poplu` u mbaghad il-pajjizi membri ikollhom awtonomija limitata ghal affarijet lokali izda li f`materji importanti ta` politika monetarja, ekonomika, fiskali, u probabbli anke politka barranija u ta` difiza tkun suggetta ghal-gvern centrali. Il-federalizmu mhux mudell uniku izda bejn wiehed w`iehor Malta tkun ghal UE bhal ma per ezempju l-canton ta` Zurich huwa ghal Federazzjoni Svizzera immexxija minn Berna.

Il-lezzjoni minn dan hija li l-UE qed tinbidel u ghad trid tinbidel sostanzjalment. Huwa iblah minn iwarrab kull alternattiva ohra u jorbot id-destin ta` pajjizu ma xi haga li ma jafx x`inhi u ma jafx xi drittijet se jkollu fiha.` Halli jinnegozja jekk jidhirlu hekk izda qatt ma ghandu jwarrab alternattivi ohra.

Il-politika laburista hija aktar sensibbli. Il-politika laburista trid li` nimmodernizzaw lil pajjizna bir-ritmu li jsostni l-ghaqda u l-armonija fil-pajjiz. Il-quddiem meta l-affarijiet jiccaraw u nkunu nafu verament x`UE qed tistedinnha nissiehbu maghha xorta il-poplu Malti jkollu l-ghazla li naghmlu dan jekk ikun jaqblilna ghax il-mudell Svizzeru ma jaghlaq l-ebda bieb. Il-bibien qed jaghlaqhom minn ghandu ossessjoni li Malta m`ghandix alternattiva.

Friday, 19 May 2000

Swiss Model

The Malta Independent

Swiss Model

The main indicator that the electorate is getting less and less convinced on Malta`s EU membership project comes from the evolution of the arguments promoted by the two political schools.

The Government, embarked as it is on an irreversible trip `for EU membership as quickly as possible whatever the cost whatever the consequences, is being forced to promote the TINA argument.` TINA, acronym for `there is no alternative`, was coined in the early days of Margaret Thatcher premiership when she used it to argue that only tight monetary policy could eradicate inflation and prepare a solid foundation for new productive investment.

As the argument and discussion on EU membership deepens, the defects and` costs of such a `regardless` decision are becoming more evident. Lost for any other positive arguments, the one left at Government disposal is TINA.` Either full membership or complete isolation.

For the Government, Labour`s Swiss model alternative is equivalent to complete isolation. For the Government the only patch of greenery is in the EU. For the government Switzerland, Norway, Iceland indeed the rest of the non-EU world are living in a state of isolation.

When I recently took the initiative and whilst explaining my vision of the Swiss model I urged Labour to start fleshing out its model in a positive and detailed manner the isolation argument was turned by Government` 180 degrees in an act of glaring inconsistency.

Not only the Swiss model I envision is not isolationist but would envisage extending the free trade areas with the EU in two directions. Firstly by avoiding the Customs Union with the EU,` Malta can extend the Free Trade arrangements to other economic areas.` This would render the Swiss model much less isolationist than the EU model as the customs union condition, a corner stone of the single market in the EU model, would prohibit any such arrangements.` Secondly the free trade agreement ( as distinct from the rigid` single market concept) with the EU could be gradually be extended, over an appropriate time-scale to avoid economic shocks, to other sectors including services, contracting, and free movement of labour.

The argument that this would bring the pain without the gain is fallacious and hollow. Those who consider the gain as the funding we can get from the EU had better look a bit closer. As a nation, as distinct from on a government basis, we will be net payers to not recipients from the EU especially if the EU is enlarged eastwards thus brining the average GDP at purchasing power units very close to our own. The gains of the Swiss model is the possibility to trade with the rest of the world out of the straight jacket of a customs union; to promote international trade` free from the shackles of the single market concept which would force us to be just like other EU members. Our economic advantage is in being different without being isolationists.

The off-handed manner with which the Government is writing-off the Swiss model exposes the defects in its arguments for the EU model.

Alfred Mifsud

Sunday, 14 May 2000

Svizzera Mlahhma Mgissma u Mlibbsa

Il-Kullhadd Svizzera Mlahhma, Mgissma u Mlibbsa

Jidher li l-Gvern Nazzjonalista intebah illi kull ma jmur il-kuncett ta shubija shiha qed jitlef l-appell li kellu meta l-poplu ma kellux informazzjoni bizzejjed dwar verament x`ifisser pass bhal dan. Issa li l-poplu qed jibda jifhem x`ifisser tassew ghal pajjizna il-kuncett ta shubija fl-UE, kull ma jmur il-poplu qed jibdel fehmtu u jiskarta proposta bhal din.

Iffacjati b`din ir-rejalta in-Nazzjonalisti qed jibdlu t-tattika. Flok ipengu l-UE bhala xi genna ta` l-art bhal ma kienu jaghmlu sa ftit ilu issa bdew jammettu li t-triq lejn l-UE hija iebsa u tqila u d-diffikultajiet m`humiex zghar. Izda qed jghidu li minkejja dan pajjizna ma ghandux ghazla hlief dik ta` l-UE, ghax tqila kemm hi tqila, din hija l-uniku triq fattibbli. Il-mudell ta` Svizzera fil-Mediterran li jimbotta l-Partit Laburista, ghan-Nazzjonalisti huwa kuncett astratt u bla sugu u fuq kollox mhux fattibbli ghax l-UE ma tridx taccetta arrangamenti bhal dawn.

Isostnu din it-tezi hawn ambaxxaturi li baxx baxx iridu jwasslu l-messagg li fil-fatt Malta ma ghandix ghazla ghax l-UE probabbli li ma tkunx trid toffri aktar soluzzjoni fuq il-linja ta` l-arrangamenti Svizzeri.

Ghal min jaf l-affarijiet sewwa u min jaghraf l-arti tan-negozjati dawn huma tattici biex` biex jilwu jdejn il-poplu Malti u jgeghluh jaccetta anke affarijiet li ma jogghbuhx. Quddiem rejalta bhal din il-Partit Laburista irid jaghmel zewg affarijiet.

L-ewwel irid ifisser b`mod aktar konkret jifforma il-mudell ta` Svizzera fil-Mediterran li qed imexxi. U t-tieni jrid juri li huwa jaf x`inhu u x`mhux possibbli u bhalma dawn l-arrangamenti jezistu ma pajjizi ohra, fosthom l-Isvizzera , hekk jistghu isiru ma Malta li tista tilghab fin-negozjati il-karta tal-valur geo-politku strategiku li pajjizna ghad ghandu.

Il-Partit Nazzjonalista qed imexxi l-kuncett li l-unika alternattiva ghal shubija shiha huwa izolament totali. Jew sefturi fl-Ewropa jew izolati fuq gzira wahedina bhal Robinson Crusoe fejn nitilfu kull cans li nikkompetu f`dinja dejjem izjed globalizzata.

Il-Parit Laburista jehtieg jirribatti bil-qawwa dan ir-ragunar. Svizzera fil-Mediterran mhux biss ma tfissirx izolament izda tfisser li pajjizna ma jidholx ghall-obbligi ta` ghaqda doganali ma l-UE li xxekkilna fil-kummerc li naghmlu ma pajjizi barra l-UE. Mhux biss ma nkunux izolati izda nkunu nistghu maghmlu arrangamenti ta` Free Trade ma blokki ohra bhal blokk Mediterranju li bil-mod il-mod jevolvi u ma pajjizi tan-NAFTA ( l-USA, Canada u l-Messiku) u ma pajjizi fl-Asja u l-Oceanja. Inkunu tassew globalizzati.

Fuq il-mudell Svizzeru pajjizna jista` fuq medda taz-mien li tirrispekkja l-izvilupp ekonomiku tieghu, jaccetta l-estensjoni tal-Free Trade ma l-UE ghas-servizzi, ghal Freedom of Movement ta` persuni, u ghal kuntratti tal-Gvern. Izda jkun aktar flessibbli li jzomm barra minn dawn l-arrangamenti setturi ekonomici li jidhrilna li ahjar ma jinbelghux mill-mudell ta` l-UE.

Hekk is-settur agrikolu jista` jibqa barra mill-free trade area hlief limitatament fejn npartu koncessjoni kif jaqblilna. Minn jaqta` qalbu jew jemmen li haga bhal din ma tistax issehh allura tassew li ma jafx is-sahha u l-arti tan-negozjati.` Anke meta Mintoff kien jghid li jgieghel lin-NATO thallas erba darbiet aktar tal-kera tal-bazi ukoll kienu jghidu li dan mhux possibbli. Iz-zmien wera x`kapaci jikseb min jaf jinnegozja.

Jibqa` barra wkoll is-settur finanzjarju u l-kummerc internazzjonali bhar-registru tal-vapuri ghax dawn iridu nizviluppawhom` billi nkunu differenti minn` haddiehor. Kieku Malta thaddan politika bhal din tigbed lejha banek u istituzzjonijiet finanzjarji li huma mhassba li ser jitilfu l-vantaggi fiskali li ghandhom fil-Lussemburgu u l-Irlanda.

Izda fuq kollox nibqghu verament sovrani, newtrali u non-alinjati u mhux nitefghu f`mewga ta`process li inevitabbilment iwassal ghal politika ta` difiza u politka barranija komuni.` Dan jippermettilna nzommu l-karta tan-negozjati tal-importanza geo-politka taghna. Jekk nidhlu parti zghira minn blokk kbir li jkun jikkmandana din l-importanza tghosfor u nsiru mportanti daqs belt imdaqqsa fl-Ewropa. Dik effitivament hija l-ghazla. Jew Belt imdaqssa fl-Ewropa jew Svizzera fil-Mediterran.

Waqt konferenza ma l-istudenti din il-gimgha kelliemi Nazzjonalista sahaq li fl-1995 l-UE ma dahlitniex ghax ma kienx jaqblilhom. Sa hawn naqblu ghax kieku dahhluna, xi haga li qatt u qatt ma offrew, kien ikollna importanza sproporzjonata. Fit-tkabbir li gej allura jfisser li jriduna nidhlu ghax issa jkun jaqbel lilhom u mhux lilna. Ghax qabel ma nidhlu ahna iridu jibdlu r-regoli interni b`mod li ahna ma nkunu nghoddu proprju ghal xejn.` Min jaf dan, jammettih u jippersisti m`ghandux jiehu ghalih jekk nghidulu li ghandu ossessjoni.

Alfred Mifsud

Friday, 12 May 2000

Maltacom Employees

The Malta Independent

Maltacom Employees

For expressing on objective opinion on the liberalisation policy for the telecoms sector the nationalist party media has again tried to put me in a versus position against Alfred Sant. I hold no position in or brief from the Labour Party and opinions I express are my own.` I do not clear them with anyone. I happen to be one of an apparently` rare breed who make up their own mind.

The truth is that my opinion also expressed concern as to the prospects awaiting Maltacom`s employees unless Government concretises its intention to assist Maltacom and provide tangibly `for their re-training and re-deployment. This bit, which is fully in line with Dr Sant`s criticism,` was conveniently disregarded by the PN media.

During the year I spent as director of Maltacom the share price tripled.` I feel I have served well the private shareholders who elected me and whom unfortunately I had to disappoint by not standing for re-election.` I also got to understand well the challenges and opportunities that await Maltacom employees.

Employees need security of tenure so they should demand and get a no forced redundancy guarantee. Beyond that rather than continue to seek consolidation of the structures which were supporting Maltacom`s monopoly status, employees should show willingness to accept change, to be more accountable for performance and to carry the company forward to compete in the new areas of opportunity that are opening up.

What Maltacom and its employees really need is for the Government to stop dragging its feet about issuing the licence and frequencies so that Maltacom enters the mobile telephony fray before the market continues` to be gobbled up the present monopoly supplier.

It is incomprehensible how the Regulator continues to neglect protecting the consumer from abuse of monopoly by the sole mobile supplier `whose quality of service is going down` far more rapidly than the` tariff reduction `allowed on the eve of liberalisation.` Only the urgent arrival of a second operator will deliver` what the consumer deserves. Considering the exponential growth in demand for mobile telephony the loss of monopoly will not cause traffic reduction to Vodafone on a scale which would demand its re-structuring. Certainly nothing on the scale of re-structuring required by Maltacom for giving up its monopoly on fixed line, data services and international gateway.

All other talks of many tens of millions in compensation we cannot afford is senseless. Available` resources need to be invested in re-training of Maltacom`s employees so that they can gallantly occupy a productive job even in a liberalised scenario.

Alfred Mifsud

Sunday, 7 May 2000

Freeing Freeport from Family Feudalism

The Malta Independent on Sunday

Freeing Freeport from Family Feudalism

Ever since the Marsaxlokk Port ( as its was commonly known until 1987 under Labour administrations that gave birth to it around 1980) was renamed Freeport the name of Marin Hili became synonymous with it. He has been spearheading this project and has chaired the Corporations which were eventually set up to own and operate the Freeport in the name of the Nation which still owns it.

Many were surprised that not even the Labour administration of 1996 ` 1998 did de-throne Mr. Hili from the Freeport`s chair in spite of his being branded a baron by the incoming Prime Minister in the run-up to the 1996 elections.

Over the years we have been bombarded with media hype, press releases, open-days, glossy brochures and what have you all telling us what a great project Freeport is and what a marvellous job Mr Hili was doing in directing it. At one stage we had it from Prime Minister`s Fenech Adami`s mouth that the Maltese nation ought to erect a monument for Mr. Hili in recognition of his sterling service to the Nation.

For those of us who read the figures and are not easily blinded by the hype we have known for some time that the situation at the Freeport is not as rosy as it was depicted.` Financial Statements regularly returned a profit but this was always dependent on government handouts. Sometimes these were in the form of management fees for overlooking the spending of government`s own money, millions of liri, voted in the Capital Budget of central government for the development of the port which would eventually be used by Freeport.` It seems like my charging you project fees for building my own house at your expense! Recently it took the form of a subsidy on interest charges regarding external financing for the development of terminal 2.

My first brush with Freeport came about two years ago. They were trying to refinance the US$ bond to finance terminal 2 into a 30 year $250 million sovereign guaranteed bond. Some other time I will tell how I had to ruin my Easter of 1998 to help saving this issue from sure disaster to an over-subscription success. But it must be stated that without a sovereign guarantee this bond would have been a non-starter.

Freeport`s own financials were nowhere near enough to support such a line of credit and most projections of 1994 were grossly off-mark. Freeport could only boast of increasing throughput measured in TEU (units which measure the equivalents of twenty foot container moves) without any assurance that such increasing turnover would indeed produce a bottom line near enough to service the Bond, let alone the millions over millions which we as a nation have been pouring annually into this project since 1980.

Following this experience I had supported an initiative to see whether Freeport could be networked with some international` port operator to give it stability and assurance of throughput at optimum rates.

We spoke to the best of the breed. The Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) had just made an investment in the port of Genoa and was looking for a strategic partner in central Mediterranean.

Without any commitments or assurances on either side the then Labour Government and PSA agreed for the latter to conduct a due diligence exercise and after that to discuss possible future co-operation on the basis of informed positions. This was effectively carried out in Summer 1998 as the country was undergoing political turmoil leading to early elections. The PSA team first arrived in Malta on the same day that Dr Sant was demanding Mintoff`s resignation at that fateful Vittoriosa meeting.

By the time PSA concluded their due diligence we had a new government. A government that later tried to parry criticism for the scandalous way it privatised Mid-Med Bank by suggesting that Labour Government had intended to privatise Freeport the same way. This is absolutely false as no assurances or promises were made to PSA except that future co-operation, if any, will be discussed after their conclusion of the due diligence exercise.

As it happened following their due diligence PSA informed the new nationalist government quite curtly that from their findings they saw no scope of co-operation. No reasons were given and none will ever be given. But for those of us who can read looks, interpret signals and understand silence it is clear that PSA did not like what they found.

Eventually the Freeport Financial Statements for 1998 were published and the jig-saw started to form. Freeport was trading at a significant loss.` Turnover was being built by quoting sub-optimal rates. Criticism to this effect surfaced in the Malta Independent but it went unreplied and unheeded. Freeport continued to organise open-days, and to distribute glossy brochures in the Sunday papers telling us what a great project it is and what a formidable job its Chairman Marin Hili was doing. The monument he deserved was growing taller.

The advent of the new millenium started to bring talk of privatisation plans for Freeport. One only privatises the best. So for those who believed the hype and were convinced that Freeport was in good financial health the choice was sensible. For those of us who can see through the gloss into reality for what it is, `privatisation of Freeport appeared unreachable except on terms which would wash out the hundreds of millions which the Nation invested in this project.

My long ears with major international investment banks that were invited to advise on this privatisation confirmed all my thinking. Freeport is unprivatisable except by giving it out on a management contract to an international port operator that would drive stepped improvements in efficiency and assure maximum throughput at optimal rates.

My fears were all confirmed with the front page report of the Business Weekly of Thrisday 20th April 2000 titled `French shipping line and German partner show strong interest in Freeport`

As we approach privatisation Mr Hili seems to have stopped singing his glory to Freeport`s potential. Instead gloom is now falling all over. He is quoted as saying `But risks are getting too big. The answer is sell the hub to private investors by year-end`. He is also reported as saying that the investment required to keep pace with rivals is simply too big for a small island.

I am smelling that the 1999 Financial Statements will be making bad, very bad reading.

How is it that as we approach privatisation rather than enhance the enterprise value we start talking the enterprise down` How is it that just when Terminal 2 is ready and operational and we have invested all that was needed to invest in it, we are now suddenly seeing that the investment needed is too big`

We have invested too many millions in this project to let it be run as a family business whose losses are underwritten by big daddy. Before Freeport can be put on a serious privatisation track it must first be freed from family feudalism. Privatisation is serious business and has to be conducted in the most transparent of matters free from conflicting interests, apparent or real.

Svizzera Mlahhma u Mgissma

Il-Kullhadd Svizzera Mlahhma u Mgissma

Kelli opportunita naghmel zjara lil diversi hbieb li ghandi fl-Isvizzera hadt l-okkazjoni biex nifhem l-istat ta l-animu tan-nies Svizzeri lejn il-possibilita` li pajjizhom jissieheb fl-Unjoni Ewropeja.

Il-messagg li hadt kien wiehed car u bla tlaqliq. Filwaqt li kien hemm zmien meta kien jidher li seta kien hemm madwar 50% tal-poplu Svizzeru li kien favur ta` shubija fl-UE, huwa car li issa hemm maggoranza kbira hafna, bejn 60% u 65%, li hija kontra l-proposta ta` shubija. Dan` minkejja li l-korp politiku Svizzeru jimbotta lejn is-shubija.

Ridt nifhem ghaliex il-poplu Svizzeru jahsibha tant differenti minn popli ohra. Huwa car li l-Isvizzeri jghozzu is-sovranita; u n-newtrailta` taghhom li tant gabulhom gid u sliem li llum l-Isvizzera hija wiehed mill-aktar pajjizi sinjuri fid-dinja.

Specjalment wara l-esperjenza Awstrijaka fejn il-pajjizi l-ohra ta` l-UE qed jindahlu b`mod imprudenti fl-affarijiet interni Awstrijaci, l-Isvizzeri tgerrxu sew mill-prospett li jesponu ruhhom ghal xi interferenza simili fuqhom. Apparti minn dan l-Isvizzeri xejn ma jhossuhom komdi li jesponu l-industrija finanzjarja taghhom ghar-regolamenti ta` l-UE li jekk jigu applikati itellfu dak li sal-lum gibed tant kapital gid u negozju lejn l-Isvizzera.

Hemm imbaghad il-bicca tas-settur agrikolu li l-iSvezzeri jridu jipprotegu mill-hala ta` l-UE.` Hemm ukoll` l-aspett socjali fejn l-Isvizzeri ma jridux li jigu kostretti li jaddattaw ir-regoli socjali taghhom meta l-Isvizzeru b`referendum ghazlu li jibqghu jahdmu 44 siegha fil-gimgha.

Hemm il-mod kif il-cantons Svizzeri jmexxi l-finanzi taghhom b`mod awtonomu mill-Gvern centrali u zgur dawn ir-regjuni, jew cantons kif inhuma maghrufa, ma jridux jipperikolaw din l-awtonomija ghal xi regoli li jigu mposti minn Brussels.

Dik hija r-rejalta` fl-Isvizzera. Rejalta fejn l-Isvizzeri ghazlu li jaghmlu diversi ftehim bilaterali ma l-UE biex ikun hemm suq liberu ta kummerc u ta` servizzi, suq liberu li jintlahaq fuq medda ta` snin anke fil-moviment tal-persuni, izda bla objettiv ta` shubija shiha. Bla xkiel ta` ghaqda doganali u bil-liberta` li jibqghu joffru pakkett ta` servizzi finanzjarji differenti minn ta` l-UE.

Lil-Isvizzeri ma jimpressjonawhomx il-fondi li jistghu jiehdu mill-UE. Jafu li dawn il-fondi ma jigux b`xejn. Jaghmlu kalkolu li kieku l-Isvizzera kellha tidhol membru bhala pajjiz tikkontribwixxi hi lejn il-budget ta` l-UE u mhux vici-versa.

Dan jghodd issa fl-UE ta` hmistax il-pajjiz u jkun jghodd b`hafna aktar forza meta l-UE tikber u ddahhal maghha l-10 pajjizi ex-kommunisti ta` l-ewropa tal-lvant.

Aktar ma nifli dan il-mudell aktar nikkonvinci ruhi kemm` huwa addatat ghal pajjizna hafna aktar min shubija. Veru m`ahniex sinjuri bhall-Isvizzeri. Izda nghozzu n-newtralita u s-sovranita` taghna daqshom. Irridu bhalhom nissalvagwardjaw is-settur agrikolu taghna ghal raginijiet strategici.

Bhalhom ghandna ambizzjoni nibnu settur finanzjarju ta` kummerc internazzjonali li jigbed ix-xoghol li jibda jhossu skomda fl-UE fiskalment armonizzata. Li jonqosna hija d-dixxiplina u l-bzulija taghhom li biex niksbuha irridu tmexxija serja u soda u li kieku jirnexxilna niksbuha nistghu naghmlu minn pajjizna regjun ghani daqs ta` l-Isvizzeri.

Jekk ghad hawn minn jahseb li Malta tista` tikseb hafna fondi mill-UEu ghalhekk il-mudell Svizzeru ma jghoddx ghalina lil dan nghidlu joqghod attent.

Studju li hergin mill-UE juru car li meta jidhlu l-10 pajjizi tal-Lvant fl-UE id-dhul medju tal-persuni fl-UE hekk imkabbra tant ser jinzel li dhul medju taghna l-Maltin ikun mal-medja ta` l-UE. Dan ikun ifisser li nkunu qbizna sew l-ghatba ta` 75% tal-average GDP (at purchasing power units) li b`hekk ma thalliniex nikkwalifikaw ghal parti kbira tal-fondi strutturali ta` l-UE.

Inkomplu nahdmu biex il-mudell Svizzeru` nlahhmuh u ngissmuh halli eventwament imlibbess sewwa inressquh ghall-gudizzju tal-poplu.

Friday, 5 May 2000

Dismantling telecom monopolicies

The Malta Independent

Dismantling telecom monopolicies

The liberalisation policy announced for the telecom sector is well thought out and forms an admirable effort to dismantle unsustainable monopolies in a fair and programmed manner without causing undue shocks.

Whilst the players enjoying `monopolies are having to give them up well ahead of schedule `they are` being allowed to compete in hitherto restricted areas. This` seems a fair compensation both for the players involved as well as for the consumer who will be the main beneficiary of liberalisation.

The remaining` blur is regarding the excess labour and skill mismatch which will result at Maltacom when it will have to operate in a liberalised scenario.

Maltacom suffers in this respect much more than the other two participants.` Firstly Maltacom and its predecessors have enjoyed their monopoly for the longest time and therefore needs the sharpest process of adjustment. Secondly, with a long tradition of public ownership Maltacom has the highest burden of` social employment ` employment of` persons surplus to its` true requirements` and with skills mismatched to the requirement of the post.

Such luxuries could be carried as part of the price of enjoying a lucrative monopoly status,` but they become unsustainable in a liberalised commercial environment.

The liberalisation policy makes reference to this by stating that the government should provide for and assist Maltacom in re-training, re-deployment or carrying such excess labour resources.

This seems well intentioned but not concrete enough. The new areas which Maltacom will be entering will demand additional labour resources but it is very doubtful whether effective re-training can be undertaken in good time to address the skills mismatch between those available and those required for the new posts.

Public finances are on the other hand are in bad shape to take the load of additional workers who will remain unproductively employed and burning up scarce resources which we must deploy productively if we are to compete globally.

This is just a symptom of` the massive investment in re-training which is required throughout the public sector and which we continue to talk about, declare good intentions but stopping short of effectively setting up proper schemes well supported by the required resources.

Is this another case of solving problems for today and God help whoever follows`

Alfred Mifsud

Monday, 1 May 2000

United Front

The Times of Malta

United Front

What on earth is strange or scandalous about the GWU taking part in Labour Party May Day celebrations today`

Why is it that those who never find any objection to the unrelenting support which the Nationalist Party, in and out of government, receives from the various` cells in the` network of powers, immediately cry foul when the Labour Party receives even mere symbolic` support from its sole traditional ally, the GWU`

The network of power supporting the Nationalist Party is found in the civil service, the courts, the media, the intelligentsia, the business organisations, the Church and wherever decisions are being taken which effect the balance of power of our society.` In recent times these have been joined by the UHM movement which finds no difficulty in using two weights two measures against government`s budgetary measures but are never subjected to the same criticism as the GWU.

Until our society continues to be dominated by this network it is in the interest of democracy not only to tolerate but to nurture a `contro-punto` by having the Labour Party openly supported by the GWU. Those who expect otherwise or who expect an apology for this had better conduct an independent test of their democratic credentials. I suspect that those who argue otherwise would merely tolerate` Labour`s existence as a` permanent opposition merely to justify their democratic rights to govern.

Which brings me to the current hot point in the industrial relations debate.` Do Unions have a right to order industrial action against government in protest against macro-economic budgetary measures`

For some budgetary measures cannot be the source of an industrial dispute and therefore can never lead to industrial action. If such action is taken then it is outside the net of protection afforded to unions and striking workers by the Industrial Relations Act.

The other point of view is that these measure act directly on the standard of living of the workers and therefore the Unions have a right to protect this standard of living through the ultimate means at their disposal when all negotiations fail, i.e industrial action.

A democracy is built on checks and balances. There exist no absolute right which is uncontestable. So the argument that the Government has an automatic right to take budgetary measures which cannot be contested by unions is just a non-starter. On the other hand the government has a right to govern and budgetary measures are one of the main tools through which the government can exercise such right. It is the balancing of these positions which bring about the true workings of a democracy.`

To what extent is the government right to govern within the terms of the mandate given to it by the electorate subject to the checks and balances of union power to use industrial action in an attempt to block government budgetary measures`

Anybody who attempts a simple yes or no answer to this hypothesis is over-simplifying things.` While government`s right to govern is the essence of democracy, where the rule of the majority has to prevail in full respect of the opinion of the minority and in full freedom for such minority to try to persuade the majority of its stands and opinions, this right cannot be unlimited or unchecked.

To my mind there are two main conditions which have to co-exist which would give unions moral right to use industrial action against government budgetary measures. Firstly the government has to be acting in clear breach of the mandate given to it by the electorate as contained in its electoral manifesto.` Secondly there has to be clear popular resentment against these measures giving a sense of betrayal of the power which the electorate can only exercise once every so many years.

International case history abounds. The most notable is probably the British unions widespread action against Labour government in the winter of discontent on 1978/79 which straight-jacketed the government forcing it to early elections in May 1979.` No one there doubted the unions right to take such actions when the living standards of their members was being eroded in conflict with anything that the government had in its electoral mandate.` The popular resentment against the government was clearly brought out by the result of the election which followed.

On the other hand when the elected Thatcher government found similar opposition from the unions she stood them up and won fortified by the strength of her electoral mandate and the popular support which was evidenced in its subsequent re-elections with fortified majority.

Applying these principles to the current local situation I have no doubt that the Government is acting way out of line of its electoral mandate promising heaven on earth without any pain or efforts as typified by its battlecry call of GID FIDUCJA DIREZZJONI. There is also ample proof building up that Government has lost its majority support and has no authority to demand a national broad support for the re-structuring which we can no longer avoid.

In the circumstances rather than condemn the GWU for conforming with the tradition of taking part with Labour in the May Day celebrations,` the Government would do better to re-check whether it has the democratic credentials to enforce budgetary measures in direct conflict with its electoral manifesto and if not whether the national interest would not be better served by obtaining a re-confirmation of the electoral mandate. Otherwise this seems to me as a playback of the third 1982-87 Labour defective legislature so much berated by those in power whose memories appear to be shortening by the day.