Sunday, 27 January 2002

Auditing the auditors

The Malta Independent on Sunday

Auditing the auditors

Auditors are under fire, locally as much as internationally.

The Enron bankruptcy has shown that detailed international auditing standards are insufficient by themselves to afford adequate protection to investors from unpleasant surprises of hidden losses that can zeroise` investments overnight.

That one of the major international auditing firms is facing high level investigations in a market as developed and evolved as the United States, and that it has admitted to destruction of documents to hide its professional guilt is more than indicative that there is something structurally wrong in this whole auditing practice.

What is rather perplexing is that whilst detailed code of conducts for internal corporate governance have substantially evolved this last decade to ensure suitable checks and balances on the use and abuse of power by the executive corps of commercial organisations, auditors have been left somewhat on the lose.

Auditors who are appointed by the shareholders and are meant to operate in the public interest of the shareholders, the creditors, and the community in general,` have often found themselves being bankrolled by the management.

Serious conflict of interest positions inevitably arise when auditors take on lucrative consulting assignments from management which eclipse the commercial margins available in the plain vanilla auditing assignments. No amount of internal chinese walls can adequately safeguard the shareholders, the creditors and the community from the risks of conflict of interest taken on` by public auditors who take consulting assignment in parallel to audit mandates.`

Public external auditing is a` meant to offer reliable information to investors, suppliers and the general community, about the company`s performance and` is heavily relied upon to justify the building, maintenance or reduction of exposure on commercial organisations.

Pressure is building internationally for total and complete separation of audit mandates taken from shareholders from other consulting mandates taken from the management. A public audit firm will probably be able to do either but not both to the same organisation or group.

On the local front Auditors and Accountants were unceremoniously charged by the CEO of HSBC Malta that they are not keeping to international standards and quite often do not prevent clients from misrepresenting their financial position in a way which makes a lending bank` feel uncomfortable in relying too much on audited figures for its lending and credit decisions.

The said CEO has at times spoken irrationally and I had other opportunities to criticise him. But he has my sympathy on this one.` The situation is getting serious. Traditionally and culturally lending bankers had an inner feeling that the audited figures were much more modest than reality,` and that results were probably trimmed down for reasons related to tax management. But bankers were often convinced that `reality was much better than that shown in the audited accounts. They often simply had to rely more on the security aspect as the cash flow exposed by the audited figures would not of itself justify the exposures being sought by the client.` Lending simply on cash flow would probably have excluded most corporate borrowers.

The current situation is now much more perilous as lending banks are starting to feel that audited accounts are overstating the financial situation to cushion the real losses which businesses are incurring.` Major commercial failures like Daewoo and Price Club probably could have been avoided or diminished if auditors were a bit more forthcoming or timely in their submission or if banks took the hint of late submission a bit more seriously.

But the lowering of standards is not restricted to private companies. Even public corporations have got the bug. Take Enemalta.` The financial results for the financial year to 30th September 1999 were approved by the Board on 4th October 2000 more than a year after the financial year end. The financial results for the year ended 30th September 2000 were approved on 22nd August 2001. Somewhat better but still 11 months after the financial year end. This is just not good enough.

Why should this be so And why should the Enemalta Act continue to be broken with monotonous regularity` The Act provides that Enemalta must not incur an operating loss.` Yet in the financial year 2000 Enemalta not only did not generate enough funds to provide for capital expenditure and loan repayments as stipulated in the Act but actually returned a net loss both before and after tax.` Furthermore these Accounts together with the estimates for the current financial year were not presented to Parliament before 30th September as the Act provides but were only laid on the Table last week.

Yet no one, not even the auditors point out the non-adherance of the organisation to the regulating Act. And to come to the substance of the matter how does a profit before tax of Lm9.2 million in 1998 under the amateurs of a labour administration reduce to Lm6.8 million in 1999 when the PN professionals were still bound by Labour`s hedging agreement for the purchase of oil` And how does it turn` to a net loss of Lm1.1 when the super PN professionals lost the protection of the hedging agreement`

And even more pointedly how can Enemalta project just a breakeven position for the current year yielding` a cash flow shortfall of Lm 12 million with capital expenditure proposed to be financed by bank overdraft creating for the Corporation a net current deficit.

Mr Robson will vouch that it is not just auditors that are losing standards but also management of monopolies who manage to turn an old cash cow into a cash absorbing monster. Clearly somebody is hedging his luck that the price of oil and the $ will lose value this year.` Good luck professore!` It`s our money after all.

Denying Labour the right of self-defence

Maltastar

Denying Labour the right of self-defence

The supposedly independent media plods on with Where`s Everybody (WE) mission to paint Labour as a retrograde bunch locked in expired Marxist ideology detached from modern media and economic realities.

What should worry anyone who has democracy at heart is that we have come to a stage where` the majority that forms part of a wide power network spread across wherever there is power to be controlled, is condemning the fact that the minority is trying to defend itself as best as it can.

Pause a bit and think. Since last September the PN has issued a strong and unequivocal directive for all Ministers, MP`s, NET/101 journalists and representatives not to take part in any debate on Super One TV. A boycott if ever there was one.

Nobody screamed, nobody labelled the PN Marxist. On the contray Lou Bondi` on joegrimalive recently expressed his agreement to such a measure.` As Chairman of Super One I was asked for my opinion about what retaliatory action, if anything, should be taken.` I strongly advised against escalation and took the mere symbolic step where Super One journalists and executives will not participate in Net TV discussions.` I counselled the MLP to continue authorising its representatives to participate normally on NET TV when invited.

I was hoping that reason will prevail. But this has not happened so far and clearly the motivations of the PN can be none other than reducing the credibility of Super One discussions programmes, making them look one-sided by denying the inputs from the government / PN side.

Now that MLP took the overdue step of refusing to participate in programmes produced and presented by WE, whichever channel they transmit upon, prejudiced journalists throw all sorts of accusations against Labour.

Labour has very good reasons to deny WE of their presence.` I have been saying this at least two years. But let me repeat the main reasons.

WE is economically dependent on the government through short term contracts and hardly in a position to be the independent journalists they pretend to be. This role belongs to PBS newsroom that has all the resources and legal protection to carry the functions outsourced to WE at a great expense thus involving PBS in a double bill. PBS cannot outsource their constitutional obligation of impartiality to a very partial private contractor.

WE`s` choice of subjects for discussion and the way these subjects are analysed leave no doubt in Labour`s mind that WE are being faithful to the government`s agenda. I had further proof of this in Bondi+ this week when instead of discussing the scandal of the cover-up of the Sciberras Grioli leak and the favours he reportedly received in acknowledgement, Bondi+ focussed most of the programme trying to pin fault on an administrative process by the Housing Authority in 1998 that has already been cleared by various impartial bodies.

I have been criticising Azzopardi for avoiding the agenda of the Mid-Med sale Scandal and the Daewoo scandal whilst being quick to take on agenda subjects which favour the government or disfavour the opposition. Three years have not been long enough time for Peppi to schedule such discussion.` Then in yesterday`s KULLHADD, the first after the MLP announced the non-participation directive in WE programmes, they wrote to inform me that I will soon be receiving their invitation.` They are not only partisan but also offensive.

WE, and especially XARABANK, are invariably and misrepresentedly favoured in MBA audience`s survey as if there is the hand of God always working in the audience numbers to their advantage. In Feb. 2001 the survey was held in the heat of the La Salle issue which favour Xarabank with a very hot discussion topic of such national importance as meriting a rare PM`s TV address to the nation. In October 2001 they were favoured by running the survey on the day when Super One TV had their competing product massacred to give way to MLP extraordinary general conference.

MLP has every right to defend itself from the misrepresentation being engineered by WE.` If our budding journalists who are on WE`s payroll pretend that they can label Marxist the MLP purely for using the right of self-defence and staying mum when the PN boycotts all discussion on Super One media, than everyone is free to destroy one`s own credibility.

Alfred Mifsud





Bezzul imma kuntent

Il-Kullhadd

Bezzul imma kuntent

Kemm domt Chairman ta` Super One bdejt nifhem dejjem izjed il-kompetizzjoni perikoluza li kienet toffri is-socjeta` Where`s Everybody` to Lou Bondi` u Peppi Azzopardi.

Mhux ghax` il-kompetizzjoni iddejjaqni. Anzi il-kompetizzjoni tistimulani biex naghmel sforz izjed biex nitjieb u ngheleb l-ostakli. Izda ghax bdejt nifhem dejjem izjed li ta` Where`s Everybody kienu offensivi fuq tlett fronti.

L-ewwelnett kienu offensivi ghax dawn dahlu jaghmlu xoghol li suppost jaghmluh in-nies ta` newsroom ta` PBS li huma mhallsin minn flus it-taxxi taghna u li huma obbligati bil-ligi biex imexxu x-xandir pubbliku b`imparzjalita` u b`bilanc. Suppost li nies tax-Xandir ikollhom fibra biex jeghlbu kull pressjoni politika li ssirilhom biex jizbilancjaw ruhhom u jafu li ghandhom il-protezzjoni tal-ligi u tal-unions biex ma jigux diskriminati talli jaghmlu xogholhom kif suppost. Nghid suppost ghax mhux dejjem jigri dan, sfortunatament.

Minflok hafna mix-xoghol ta` gurnalizmu ta` diskussjoni fuq grajjiet kurrenti beda jinghata bla sejha ghall-offerti lil Where`s Everybody waqt li l-gurnalisti tan-newsroom baqghu idawwru subghajhom. Izda din komda ghal gvern. Ta Where`s Everydbody huma ekonomikament dipendenti mill-gvern u x`hin irid il-gvern itemmilhom il-kuntratti.` Ma ghadhomx protezzjoni tal-ligi u ma ghadhomx union taqbez ghalihom u ghalhekk iridu joqghodu attenti biex ma jurtawx il-gvern ghax inkella l-habel jista` jiskappa.

Offensivi izjed ghax Peppi Azzopardi jilghabha ta` socjalist aktar minn Alfred Sant. Jaghti l-impressjoni li filwaqt li Alfred Sant roza, Peppi ahmar skur. Jikteb fit-Torca jiddefendi l-aktar zvantaggati fis-socjeta u ma ttihx mazzita li ma jmurx quddiem ta` kull protesta li ssir b`tema socjali.` Lou Bondi` hu li hu u taf fejn int mieghu izda Peppi le. Allura ta` Where`s Everybody sabu formula li filwaqt li huma ghodda f`idejn il-gvern, jipprezentaw ruhhom bhala formula tal-kimika rari fejn nazzjonalist qawwi u socjalist estrem jahdmu flimkien biex jifdu s-socjeta` maltija mid-divizjoni politika li jipperpetwaw il-laburisti talli ma joqghodux jizfnu labranzetta il-hin kollu mal-gvern.

Offensivi ghax dawn imexxu b`mod fin u sottili l-agenda tal-gvern. Provi, provi jghajjtu sikwit Lou u Peppi. Tajt provi ga u nerga naghti. Ghala Peppi qatt ma ghamel Xarabank fuq l-iskandli tal-gvern l-aktar fuq il-bejgh tal-Mid-Med u fuq il-kaz tad-Daewoo. Biex ghamel tal-La Salle bidel kollox f`24 siegha filwaqt li` ghal dawn qatt ma sab cans.

U issa fil-kaz tal-Housing tal-Lay Lay ghala Bonid+ ghazel li jaghmel aktar emfasi fuq il-process li wassal ghall-iffermar tal-konvenju meta dan kien gie certifikat ga nadif mil-Awditur Generali,` mid-Direttur tal-Kuntratti u mil-Qorti li sabet lil Net TV hati ta` malafama. Ghala ma marx jistaqsi lil Prim Ministru biex jichad jew jikkonferma li qal il-kliem attribwit lilu minn Dr Sant. Ghala lil Marisa Micallef Leyson ma staqsihiex point blank jekk hi qalitx kliem bhal dan lil Prim Ministru u jekk hux minnu li Sciberras Grioli ftahar maghha li hu kien illikja l-istorja tal-Lay Lay qabel l-elezzjoni.

Jien kont f`dan il-programm u ghax mort ippreparat stajt nara lil Law Gonzi jitfixkel u jirrepeti il-gideb li kont diga` kissirtlu ghax ma kellux zbokk minkejja li l-programm kien strutturat biex jghinu jdawwar skandlu tal-Partit Nazzjonalista ghal skandlu tal-Lay Lay. Imma allahares ma tkunx ippreparat ghax l-abjad ipenguh iswed.

Ghax dan l-iskandlu mhux biss jew l-aktar ta` Sciberras Grioli. Dan skandlu tal-Partit Nazzjonalista. Bhal ma` Watergate ma kienx skandlu tal-hallelin li dahlu jghamlu t-tapping izda tal-President Nixon li kompla jahlef li ma jafx` affarijiet li fil-fatt kien jaf sew dwarhom. Ghalhekk l-ebda investigazzjoni m`hi accettabbli jekk ma tkunx gudizzjarja u indipendenti ghax il-gvern ma jistax jinvestiga lilu nnifsu.

U bhalha gurnalist gwapp Bondi kif halla lil Gonzi jghid hmerija li gurnalist jekk jitla jixhed il-qorti jista jigi kostrett jikxef is-sors meta dan huwa protett bil-ligi ta` l-Istampa. Lanqas s`hawn ma tasal l-imparzjalita` ta` Bondi li ma jhallix minn jigdeb fuq il-professjoni tal-gurnalizmu`

Mela tghiduli ghala bezzul. Ghax wara li kont ili sentejn u nofs biex flimkien ma Manwel Cuschieri nikxfu l-maskri ta` Where`s Everybody` Kien propju nhar l-erbgha 23 ta` Jannar 2002 l-ghada li hadt sehem f`Bondi+ u meta formalment spiccajt minn Chairman ta` Super One li l-Partit ha l-pass ghaqli li ma mmorrux izjed fuq programmi ta` Where`s Everybody. Jien bezzul izda bezzul kuntent.

Friday, 25 January 2002

Housingate vs. Querioz

The Malta Independent

Housingate vs. Querioz

My claim to drops of wisdom is restricted to the Friday morning. Others who dispense wisdom liberally everyday of the week object to my human frailty of departing from the virtue of modesty in this weekly outburst. It is well within their right to do so.

One such person who regularly exposes his objection is former PN Minister Arch. Michael Falzon. He found intriguing logic in my argument of last week that if the Labour`s accusation that Sciberras Grioli purposely fabricated the Lay-Lay story in the sensitive pre-election period and the PN knew about this and have shown scant readiness to check and discipline his reported abuses, then this will bring into question the validity of the present government electoral mandate.

He exposes an ultra simplistic reasoning in asking me whether by the same logic Labour`s accusations regarding cases involving Micahel Frendo, Louis Galea, John Dalli, Joe Fenech and Michael Falzon himself` would mean that the 1996 Labour mandate was also invalid.

There are some major differences between the Housingate of Sciberras Grioli and the cases mentioned by Mr. Falzon. The first major differences is that Housingate was purposely fabricated with clinical timing precision for maximum damage.` It was launched in the heart of an election campaign when mud will stick in people`s mind as proper defence takes much longer to be cleared than the few weeks remaining till the general election.` On the contrary the Opposition raised the other cases mentioned by Mr. Falzon as they occurred totally independent of election timing convenience.

The second major difference was that Housingate was investigated by at least two independent` and timely judicial/audit reviews and Labour came clean on all counts. Furthermore the then Leader of the Opposition was offered the facility to name a respectable person of his trust` to conduct an immediate `investigation.

In the other cases mentioned by Mr Falzon the government in some cases obstinately refuses to conduct an independent investigation ( The Daewoo and Mid-Med Bank cases involving John Dalli), in other cases` the wrongdoing was confirmed by a judicial enquiry even though the guilt could not be attributed to anyone in particular ( the bus ticket case involving Dr Michael Frendo) or regulations were elastically interpreted to accommodate things beyond the fair and proper application of regulations by objective administrators ( Querioz case involving Dr Joe Fenech, Busietta Gardens case involving the former professional office of the then Min. Arch Michael Falzon and the Auxiliary Workers Scheme case with missing files and all involving Louis Galea). None of these cases involve gratuitous fabrication.

Put wisdom aside. Normal common sense is more than enough. Can anyone make any comparison between the scandalous presidential pardon given to Brazilian drug trafficker Querioz and the fabricated scandal of Lay Lay` True in the Querioz case it is not possible to prove outright bribery or other vested interests for taking such totally irrational administrative decision.` But does this make the decision itself any more acceptable`

And the same applies to the other cases including Busietta Gardens. Does the flexible interpretation of the regulations permitting a five storey development of a real estate which magically becomes a two storey development if viewed from the side of the slope make it any more environmentally acceptable`

Housingate is a serious case where solid accusations have been made which in the very least merit an urgent impartial judicial enquiry where full access should be given to the Housing Authority`s internal records before these could mysteriously disappear like the Auxiliary Workers Scheme files. If proven ( and I stress if proven as accusation is not tantamount to guilt) these should have the same consequences that Watergate had for President Nixon. More than a month has passed since the Opposition Leader quoted the Prime Minister saying that at the time he knew that Sciberras Grioli was doing something wrong but he (PM) was obliged to him for other matters. The absence of any clarification that merited nothing less than an outright instant denial is telling indeed.

Sunday, 20 January 2002

Ghost minister!

The Sunday Times of Malta

Ghost Minister

The week before` I was called as a witness in a criminal libel case which Min John Dalli instituted against Super One Head of` News and Current Affairs Mr Gino Cauchi.

An unidentified caller had phoned live on Manwel Cuschieri`s Tajjeb li Tkun Taf` ( on that particular day the programme was presented by Alfred Grixti) and asked whether in the context of the Prime Minister`s declaration that ten million here or there do not really matter, and the Minister`s of Finance statement that hadd ma jaghmel xejn ta` xejn (nobody does anything for nothing) , whether he had a right to suspect that the Maltese taxpayer has been short-changed by ten million.

During the evidence I related how in the world of international banking the` sale of Mid-Med Bank to HSBC through direct negotiations between the Minister and the buyer is considered scandalous.` I related how at least four international banks phoned me to check whether what they had heard was in fact true and expressed the view that privatisations like this only happen in African countries or in banana republics.

This evidence was given under oath but I refused to disclose the names of the international banks involved. They had talked to me in confidence and I was obliged to keep it that way although I expressed my total personal agreement to their sentiments.

Writing in the Sunday Times last week` the Minister of Finance said that in so doing I was concocting ghosts.` Apart from the fact that I said what I said under oath I challenge the Minister to name any country where its` Minister` of Finance sold a bank controlling half the banking market through direct negotiations without bidding. Rather than ghosts these are real pitiful stories witnessed by the whole Maltese population.

And the Minister continued to ask whether these ghosts had anything to do with my bright idea to entice private shareholders to sell their shares back to the bank at Lm2 per share. No, Minister. That buy-back scheme was not the work of ghosts.` It was the work of serious management who put their money where there mouth is and launched a` share buy-back scheme when it perceived that the value of the quoted equity had fallen far below its` real value. And if your criticism is for offering` to buy at a low price than I would remind you that it was still above the market price and that business sense is when one buys low and sells high. The problem with your sale to HSBC is that you sold low and cannot take consolation by my attempting to buy low.

And as to the ghosts who bought the Maltacom shares at the IPO I told the Minister` thousand times already that the names of all these first class international institutions are in the IPO documents within his` Ministry or at Maltacom and that if he` cannot find them he can ask HSBC for full details as they were the drivers in the allocation in view of the excess demand.

What a pity that whilst the Minister is quick to invent stories to build up` ghost defense he fails to reply to the simple question I have been long asking. Why did he include a risk premium of 6% when discounting the future earnings value of the Bank when he knew that Mid-Med Bank was practically risk free` In so doing he exposed the nation` to accept half the real value of the bank and gives full reason to callers like the one who originated the subject of the libel case to suspect` scenarios of wrong-doing which can only be dispelled by a full independent investigation and not by a parliamentary committee where the government controls the majority.

It is the` Ministry of Finance that is being run by` ghosts.` Whilst the NSO shows the deficit is widening over 2000 and backs this with detailed figures up to November 2001, the ghosts at the Ministry of Finance say that the deficit is reducing. Whilst with 6 weeks to go to the end of the year the ghosts at the Ministry of Finance were sure they can cash in Lm47 million privatisation revenues by the end of the year, reality shows that this has not materialised. Yet for the ghosts at the Ministry of Finance it seems that a Lm47 million miss is just a non-event. They are experienced to misses of this sort the way these ghosts had sold Mid-Med Bank.

Talk is cheap indeed. So cheap that the Minister who wrecked our economy and engineered the horrendous deficit which is leading us to the Argentina route pretends that he is not part of the problem and imagines that he has the solution. And he ominously titles the article very aptly Do cry for me , Argentina. If the Argentines with their dramatic economic and social problems are being instigated by our Minister to find the time to cry for us, then we really have a problem

Alfred Mifsud



Malgentina

Il-Kullhadd

Malgentina

Meta gvern ikun fi krizi tinduna. Jibda jghid hafna affarijiet li ma jaghmlux sens.` Iwieghed affarijiet li m`humiex fil-kontroll tieghu.

Hudu l-kaz ta` l-Argentina. Jien ili kwazi sena li ktibt l-ewwel artiklu tieghi fejn kont urejt thassib dwar dak li kien ghaddej fl-Argentina.` Kont ghamiltu ghal zewg ragunijiet.` L-ewwel ghax ridt ingib ghall-attenzjoni tal-qarrejja il-gwaj li jidhol fih pajjiz li ma jiehux hsieb jindirizza l-problemi ekonomici u finanzjarju f`waqtu u b`mod determinat. U t-tieni ghax naf li hafna Maltin kienu investew flushom fl-Argentina attirati mill-imghax gholi bla ma kienu imwissija sewwa dwar ir-riskju li kienu qed jiehdu.

Kien hemm min haseb li jien qed nallarma n-nies ghal xi skop iehor. Kien hemm min qal li kont qed nezagera. Iz-zmien li jghaddi ghandu habta jghazel lil min hu serju minn min hu anqas serju. Illum kullhadd jaf x`gara l-Argentina.` Kullhadd jaf kemm hawn investituri Maltin lanqas jafu x`laqathom u fejn ser jibdew jaghtu rashom.

Issa li l-froga tlestiet hargu ir-regulaturi biex iwissu ir-riskju ta` dawn l-investimenti u biex min jidhol ghalihom ikun jaf sew ghal x`hiex diehel. Imma issa kif jghidu fatta la zorba!` Forsi ta` lanqas nitghallmu ghal futur.

Izda harsu lejn l-Argentina u taraw kif igib ruhu gvern fi krizi. Meta kien car li l-problemi finanzjarji ta` l-Argentina tant kibru li kienu harbu mill-kontroll tal-gvern, meta l-Fond Monetarju Internazzjonali (IMF) ta twissija ghal darba, tnejn,` tlieta li ma kienx lest ikompli jislef biex l-Argentina tkompli tberbaq, meta l-banek internazzjonali bdew jirrifjutaw li jaghtu self gdid lill-Argentina, il-Ministru tal-Finanzi Argentin baqa` jinsisti li s-soluzzjoni tal-problemi tal-pajjiz ma kienx li jizvaluta l-peso li kien ilu marbut ghal ghaxar snin b`rata fissa mad-dollaru amerikan, izda li l-gvern ikompli jnaqqas l-ispiza tieghu halli ma jkollux bzonn jissellef.

Spicca biex il-pajjiz intefa f`konfuzjoni meta il-pagi u l-pensjonijiet tnaqqsu b`16%, il-gvern ma bediex jghaddi flus lir-regjuni li minn naha` taghhom ma bdewx ihallsu pagi tal-haddiema,` u l-pajjiz mar f`konfuzjoni socjali shiha. F`dan il-kuntest il-Ministru tal-Finanzi Argentin` baqa` jafda f`teoriji ekonomici dubjiu jsostni` li ma kienx ser jizvaluta il-peso Argentin. Kullhadd jaf li l-problemi socjali tant kibru li l-Ministru tal-Finanzi kellu jirrezenja u mieghu irrezenjaw il-President tal-pajjiz u diversi ohrajn li dahlu minn floku.

Il-President attwali Duharte kellu jiehu il-mizura inevitabbli li jizvaluta il-peso bi 30% u biex ma jgibx ugiegh socjali kbir hafna qed jipprova jahdem b`zewg rati tal-kambju differenti.` Filwaqt li l-intenzjoni hija tajba is-sostenibbilita` ta` arrangament bhal dan huwa dubjuz hafna u nhoss li fl-ahhar biex l-Argentina tiehu r-ruh ikollha, trid u ma tridx,` thalli ir-rata tal-kambju tal-peso f`idejn is-suq biex ma tingidimx mill-ispekulaturi tal-kambju li jibdew jiccalangjaw is-sostenn ta` xi rata ffissata minn qabel.` Dan ikun ta` ugiegh socjali kbir ghall-Argentina izda l-pajjiz gie mdahhal fi problemi kbar li ma jistax johrog minnhom minghajr ugiegh.

U l-isfortuna hija li meta jinqala ghawg ekonomiku bhal dan ibatu l-aktar dawk li ma ghandhom l-ebda hitja.` Il-haddiema u l-pensjonanti li jaraw id-dhul taghhom idub fil-valur rejali tieghu waqt li l-prezzijiet ta` l-oggetti l-aktar essenzjali jgholew mas-smewwiet minhabba l-izvalutazzjoni.` Dan iwassal ghal faqar u tbatija kbira ghal massa filwaqt li dawk fil-klassi socjali ta` fuq ikunu ga hasbu ghal rashom billi investew il-kapitali taghhom barra l-pajjiz jew f`muniti barranin.

Din rejalta` krudila izda inevitabbli biex pajjiz bhal l-Argentina jerga jsir kompettiv u jkun jista jibda jesporta l-produzzjoni tieghu li fl-ahhar mill-ahhar hija is-soluzzjoni vera tal-problemi ekonomici. It-taghlima hija li meta l-problemi jigu traskurati u ma jigux indirizzati fil-pront is-soluzzjoni dejjem tkun izjed kumplikata u izjed difficli.

Issa jekk tapplikaw dan ghal Malta tifhmu kemm il-gvern Malti qed fi krizi. Aktar ma nisma il-Prim Ministru jghid li kollox miexi sew meta naf li r-rejalta hi mod iehor aktar nemmen li l-gvern tilef il-kontroll tas-sitwazzjoni. Aktar ma nisma l-Ministru tal-Finanzi jghid li d-deficit qed jonqos meta l-istatistika ufficjali turi mod iehor aktar nemmen li l-gvern issa beda jemmen il-gideb tieghu stess.` U aktar ma nara l-Ministru tal-Finanzi jaghmel statements fuq affarijiet` li ma ghandux kontroll fuqhom, bhal meta fl-20 ta` Novembru 2001,qal li se jdahhal Lm47 miljun mil-privatizzazzjoni sa l-ahhar tas-sena , aktar nemmen li dawn in-nies qed maqtughin ghal kollox mir-rejalta`.

Dan ikattar il-bzonn ta` bidla urgenti fil-gvern. Aktar ma jdum dan il-gvern aktar se jharbat rizorsi, aktar ser jaghffeg u aktar ser jaghmilha difficli li tinstab soluzzjoni vera li ma tkunx krudila ma min ma ghandux htija. Jekk tassew ghandhom l-interess tal-pajjiz ghal qalbhom dal-gvern missu jaghti nifs gdid lil pajjiz billi jsejjah elezzjoni llum qabel ghada.

Friday, 18 January 2002

Where's everybody

The Malta Independent

Where`s everybody`

Things are happening around us which if they were to happen in a real democracy they would bring the government on its knees and restore to the electorate the right to choose again. But in our pseudo democracy it is the solitary voice of the opposition which keeps a tab on the government.` The supposedly independent press persistently avoids issues which could embarrass the government.

Serious accusations are being levelled at the government which if confirmed would bring into question the validity of its electoral mandate. We all remember the fuss made on the supposed scandal of the Lay Lay acquisition by the Housing Authority three weeks before the election.

For a government just in office 21 months on a pledge of being whiter than white, such an alleged scandal in the final phase of a premature electoral campaign was damaging beyond repair. It practically turned the electoral tables against the Labour Party.

Now it is alleged with a substantial degree of corroborating evidence that this was nothing but a Housingate.` It was a set up from internal informers, disloyal to the government and to the people to an extent that they fabricate and leak stories which in the sensitive pre-election time play a significant role in deciding the people`s choice.

The more damning piece evidence is government`s refusal to conduct an investigation, the obstinate protection of, indeed the reward to,` the alleged perpetrator of the malpractice, the stammering excuses of the Housing Authority chairperson who in the face of the corroborating evidence insists on solid evidence on a silver platter before conducting an investigation. She should indeed know better.

But I am not in the least surprised by what happened. I am sure that there was another scheme being concocted on me when I was Chairman of Mid-Med in the same run up period to last elections. In this second failed fabrication` there was the involvement of nothing less than the National Audit Office(NAO), an organisation whose current officers have lost all my esteem and respect since then.

Just as the Lay Lay supposed scandal was making the headlines the NAO sent me as Chairman of the Bank their report which I had specifically asked for about the value for money and integrity of the Bank`s proposal to purchase property next to the Operations Centre of the Bank formerly known as Centru Ruzar Briffa.

It` mysteriously took the NAO 8 whole months to issue this report which could have been wrapped up in a couple of months. All that was necessary was for the NAO to appoint their own selected architect(s) to establish whether the negotiated price was fair in line with market conditions and whether the selection process was integral and` transparent.

In spite of` a panel of three architects confirming the Bank`s choice and the negotiated price as fair and proper,` the NAO stretched the exercise beyond its intended brief and chose to challenge` the Bank`s strategy in transferring its back office operations to Qormi. It proposed a fresh much higher` investment` in a more up-market location.` The issue of the report on the 18th August 1998, just three weeks before the election was surely meant to re-inforce the Lay Lay scandal.

I had the good sense of keeping the report locked in a drawer until the election campaign was over so any leak could easily be pinned on the NAO. I am sure that it did not leak not because the NAO wished it to be so but they had no option. Their wish was pretty evident in the issue of the report in the middle of an election campaign!

After the election it is well-known how much fuss was made of the supposed scandal on a property deal which never happened as it was not approved as intended a priori by the NAO.` Time has a harsh habit of proving issues.` Public organisations these days buy property next door at premium prices and don`t even think of sending the process for prior verification by the NAO.` Nobody screams scandal,` nobody suspects anything anymore.

Where`s everybody`

Monday, 14 January 2002

Ghost minister

Maltastar

Ghost Minister

Last week I was called as a witness in a criminal libel case which Min John Dalli instituted against Super One Head of` News and Current Affairs Mr Gino Cauchi.

An unidentified caller had phoned live on Manwel Cuschieri`s Tajjeb li Tkun Taf` ( on that particular day the programme was presented by Alfred Grixti) and asked whether in the context of the Prime Minister`s declaration that ten million here or there do not really matter, and the Minister`s of Finance statement that hadd ma jaghmel xejn ta` xejn (nobody does anything for nothing) , whether he had a right to suspect that the Maltese taxpayer has been short-changed by ten million.

During the evidence I related how in the world of international banking the` sale of Mid-Med Bank to HSBC through direct negotiations between the Minister and the buyer is considered scandalous.` I related how at least four international banks phoned me to check whether what they had heard was in fact true and expressed the view that privatisations like this only happen in African countries or in banana republics.

This evidence was given under oath but I refused to disclose the names of the international banks involved. They had talked to me in confidence and I was obliged to keep it that way although I expressed my total personal agreement to their sentiments.

Writing in the Times yesterday the Minister of Finance said that in so doing I was concocting ghosts.` Apart from the fact that I said what I said under oath I challenge the Minister to name any country where its` Minister` of Finance sold a bank controlling half the banking market through direct negotiations without bidding. Rather than ghosts these are real pitiful stories witnessed by the whole Maltese population.

And the Minister continued to ask whether these ghosts had anything to do with my bright idea to entice private shareholders to sell their shares back to the bank at Lm2 per share. No, Minister. That buy-back scheme was not the work of ghosts.` It was the work of serious management who put their money where there mouth is and launched a` share buy-back scheme when it perceived that the value of the quoted equity had fallen far below its` real value. And if your criticism is for offering` to buy at a low price than I would remind you that it was still above the market price and that business sense is when one buys low and sells high. The problem with your sale to HSBC is that you sold low and cannot take consolation by my attempting to buy low.

And as to the ghosts who bought the Maltacom shares at the IPO I told you thousand times already that the names of all these first class international institutions are in the IPO documents within your Ministry or at Maltacom and that if you cannot find them you can ask HSBC for full details as they were the drivers in the allocation in view of the excess demand.

What a pity that whilst the Minister is quick to invent stories to build up` ghost defense he fails to reply to the simple question I have been long asking. Why did he include a risk premium of 6% when discounting the future earnings value of the Bank when he knew that Mid-Med Bank was practically risk free` In so doing he exposed the nation` to accept half the real value of the bank and gives full reason to callers like the one who originated the subject of the libel case to suspect` scenarios of wrong-doing which can only be dispelled by a full independent investigation and not by a parliamentary committee where the government controls the majority.

The Ministry of Finance is being run by` ghosts.` Whilst the NSO shows the deficit is widening over 2000 and backs this with detailed figures up to November 2001, the ghosts at the Ministry of Finance say that the deficit is reducing. Whilst with 6 weeks to go to the end of the year the ghosts at the Ministry of Finance were sure they can cash in Lm47 million privatisation revenues by the end of the year, reality shows that this has not materialised. Yet for the ghosts at the Ministry of Finance it seems that a Lm47 million miss is just a non-event. They are experienced to misses of this sort the way these ghosts had sold Mid-Med Bank.

Talk is cheap indeed. So cheap that the Minister who wrecked our economy and engineered the horrendous deficit which is leading us to the Argentina route pretends that he is not part of the problem and imagines that he has the solution. And he ominously titles the article very aptly Do cry for me , Argentina. If the Argentines with their dramatic economic and social problems are being instigated by our Minister to find the time to cry for us, then we must really be in the sh`.

Sunday, 13 January 2002

Seven years

The Malta Independent on Sunday

Seven years

Is seven years a long time` The right answer is it depends, of course.` It could be an eternity if you are just measuring how long it takes for boiling coffee to cool down to drinking temperature. On the other hand it might not be a long enough time for quality wine to mature.

In terms of the time needed for economic re-structuring, seven years is ample time for execution of any serious plan. Normally in economic terms we take short term to mean the next 2 years, medium term to mean over 3 to 7 years and long term to mean more than seven years. In the long term we are all dead once explained J.M. Keynes so that any economic re-structuring programme cannot have its final objective more than 7 years away.` It would push it too far into the future to make the re-structuring process sustainable and focussed. It would be bring on the` feeling of maniana. Let`s leave the tough decisions for tomorrow as tomorrow never comes.

And it is this feeling of maniana which emerges clearly if you consider the problem of our public budget deficit. In my last contribution in this column I wrote: `We have been playing around with a public sector debt in unsustainable high figures since 1996 and 2002 will be the 7th consecutive year of such problems. Some stitch in time!` May the Lord spare us an Argentina.`

The situation is serious enough to merit` repetition. For the seven years between 1996 and 2002 the country has been running an average budget deficit of Lm110 p.a. The improvement registered in the year 2000 has been reversed in 2001.` Things are getting worse not better and this is well understandable as the economy has entered into a contracting mode.

Seven years of such deficit has produced a borrowing requirement of some` Lm 800 million which has translated itself into some Lm700 million increase in the public debt and Lm117 million extraordinary revenues from the` privatisation of Mid-Med Bank (lm82 million) and Maltacom (Lm35 million).` Of the Lm1040 million official declared public debt Lm700 million have accumulated over the last 7 years. The speed with which debt is accumulating is worrying.

And the situation gives reason for more concern considering that during this period the fiscal screws have been tightened considerably increasing government fiscal revenues at a rate much faster than economic growth.` Nothing to complain about if the funds were being applied in a way which gives value for the tax-payers money. But considering that no major productive investment projects have been started and that most additional tax revenues have been frittered away in additional and uncontrolled recurrent expenditure than there is ample room for complaints.

Complaints that the resources which could have been the backbone of a serious re-structuring plan have just been wasted away. Complaints that privatisation proceeds of Maltacom and Mid-Med Bank have just been used to plug a small part of the widening budgetary gap and ensuing borrowing requirements.

Complaints that if the deficit problem remains unaddressed even in the face of extraordinary privatisation revenues and substantial increase in the tax take, what is going to be the basis of a serious re-structuring plan which inevitably we have to embark upon sooner rather than later`

In seven years between 1972 and 1979 an incoming Labour administration made the most successful re-structuring plan which Malta has ever undertaken.` 15,000 jobs attached to the military base were gradually run down as the economy started producing new job opportunities at a much higher accelerated rate in tourism and manufacturing.` Private direct investment was the key to this re-structuring process.` Foreign investment mostly in case of manufacturing and local private investment in case of tourism. That this was achieved in an orderly manner in less than seven years, without incurring any serious increase in the public debt and as the standard of living of the population underwent the most dramatic improvement and transformation bears witness to the success achieved by that re-structuring process.

Seven years were more than enough time to plan and execute that economic re-structuring undertaken with little or no resources.` But seven years have not been anywhere near enough time to address the worrying budget deficit which first came to light in 1996 and which we have been just nibbling at for the last seven year without devising a serious plan to attack it at its core.

An attacking the problems at its core compulsorily has to have the following ingredients. A tremendous increase in private` direct investment in outward looking projects in order to create productive job opportunities at a rate faster than jobs are lost in the problems sectors which are pulling the economy down. A national effort with clear objective to ensure that the burden of re-structuring is shouldered in a socially just manner and to ensure that the fruits of real restructuring are not long in coming. While undergoing the re-structuring pain the population at large has to be motivated by the benefits of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

Failure to manage the re-structuring process will by default mean that economic re-structuring will manage itself, the Argentina way. That would be really painful and still avoidable unless we waste another seven years!

Hamsin sena

Il-Kullhadd

Hamsin sena

Daqshekk hhandi zmien jien u daqshekk jew izjed ghandhom zmien haddiema li f`dawn il-jiem tilfu l-impjieg u spiccaw bla xoghol wara karriera ta` ghaxriet ta snin ma l-istess principal.

Fost il-hafna monumenti ta` servizzi socjali li bnew matul iz-zmien gvernijiet laburisti jonqos li nindirizzaw il-problema dejjem tikber ta` dawn in-nies.` Gvernijiet nazzjonalisti` issa ilhom fil-poter gha kwazi hmistax il-sena.` Kull ma ghanlu fihom kien li farfru il-monument tas-servizzi socjali li bnew gvernijiet laburisti u wahhlu xi musmar `l hemm jew `l hawn biex issa f`dawn l-ahhar snin, maqbudin fi tnalja tal-krizi finanzjarja li gabu b`idejhom bdew sahansitra jzarmaw dan il-monument. Dan qed jaghmluh` billi jdahhlu l-means test bhal fil-kaz tac-Children`s Allowance.

Lil nies ta` eta medja li jitilfu x-xoghol hemm bzonn min jghinhom. Dawn in-nies qajla ghandhom wisq prospetti li jsibu xoghol gdid li jkun jirrispetta il-personalita` taghhom.. Hafna minnhom ikunu ghamlu karriera ma employer wiehed u l-iskills u snajja` li jkunu akkwistaw inkunu saru skaduti ghat-teknologija tal-lum.` Ikunu ilhom li telqu l-iskola u mhux la kemm wiehed jerga jxettel fihom l-abitudni ta` l-istudju u t-taghlim.

Biex ikollna servizzi socjali effettivi lil dawn in-nies ma nistghux inhalluhom ghal rihom jirregistraw bla wisq propsetti li jsibu xoghol dinjituz. Hemm bzonn ta` skemi serji biex lil dawn in-nies l-ewwel net nipproteguhom fl-impjieg taghhom u tieni nett jekk verament ikun inevitabbli li jitilfu l-impjieg dawn jigu abbinati immedjatament ma skemi ta` tahrig waqt li jkollhom il-paga prizervata sa ma jigu offruti impjieg alternattiv. U biex dan l-impjieg alternattiv jinqala ma jdumx hemm bzonn skemi ta` incentiv biex l-employers privati jaghtu preferenza li dawn in-nies li inkella qajla ser ikollhom cans li jsibu xoghol.

Ma nistghux nibqghu bis-sistema li min jahdem mal-gvern mohhu mistireh ghal dejem ta` dejjem li jaghmel x`jaghmel l-impjieg tieghu huwa protett u minn jahdem mas-settur privat jghix bil-biza li jsir redundant u ma jsibx xoghol iehor ghax ma jkunx zamm ruhu aggornat mat-tahrig u mat-teknologija.

Hemm bzonn ta` kompromessi biex il-haddiema jigu trattati l-istess bi protezzjoni xierqa kontra redundancies u mhux semplici 8 gimghat notice u titlaq il-barra bhal ma jigri fis-settur privat,`

Izda fuq kollox hemm bzonn li nrendu ekonomija vibranti li tkun qed tikber b`rata sostenuta` u li tkun qed tohloq impjiegi b`rata aktar mghaggla minn dawk li qed jintilfu. Dan` biex veramanet filwaqt li tikber il-mobilita` u l-flessibilita` fis-suq tax-xoghol, minn naha l-ohra minn ikollu l-isfortuna li jitlef il-job ikun jista` bla wisq dewmien u bla favuri ta` hadd isib impjieg dinjituz li jzomm jekk mhux itejjeb il-livell ta` ghixien tal-haddiem.

Qatt ma nistgu nighidu li s-servizzi socjali taghna huma inkluzivi bizzijjed u ma hemmx izjed xi jsir. Fadal u fadal hafna izda dawn ikunu sostenibbli biss jekk nergghu nirxuxtaw l-ekonomija mil- dlam li waqghet fih.



Friday, 11 January 2002

What Restructuring

The Malta Independent

What restructuring`

The sad news of layoffs and factory closures announced during the first week of the year underlines that real restructuring is not taking place.

It is in the normal course of things that as the economy develops some economic units fail to survive in the emerged environment. Other units can only survive if they become leaner and more competitive by shedding labour and reducing their unit cost of production.`

So what should be making news is not take this or that factory closed down, or this or that employer laid off workers to reduce the` work force in a struggle to survive. What should be making news is that the economy is not producing real productive outward looking employment at a much faster rate than jobs are being lost in other sectors that have passed their use by date.

What we should be worrying about is not that this or that factory closed or shed off labour, but why new employment opportunities are not being created. Why is our economy dependent on domestic demand for creation of jobs Why is it that we are still so dependent on infrastructure and building projects to keep our economy moving forward Is it feasible that unless we continue to over-develop these islands with dire consequences on` environmental standards and creating excess capacity which threatens long term economic viability, our economy will just jam and contract.

What we should be worrying about is that whilst unemployment is rising to socially dangerous levels, while new graduates are having to eat humble pie and accept employment conditions which insult the degree they worked so hard for, yet we are doing next to nothing to expose the serious over-employment we have in the public sector and which remains the main source of the chronic financial deficit which is mortgaging the economic future of this country.

Precious time and resources are` being wasted.` This government has no solutions.` It is not even attempting to pretend it has and is pinning all hope on` EU membership to` protect us from ourselves. As the perpetrators of the economic mess we are in they have no credentials to script serious economic regeneration plan. Politically they are not even able to acknowledge the problem let alone devise the solution.

So we are told that the structural deficit is being addressed when in fact it is widening. We are told that the economy is being liberalised just as monopolies are being created. Just take into account the charges being levied to get property searches ` the newest of all monopolies` given to private sector interest without competitive offers in an area where government could have easily used its own IT resources at MITTS to develop its own systems.

Just take into account the charges being levied on business by the banks using their dominant positions to take away the little bit that is given by the easing of monetary policy.

Restructuring is not being attempted let alone executed. As EU membership forces us to lift protection control we will unavoidably lose jobs at a time when we are not succeeding to create new ones. The government as usual will keep itself busy to dress make up on the underlying problems rather devising real even if not painless solutions.` Restructuring has not even started.

Monday, 7 January 2002

Excusities and all that

Maltastar

Excusities and all that!

Kurt Sansone (A bout of Excusities ` 03 Jan 2002) is right.` The Maltese public deserves better than the Istrina 2001 debacle and its aftermath.

To the nationalists it is a perfect ploy to shift attention from the real hard issues resulting from their mal-administration and have well meaning journalists like Sansone focus their criticism on the Opposition instead. For this purpose Peppi Azzopardi always comes handy.

But it is most unfair for Labour or Super One to be accused of boycott to the underlying causes of l-Istrina. Sansone is too young to have experienced the real nationalist boycotts of the first half of the 1980`s to understand what a boycott really is.

Has anyone heard Labour or Super One instigating anybody not to contribute or support the underlying causes of Istrina` And who would ever think that such boycott could work through ear whispering communications`

I made it clear before, at least a week before, that I did not intend to accept the offer to attend Istrina.` As head of Super One,` TVM are my main competitors and the presenters of Istrina are their cavallo di battaglia. Can anyone deny that they use Istrina to push their own commercial interest and gain popularity at the expense of Super One`

If whoever is responsible really wanted something on a national level they would have invited Super One as the most popular TV station in Malta with` the` most popular set of presenters to join in the preparation and presentation of the event. But the presenters wanted to ride on the back of the charity campaign to extend their popularity which they can translate into commercial revenues.

They expected Super One as the champion of TV audiences to play second fiddle to TVM and to Peppi Azzopardi. And then journalists like Sansone condemn us for being partisan in a national event. Sorry Kurt but it is not a national event.` It is a very partisan event meant to augment the popularity of Xarabank at the expense of Super One. Accepting to participate would be like Intel sending their microchip research as a Christmas present to Hynix, Samsung or ST Micro.

And Sansone can rest assured that we have good reason to feel betrayed by Xarabank. Firstly Xarabank is always somehow magically favoured by the MBA survey. How two surveys conducted on the same week by the same methodology agree broadly on all points of the research except on the Xarabank slot is a mystery which needs investigation. The MBA survey puts Xarabank as the top rated programme with a peak audience of 139000 whereas the Media warehouse survey puts Xarabank second to Super One`s Under Cover with an audience of less than 80,000. This gap is too wide to justify by statistical error.

Secondly I have been criticising Xarabank as unobjective in the choice of its subjects and gave a lists of topics which Xarabank never showed much inclination to investigate. One of them was the shameful manner in which Mid-Med Bank was privatised and the circumstantial evidence that something untoward happened as Mid-Med Bank changed name and colours to HSBC Malta.

Peppi came to see me last summer and explained that he might take up the hint and hold such a programme and asked me to take part. I not only agreed but in the most frank manner showed Peppi my concerns resulting from evidence of publicly available documents.

While Peppi was quick to change subjects of La Salle in less than 24 hours, . 4 months have not been enough to realise my suggestion in spite of promises to the contrary.

And there is a further point of principle.` Which national TV station supported by public funds and obliged to impartiality by the Broadcasting Act and the Constitution outsources its current affairs programme to a commercial organisation led by a very partial Lou Bondi who once had no qualms to literally demonise the Leader of the Opposition.

And to make it a complete farce Where`s Everybody say they would only publish their financial statements if the Labour Party gives a full account of its finances. The difference is that the Labour Party does give a full account of its finances through audited accounts read out at the annual general conference even though they send bill to no one and are no burden on the national coffers. Where`s Everybody on the contrary draw funds from the national coffers and give an account to no one.

Even from Istrina philanthropy Where`s Everybody give quite some oil to their commercial machine so much so that the Istrina prizes were presented during Xarabank.

Peppi made one sensible suggestion in offering to go to remove the Istrina controversy. I hope he will remember it next Christmas and insist on a truly national event with the co-participation of the likes of Alfred Zammit and Eileen Montesin who were recently voted the most popular male and female presenters in the Media Warehouse survey.

The Maltese public certainly deserves better!



Sunday, 6 January 2002

Il-Generosita tal-Poplu

Il-Kullhadd

Il-Generozita` tal-Poplu

Rega kellna turija ohra f`dan il-Milied tal-generozita` tal-Maltin u l-Ghawdxin li irrispondew bil-kbir ghal sejhiet ta` kontribuzzjoniijiet ghal skopijiet filantropici u ta` karita`. Prosit lil poplu Malti talli qatt ma jonqos li jirrispondi b`qalb kbira u b`imhabba.

Izda` hawn min anke dawn l-affarijiet nobbli fil-jiem ta` paci fil-Milied idawwarhom biex jiehu vantagg politiku jew kummercjali minnhom. U aghar minn hekk jghajjar lil haddiehor b`dak li fis-sewwa jappertjeni lilu.

L-ewwel kellna il-media nazzjonalista li uzaw iz-zieda fl-ghotjiet fi zmien il-Milied bhala turija ta` kemm il-poplu qed ekonomikament f`qaghda finanzjarja tajba u allura kemm hu bravu il-gvern nazzjonalista li tejjeb` tant il-hajja tal-Maltin li dawn setghu` izidu l-ghotjiet taghhom fil-jiem tal-Milied.

Kaz car ta` min ifittiex gwadann politku anke minn affarijiet ta` karita`. Fil-fatt ir-rabta li tezisti bejn il-benesseri ekonomika u l-ghotjiet ta` karita` mhix xi kredu ekonomiku car u indiskutibbli.` Huwa minnu li n-nies biex jaghtu ghal karita irid ikollhom minn fejn u allura huwa argument mhux ta` min iwarrbu li l-ghotjiet ghadhom xi riflessjoni fuq il-benesseri. Izda hemm argument daqstant qawwi li meta l-ekonomija tkun mghaxxa u jidhol il-dubju dwar il-futur, in-nies jonfqu anqas u jgemmghu izjed. Allura f`jiem tal-Milied fejn kullhadd joghla targa `l fuq mil-materjalizmu tas-sena kollha, isibu aktar x`jonfqu u x`jaghtu minn dak li jkunu naqsu li jonfqu matul is-sena minhabba biza ta` ghawg ekonomiku.

Ghalhekk iz-zieda fl-ghotjiet tista f`certi kazi tkun indikattiva ta` progress ekonomiku daqskemm f`certi kazi ohra tosta tkun indikattiva ta` problemi ekonomici. Biex tara liem wahda hija prelavanti tehtieg ricerka. Izda mill-esperjenza diretta tieghi tas-sena kollha nahseb li aktar huwa kaz ta` problemi ekonomici milli ta` zieda fil-benesseri.

Imbaghad kellna lil min juza l-gbir tal-Milied biex` isostni l-image ta` figura nazzjonali li jista` jiddetta l-andament poltiku f`pajjizna. Qed nghid car u tond ghal Where`s Everybody immexiha minn Peppi Azzopardi u Lou Bondi`. Bla ebda dubju il-programm ta` l-Istrina juzawh biex ikabbru il-popolarita` ta` Xarabank. Ma nafx kif jippretendu li jien bhala Chairman ta` Super One u shabi f`Super One nghinuhom biex ikabbru l-popolarita` ta` Xarabank tant li r-rigali ta` l-Istrina` jitqassmu f`Xarabank.

Irid ikollok wiccek ma jisthix biex tippretendi li jien se nqawwi l-avversarji biex imbaghad jibqghu isawwtuni matul is-sena kollha. Kieku Strina iriduha tassew haga nazzjonali kieku kienu jorganizzawha fuq livell nazzjonali fejn idahhlulu l-istazzjonijiet kollha u titmexxa minn espononenti ta` l-istazzjonijiet kollha. Izda Strina hija ntenzjonata biex issostni l-image ta` Where`s Everybody halli mbaghad matul is-sena juzaw il-media ta` l-Istat kontra il-Partit Laburista.

Nerga` nghid dak li ghedt diversi drabi. Jekk Peppi Azzopardi huwa gurnalist bravu u kapaci allura jista jigi mpjegati fin-newsroom ta` TVM u jtella programmi f`isem TVM. Ghax ma jezisti l-ebda stazzjon nazzjonali fid-dinja li ghandu obbligi ta` imparzjalita fin-News li johorgu mill-Kostituzzjoni li jhalli programmi ta` News u Current Affairs f`idejn kuntratturi esterni biex imbgahd ir-rizorsi tan_newsroom jibqghu idawwru subghajhom.` Jahsbu li m`hemmx nies kapaci fin-Newsroom biex itellghu programi ta` Current Affairs` Jew xi hadd jahseb li Lou Bondi` qatt jista jkun imparzjali`

Interessi tal-gvern nazzjonalista jkunu moqdija ahjar jekk il-programmi ta` current affairs ikunu f`idejn nies li jsiru ekonomikament dipendenti fuq il-gvern ghax hadd ma jigdem l-id li titimghu, specjalment jekk, kontra fil-kaz ta` l-impjegati,` il-kuntratt ikun jiggedded minn sena ghal sena.

U x`hemm ahjar milli din it-travestija nlibbsuha bobba sabiha permezz tal-generoizta` tal-Maltin fil-Milied` Ma jiddispjacini xejn li ma ghentx f`din it-travestija u bhala Super One tajna ezempju ta` kif tahden veru fl-interess tal-kawza meta flok organizzajna gbir separat tajna appogg il-gbir ta` l-RTK ghad-Dar tal-Provvidenza. Ghedna il-kawza gusta, l-RTK ilhom jaghmluha , u jonqoshom biss appogg televisziv ta` l-aqwa stazzjon f`Malta. Ghennihom minghajr ma hadna kreditu li mhux taghna.` Mhux bhal ma ghamlu ta` Where`s Everybody li tant ippersonalizzaw il-Kampanja Strina,` li n- Nazzjon harget b`headline li l-President u Peppi huma kuntenti bil-gbir. Jew Peppi se jsir President`

Friday, 4 January 2002

Real virtuality

The Malta Independent

Real Virtuality

The Euro has turned from a virtual to a real currency.` Three hundred million people can now feel the hard Euro notes and coins and actually make purchases in Euro as the national currencies start disappearing over the next few weeks.

Beyond the unavoidable change-over problems one has to look at the real benefits or disadvantages of this mega project. The obvious question that presents itself is whether the Euro project is an end in itself which has now been practically completed although it still` needs to withstand the test of time.` Or is it a means to a bigger end which will become more evident and defined once the means of the Euro project gains acceptance as a` reality project and once the barriers of national currencies are consigned to history.

Three existent member states, incidentally all three of them not forming part of the European mainland, seem to suspect that there is more than meets the eye in the Euro project.` UK,` Sweden and Denmark seem to suspect that once the Euro project is realised it will become clear to one and all that its sustainability can only be protected if fiscal policy is also co-ordinated.` Some politely refer to it as fiscal harmonisation.` However this could be just a mild beginning leading to a fiscal union just as the EMS that` started way back in the late 70`s eventually lead to a monetary union.

Can a monetary union survive if countries partaking in the union follow divergent fiscal policies Can Ireland`s economy growing at a real` 6% be served by the same interest rate applicable to Germany whose economy is contracting In a monetary union aspiring for longevity the answer is no. Ireland will have to use its fiscal policy to calm down its economy to bring it in line with a rate of interest meant to serve the interest of the economic motor of France Germany and Benelux rather than the interest of the small peripheral countries.

So unless Ireland wishes to risk an economic bubble with serious consequences which invariably arise when bubbles burst ( Japan is still nursing the consequence a 10 year old burst bubble) and having lost control over its own monetary and rate of exchange policy Ireland will be constrained to use its only available tool of fiscal policy to calm down its economic growth to the requirements of those countries whose economic conditions unavoidably weigh much more on the policies set by the European Central Bank.

This argument leads to the question of whether in reality members of a monetary union can still expect` to have real veto rights on fiscal matters as the EU treaties, with the latest versions coming out of Nice, still try to pretend` It is these uncertainties which have so far kept the three EU member states which traditionally are more in favour of a loose European Union of Members States rather than a centrally controlled Federalist Union to pause and wait before taking the monetary plunge.

New members will not have this facility. They are expected to proceed from EU membership to monetary union adherence as a matter of course in the time frame of a few years, not less than two but not much longer either.

From` those who argue that on membership Malta would be able to preserve its sovereignty on taxation I would welcome some re-assurance about practical experience of monetary unions where participating members were not obliged to harmonise and unify their fiscal and budget policies`

I am all in favour of giving a greater weight to the Euro in our basket of currencies and I can even conceptualise the possibility of 100% alignment to the Union if economic circumstances so dictate.` But aligning ourselves through our totally reversible internal decision is far different from monetary union. This would be irreversible and` takes away the possibility of using monetary and rate of exchange policy tools leaving little option but to align fiscal policy as well to the real drivers of the monetary union.

Acknowledging the Euro`s reality we should preserve its` virtuality!