The Malta Independent
To justify not giving a mere second reading to Labour`s proposal for holding a post-election referendum, the Prime Minister cited the argument that he is committed by the 1998 electoral manifesto to hold a referendum as soon as negotiations are completed.` Not holding the referendum on this side of the election would be breaking an electoral promise which according to the Prime Minister is unthinkable.
Forget for a moment the innumerable instances where electoral promises were not delivered and this without exhibiting similar compunction. From the last manifesto I could mention for example, promise number 15 to remove residential restrictions for local council elections, promise number 16 for establishing a method how to elect mayors, promise 20 for Gozo to benefit as a separate region from EU assistance, promise 21 for` a University branch in Gozo, promise 39 to keep food and medicine items free of consumption taxes, promise 41 to set up an autonomous statistical institute, promise 42 to keep government debt within 60% of GDP, promise 43 to bring the public deficit down to within 3% of GDP, promise 46 to use privatisation proceeds to reduce government debt and not to accumulate further debt, promise 49 to build an Arts Centre instead of the derelict national theatre at City Gate, promise 52 to build infrastructural connection between the two Valletta harbours, promise 53 to develop Fort St Angelo, promise 55 to develop and up-grade our roads through easy EU funding, promise 86 not to change present regulations for hunting and bird trapping, promise 122` to extend tourism TOSS scheme to all markets, and on and on and on.
`according to our Prime Minister whilst we should overlook the fact that so many electoral promises ... should be overlooked, he just cannot be expected to overlook this referendum promise` However it is true that promise number 228 says explicitly that after conclusion of negotiations for EU membership a Referendum will be held so that the electorate with a specific vote will decide whether or not to join the EU in membership.
So according to our Prime Minister whilst we should overlook the fact that so many electoral promises, and other pledges made during the 1998 campaign like the famous cool hundred million EU funds per annum, should be overlooked, he just cannot be expected to overlook this referendum promise and he is determined to hold the referendum imminently and certainly before the next general elections.
If one flashes back momentarily to the summer of 1998 when all these promises were scripted, one would recall that at the time the EU enlargement date was being prospected as 1st January 2003. So promise number 288 cannot be seen in isolation.` It forms part of a promise to negotiate and proceed to membership within the term of this legislature with the proviso that the final terms of accession are approved by a specific referendum. `The referendum pledge per se is therefore expired as the government has no longer the faculty of execution it had projected for itself when the manifesto was made.`
Now as it so happens, and certainly without any demerits of this government, the enlargement date has slipped into next legislature.` The faculty to execute the negotiated terms is missing. The referendum pledge per se is therefore expired as the government has no longer the faculty of execution it had projected for itself when the manifesto was made.
A consultative referendum on this side of the election fails the basic ingredient of the faculty of execution.` It becomes a mere political tool whereas it is intended to be a national above politics consultation process.` Labour`s proposal to hold an immediate post-election referendum, is not only sensible but fully within the spirit of the promise 228 which is being invoked to justify the unjustifiable.
Labour has always maintained that a referendum binds the government that holds it (and hence also a future Labour government that offers to hold a referendum) and has further offered to bind the opposition in case of a 60% endorsement.
Yet it is so convenient for the government to invoke lapsed electoral promises whilst liberally neglecting still relevant ones. The national interest can wait.
Friday, 31 January 2003
The Malta Independent
Thursday, 30 January 2003
The Times of Malta
This is what I twice exclaimed last Saturday. Firstly when I read John Dalli's Talking Point in answer to my contribution the day before in the weekly column I keep in The Malta Independent. And then again when I read the prime minister's reply to Alfred Sant's honourable and genuine offer to reach consensus on the referendum issue.
When criticism strikes at the heart of the PN's arguments or strategic positions, they react in two possible but distinct ways. They either ignore it, hoping that with the aid of the friendly media it will die away naturally. Or if they do not think this could happen, they react in a crisis mode, generally denigrating the critic rather than his message. Both PN reactions have the latter characteristic to which I could only express: holy macaroni!
Take Mr Dalli's piece. He could not deny the point that years of pressure on Switzerland, a non-EU member, did not succeed to move them an inch from their reluctance to adopt the disclosure model demanded by the EU.
`If, under partnership, we will get the same deal as the Swiss from the EU, we will make every year, in net clean cash, more than what the PN got in conditional funding.` Mr Dalli says I conveniently left out that Switzerland grants exchange of information on request for all criminal activities or civil cases of fraud or similar misbehaviour on the part of the taxpayer.
Under the plans to become an international financial centre under Labour's partnership policy, Malta would also adopt the highest level of anti-money laundering regulations and would not allow general secrecy rules to protect individuals' criminal activities or fraud charges. But what has this got to do with the general disclosure rules wanted by the EU`
Mr Dalli then doubts whether Switzerland, and eventually Malta under Labour's partnership policy, would be faring better under the deal.
He is free to doubt what he wants, to imagine that Switzerland will eventually give in to OECD pressure for disclosure, and to blind himself to the raw deal Malta is getting in not being given the same treatment as member Luxembourg.
The truth is that under the agreed arrangement, Switzerland has gained a competitive advantage over the many other EU financial centres that have been forced to accept disclosure. It is certainly no worse off than Luxembourg, and can now benefit by withholding 25 per cent of the tax at source revenue to be collected.
If this cash deal amounting to billions of euros is bad, then what does one call the financial package we got`
If, under partnership, we will get the same deal as the Swiss from the EU, we will make every year, in net clean cash, more than what the PN got in conditional funding. Is this feasible, one may ask` If it is feasible for Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Andorra, Monaco and San Marino, why not for Malta if we do not join the EU` `The way the prime minister dismissed it without attempting to develop it into something acceptable to both sides suggests he is only interested in hanging on to power at all cost. Those who matter have noted this.`
Whether this is better than the prospect that EU membership opens up for receiving outsourcing business from Dublin and Luxembourg for fund management and fund administration etc., it is for the people to decide.
But I distinctly remember Mr Dalli preaching that Malta cannot compete internationally simply on the basis of low costs. And how long would the cost advantage last under the EU membership model` And why should we settle for the crumbs that Luxembourg and Dublin let fall off their table`
The prime minister's reply to the opposition leader's proposal for further discussions on a truly national referendum to be held by a newly-elected government soon after the elections is vintage arrogance of 16 years in power.
No one should have any further doubt that, while preaching that the referendum has to be a national event above party politics, the prime minister is planning to use it as a political stool attempting to get over the high obstacle of having to face the next general elections with a record of failed promises.
By a simple and smart political move, the PN has been exposed as mere user and abuser of the national interest. The stark contrast in attitudes between Dr Sant and Dr Fenech Adami stands out sharply.
In the national interest, the former did not mind compromising a solid electoral win merely 22 months down the road. The latter would not even risk missing the last few months in power to pursue a truly national referendum to be held immediately after early elections.
The Labour leader's offer for a post-election national referendum is most valid and shows the serious stuff national leaders ought to be made of.
The way the prime minister dismissed it without attempting to develop it into something acceptable to both sides suggests he is only interested in hanging on to power at all cost. Those who matter have noted this.
This extract is lifted from the official EU web-site where a weekly bulletin called Enlargement Weekly provides an overview of the progress of the European Union enlargement project.
THE COST OF ENLARGEMENT DISCUSSED IN PARLIAMENT
"We're getting enlargement cheaper than we thought we would", European Enlargement Commissioner Gunter Verheugentold the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee on January 23. He confirmed that the final deal agreed at
Clearly we have priced ourselves at a discount. Forget all the arguments that project finance should not be counted as it is not equivalent to cash payments and may or may not be realized due to our lack of capacity to handle the bureaucracy for such funding. Just accept what we have been offered without any questioning.
“Why do the likes ofVerheugen speak different languages when they visit candidate countries as against when they address EU institutions? “
Can anyone deny that this budgetary compensation may not be repeated for next budget beyond 2006 so that even if we keep our objective one status, there is every likelihood that we become net contributors no matter what our Ver Huegen may think?
Why do the likes of Verheugen speak different languages when they visit candidate countries as against when they address EU institutions?
Probably because like experienced salesperson they speak to prospective clients in a very different mode from when they speak to the Finance Director in charge of their remuneration package.
At least Joe Grima is honest. Unlike the Prime Minister and his government who keep pretending that EU membership is compatible with our Constitution at least Joe Grima admits that it is not.
His opinion that we should jettison our neutrality and become an indistinguishable part of the EU foreign, security and perhaps defense policy is noted. Let me just reply that the Constitution can only be changed by a two thirds majority andLabour will not sell our neutrality, whatever the price. Building doomsday scenarios that we may be attacked by
Neutrality is Labour’s evergreen doctrine. Anyone who hopes to return to Labour’s fold might disagree with its policies but not with its doctrines.
While the whole world will be celebrating women’s day with a mimosa branch, we will be voting the EU referendum and one-third of us will also be voting for local elections.
I am writing this before the matter is debated by the Labour general conference to decide the party’s official position on the referendum. I will submit to the majority's decision which will be taken by the General Conference but my mind is clear.
“Neutrality is Labour’severgreen doctrine. Anyone who hopes to return to Labour’s fold might disagree with its policies but not with its doctrines.”
I am more than positive that with Labour in government and having fair access to the media to explain its policies, MLP stands more than a fair chance of also holding the referendum. But the people’s will be respected to the extent that it does not conflict with the Constitution, even if the majority is just one vote above the 50%.
Provided that Labour comes to terms with these provisions I would say it can safely say that the PN's referendum should be considered as a non-event (one cannot boycott a non-event), merely as a partisan stool to reach the high, otherwise unreachable, objective of another election victory. Labour should put the stool on the other side of the wall.
Anyone who sincerely believes that the people have a right to choose, cannot so off-handedly reject the offer for a post-election referendum. Only such a referendum can be truly national, where people, away from the election heath, will be free to vote with their minds not with their hearts. Trying to bind a future government with a brain-washing referendum is not in my democracy dictionary.
In view of recent events, bearing in mind PM’s shameful utterances that we should forget all about the Opposition when voting for the referendum and with public resources applied so much tilted to deliver a subjective result, they will have to carry me to vote in the PN’s referendum.
Monday, 27 January 2003
Normally if the Prime Minister wanted to sound his probable successor about anything and he has genuine interest to explore, in the national interest, a solution acceptable to both, he could have invited the Leader of the Opposition for an informal not on record tete-a-tete.
The fact that the Prime Minister not only used the medium of a formal letter but made the letter public on a prime-time TV show, probably before the Leader of the Opposition had read the original one, shows that the Prime Minister was not in fact addressing only the Leader of the Opposition. He was also addressing public opinion.
“There was nothing really on offer from the Prime Minister’s side. The real offer came from the Opposition and it was to be the second public opinion blow for the Prime Minister”
From the Leader of the Opposition he wanted to have an inkling of what his Party’s position would be regarding the referendum that he was dead set to hold in March 2003. From public opinion he wanted acknowledgement that he was making a gesture of reconciliation to make the referendum look a truly national above politics affair.
He has failed miserably in both objectives. The Leader of the Opposition held his ground that if the Prime Minister keeps insisting on a March 2003 pre-election referendum then the position of the Labour Party will be known after the matter is discussed and decided by its highest organ, the general conference, that will be called in extraordinary session immediately the referendum gets announced.
The promise of holding an election after the referendum by not later than a date to be agreed with the Leader of the Opposition is hardly a concession. Such a date already exists – it is
“I am sure if the correspondence had been copied to the Archbishop he would have thought that heavens were hearing his prayers for making the EU referendum a truly national and intelligent exercise”
Six months during which the falsity of government’s EU policy, unsavoury details about the new EU Constitution which would apply should we eventually join and the unsustainability of public finance would continue to expose themselves to the detriment of the PN’s chances for re-election.
There was nothing really on offer from the Prime Minister’s side. The real offer came from the Opposition and it was to be the second public opinion blow for the Prime Minister. After a week-long consultations, the Leader of the Opposition counter-proposed a real concession.Labour moved from the oft-repeated position that the matter had to be decided solely through a general election and made a spectacularly practical and realistic offer. Let’s both agree that the government returned from an early election will hold a referendum in a short time-frame thereafter, proposed the Labour Leader. Rather than hard-headed, Alfred Sant showed he was flexible and pragmatic, especially where the national interest is involved.
But in case that clarifications or further discussions were needed the Leader of the Opposition made it clear he was ready to discuss. The message was unmistakeable. Once the principle of the election preceding the referendum is accepted by both sides, details could be discussed and agreed.
The Prime Minister must have seen red when he got the Leader of the Opposition’s letter. Not only it gave no inkling of what the Opposition would do when the March referendum is called, but public opinion would inevitably sway in Labour’sfavour for making the only real and practical solution, for taking a truly national decision on the EU project. I am sure if the correspondence had been copied to the Archbishop he would have thought that heavens were hearing his prayers for making the EU referendum a truly national and intelligent exercise.
It was not to be. The Prime Minister’s arrogance, fermented over 16 years in absolute almost uninterrupted power, could not permit any deviation from the need to preserve power by using the referendum as a step stool to reach the otherwise inaccessible goal of another electoral success in the face of structural domestic adversity. His trick had been exposed. Any time ‘lost’ discussing with the Opposition would have only helped to build credibility for their sensible proposal. The Sunday papers could not be allowed to give prominence to the Opposition national interest offer. An outright refusal had to be issued and it had to be justified somehow. Inevitably it was justified on the flimsiest of excuses.
“No consultative referendum could bind a future government if it remains unexecuted.”
It labelled the 60% binding benchmark as undemocratic without even bothering to understand what was in fact being offered. The PM did not even bother to seek clarification or to remember that theLabour Leader had always maintained that a referendum binds only the government that holds it. Not the slightest attempt was made to see whether this benchmark, once explained or clarified, could be negotiated downwards. The possibility of having a situation where, not only the government is committed by the referendum result but also the Opposition, to ensure that the country approaches the monumental EU project as one united nation, did not appeal at all to our PM whose only real interest is retention of power.
But then again it is simply not true that the PM is bound by the pledge to hold a referendum now. When the pledge to hold a referendum soon after negotiations for EU membership are concluded was made, it was the summer of 1998. At that time the officially envisaged EU accession date was
Circumstances changed. Enlargement has now slipped into next legislature. No consultative referendum could bind a future government if it remains unexecuted. So the only logical way out is to hold an early election and return a government with a faculty of execution that would then hold immediate referendum. This is perfectly logical.
In the PN camp, however, logic supply is inversely proportional to party interest. Logic gets scarcer and scarcer the most partisan interest get involved. And not even laughable surveys giving handsome electoral leads to the PN in both the referendum and the election seem to impress the PM. Like us what he hears from the people who do not participate in such surveys tells a different story.
The country now needs no more letters from the top. It only needs to give its people the right to decide calmly and soberly without being bombarded by those willing to spend millions on the media to scare us from voting in our own interest.
Sunday, 26 January 2003
The Malta Independent on Sunday
As the country gets into gear for the electoral campaigns facing it, the rising noise is increasing the confusion betweens the means and the ends of a membership/partnership option with the EU.
Whether we go for membership or partnership is not an end in itself. The end should be sustainable improving standard of living for the citizens of these islands without prejudicing our security, our nationhood and our environment.
It is all too often however that the government has made membership in the EU as the final objective. The standard of living of the citizens has been relegated to a variable that can be compromised up to whatever level is necessary to achieve the membership objective.
`The end should be sustainable improving standard of living for the citizens of these islands without prejudicing our security, our nationhood and our environment.` Only this could explain the scare campaign which has been embarked upon personally by the Prime Minister depicting a doom scenario should the Maltese exercise their constitutional right to reject membership as negotiated by his government.
Take his recent assertion that all serious exporting companies would all close down if Malta opts out of membership. The Prime Minister was undiplomatically categorical about it. All serious exporting industry will take their factories elsewhere if we stay out of the EU.
Now this is a bland untruth. Can anyone imagine such serious companies as ST Microelectronics, Brandstatter, Baxter, Pharmamed, Denim, Dowty, De La Rue. Methode and others who kept on investing and up-grading their local outfits closing down just because we go for a free trade area with the EU rather than for full integration.` If non-membership could have compromised their continued existence here, they would not have undertaken their massive investments undertaken these last few years.
And in addressing business leaders at a breakfast meeting this week the Prime Minister again warned that if the EU referendum goes against membership,` Malta`s credibility could be shocked and credit rating agencies like Moody`s and Standard and Poor`s would downgrade Malta`s status. These are scare tactics at their best.
Moody`s and such like agencies` decisions are not based on the type of international affiliations countries enjoy. They are based on the strength of the economy, its diversity, its resilience and the quality of its economic management. Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are not EU members but still enjoy optimal ratings.
The truth is that the Prime Minister and his government have mismanaged our economy so much that it is only the promise of discipline from EU membership which is keeping international rating agencies from down-grading our status.`
`The truth is that the Prime Minister and his government have mismanaged our economy so much that it is only the promise of discipline from EU membership which is keeping international rating agencies from down-grading our status` So the sacred truth is that rating agencies could down-grade our status not because we opt-out of EU membership per se, but because the economy has been prejudiced to such a degree that international rating agencies have been forced to conclude that only external discipline could save us from our own vices brought by the money no problem culture that Fenech Adami has pedalled over the last sixteen years.
In essence the choice in front of use is as simple as that. The PN believes that this country has been compromised to such an extent that only absorption by a supra-national organisation could save our skin from self-destruction.` The MLP per contra believes still in our ability to manage our own affairs with discipline, dignity and in line with good housekeeping practices. That the country needs to stand on its own feet again economically before being capable of taking a smart decision on a permanent irreversible absorption within the EU.
And as international events unfold, credibility keeps mounting on the appropriateness of Labour`s partnership policy as being more suitable for the peculiarities of our islands.` Just think about it ` would you buy a house at its full commercial price if in parliament there is a debate going on about a development plan which would pass a highway right where this house stands.
This is just the situation regarding the neutrality provisions entrenched in the Constitution vis-`-vis EU membership. We have been assure and re-assured that EU membership would not be in conflict with our neutrality status.` To sustain this MIC spends full-page adverts informing us that CSFP (Common Foreign and Security Policy `Chapter 27) is subject to consensus and Malta would block any future developments which could create conflicts with our Constitution. They also emphasise the unilateral declaration on neutrality which the Maltese government would be allowed to append to the accession treaty.
But at the same time the European Convention has accepted France and Germany proposal that CSFP matters become subject to qualified majority rule which Malta as a member with minimum voting rights will have no chance to block. So how are we going to protect our neutrality as EU members By a worthless `as things stand today` unilateral declaration` Are not the neutrality provisions of our Constitution at least worth a formal protocol to be signed by all existing and prospective members just like the abortion protocol And as the abortion protocol is not restricted to `as things stand today` provision, why should the neutrality declaration be so restricted` Or are we joining only for today`
In-nazzjonalisti ser jaghmlu sforz kbir biex jikkonvincu lill-Maltin mhux tant li membership fl-UE hija xi haga tajba u li taghmlilna l-gid, izda li fil-fatt m`hemm l-ebda ghazla ohra;` li bid-diffikulta` kollha taghha it-triq tal-membership hija l-uniku triq li ghandna quddiemna u li iebsa kemm hi iebsa dik irridu niehdu ghax dik biss hemm.
Diga` smajna kemm il-darba lill-Prim Ministru jappella lill-Maltin biex ma joqghodux jaraw kif ser jintlaqtu huma izda li jifhmu u jaccettaw li anke jekk ser jintlaqtu hazin il-pajjiz ma ghandux ghazla hlief li nsiru membri shah fl-UE.
Ara fl-1998 ma qalilhomx hekk lil Maltin.` Ma qalilhomx li l-gvern ta` Alfred Sant kellu bilfors izid it-taxxi biex jaghmel tajjeb ghad-dizastru li kien halla warajh u li kien gieghelu jmur ghal elezzjoni qabel ma jressaq il-budget ghas-sena 1997. Ma qalilhomx biex l-ewwel jahsbu fl-interess nazzjonali u` ma jarawx kemm qed ibatu mit-taxxi li Alfred Sant bilfors kellu jaghmel.` Minflok weghdhom mitt miljun u pinga lil Alfred Sant bhala xi wiehed kattiv li jhobb jghakkes in-nies bit-taxxi ghal xejn b`xejn.
`Nemmnu bis-shih li f`dal-pajjiz ghad hawn il-kapacita` li mmexxu lilna nfusna, li naghmlu dak li hu l-ahjar ghalina u mhux dak li jiddettalna haddiehor sa lanqas dettal tieghu.` Fil-fatt` Fenech Adami llum verament jahseb li l-pajjiz m`ghandux ghazla ghax wara sittax il-sena jmexxi gab `l pajjiz gharkubbtejh. U min huwa gharkubbtejh mifni bid-djun u bl-istagnar ekonomiku, ma tantx jista` jaghzel.` X`jista jaghzel min tant ghandu dejn li ma jistax ilahhaq mieghu Xi tridu jaghmel hlief li joqghod ghal kundizzjonijiet kollha li jimponi fuqu min ghandu jiehu`
Izda billi Fenech Adami ma jistax jara l-ghazla ma jfissirx li din ma tezistix.` Meta tkun gharkubbtejk ma tantx tista tara fil-boghod.` Izda min iqum bil-wieqfa allura jista jkabbar il-vista u jaghzel tassew fejn irid imur.
U l-ghazla tal-Partit Laburista hija propju` li l-pajjizna nqajmuh minn gharkubbtejh u nqajmuh bil-wieqfa fuq tieghu, kburi b`nislu u b`gheruqu, kunfidenti fih innifsu u kapaci jghazel liem l-ahjar triq li l-aktar tghodd ghalih. Biex taghzel irid ikollok minn fejn taghzel. In-nazzjonalisti jghidu li ma hemmx minn fejn taghzel ghax tilfu l-fiducja li nistghu mmexxu lilna nfusna.` Jahsbu li kullhadd bhalhom.
Il-Partit Laburista mhux hekk. Nemmnu bis-shih li f`dal-pajjiz ghad hawn il-kapacita` li mmexxu lilna nfusna, li naghmlu dak li hu l-ahjar ghalina u mhux dak li jiddettalna haddiehor sa lanqas dettal tieghu. Nemmnu li l-ewwel prijorita` mhux li nintelqu f`idejn haddiehor ghax ma nistghux inlahhqu mad-dejn. Nemmnu li l-ewwel prijorita` hija li nergghu nifdu lil pajjiz mil-mazzra finanzjarja li ghabbih biha minn ftahar li l-flus mhux problema. `Il-Partit Laburista ma jaghlaq bibien ghalxejn.` Il-Partit Laburist joffri ghazla fejn haddiehor ma jridx joffriha. Il-Partit Laburista jemmen bis-shih li Partnership hija l-ahjar ghazla.`
Li bil-ghaqal, bil-bzulija u bid-determinazzjoni nistghu nigu f`sensina, nehilsu mis-saram tad-dejn li ser jiblaghna u jgieghelna nbieghu kull ma ghandna lill-barrani bl-irhis, nsolvu il-problema ta` l-gholi tal-hajja, noholqu x-xoghol specjalment ghal dawk li ghandhom aktar minn erbghin sena`,` u ngibu l-pajjiz modern u kompettittiv f`dinja globalizzata.
U dan nistghu naghmluh hafna ahjar permezz tal-politika ta` Partnership ghax iva, permezz tal-Partnership jirnexxielna niehdu l-ahjar mill-UE bla ma nitghabbew b`pizijiet li jkissruna.` `Billi n-nazzjonalisti ma kienux kapaci jaslu f`arrangament bhal dan ma jfissirx li ahna ma nistghux naslu.` Naslu,` u kif naslu.
U mbaghad meta l-pajjiz ikun b`sahhtu u jqum minn gharkubbtejh, meta jista` jara sewwa l-ghazliet li ghandu quddiemu,` imbaghad naghzlu kif ikun l-ahjar ghalina u mhux dak li bilfors jimponilna haddiehor galadarba nammettu li ma ghandniex ghazla.
Il-Partit Laburista ma jaghlaq bibien ghalxejn.` Il-Partit Laburist joffri ghazla fejn haddiehor ma jridx joffriha. Il-Partit Laburista jemmen bis-shih li Partnership hija l-ahjar ghazla.
Friday, 24 January 2003
The Malta Independent
Alinghi carried the Louis Vuitton Cup and is now poised to take on the New Zealanders in the bid to bring the America`s Cup to Europe for the first time. The UBS-sponsored Swiss boat flying the Power of Partnership sail beat the American challengers ensuring that the America`s Cup will stay out of the American continent for the third consecutive time.
But there is more to the power of partnership then yachting. Take the ECOFIN package deal reached this week after 13 years of negotiations to reach an agreement on cross border tax on savings. With the creation of a single market France and Germany could not accept that their citizens avoid taxes on their interest income simply by driving to Luxembourg and depositing their money there. Luxembourg built its financial industry on this fiscal differentiation advantage before extending further to fund management and fund administration.
`For candidate countries like Malta who are still in the negotiation phase, it was made clear to them that they have to adopt full disclosure upon membership and no derogations or transitory periods will be considered.` At Feira in Portugal two years ago the European Union members agreed to adopt full disclosure of interest payments to citizens of other EU members as from 2010. In the run up between 2004 and 2010 member countries were left with the discretion to adopt either immediate full disclosure or adopt a withholding tax concept temporarily avoiding full disclosure. For candidate countries like Malta who are still in the negotiation phase, it was made clear to them that they have to adopt full disclosure upon membership and no derogations or transitory periods will be considered. Offshore island dependencies forming part of the UK but not part of Britain as an EU member, were brought under the same arrangements. Britain committed itself to bring them in line. There remained one major problem. The whole deal would not work if non-EU member Switzerland and small European states such as Lichtenstein, Monaco and Andorra do not co-operate to adopt `similar` measures. At Feira EU members gave the European Commission two years to persuade Switzerland and the small states to cooperate. `Our small size would allow the flexibility to come up with such creative schemes that attracts business and creates sustainable growth. Membership would on the other hand kill our flexibility.` All pressure and threats of retaliatory action would not move Switzerland from refusing even to consider or discuss full disclosure at any point in time now or in the future. Finally the EU had to accept that Switzerland can permanently adopt the withholding tax concept without any concessions on full disclosure. EU members Luxembourg, Austria and Belgium insisted and were allowed a similar arrangement. And where does this leave Malta`s plan as an international financial centre` If we are constrained to adopt full disclosure our plans for Private Banking international business are dead as we will be disadvantaged against Switzerland and Luxembourg. Some argue that we can compete and get business in fund administration and fund management winning market share away from Luxembourg and Ireland. But how can we do this if we are not allowed to differentiate our offer` Consider however the power of the partnership option. Even if we accept exactly the same package offered to the Swiss, even levying perfectly identical final withholding tax from interest payments to non-resident depositors, we can still compete through flexibility. Part of the withholding tax which would be retained by Malta (amounting to 25 per cent of the tax withheld) could be re-invested in promotion offering investors free or subsidised travel and hotel accommodation. Our small size would allow the flexibility to come up with such creative schemes that attracts business and creates sustainable growth. Membership would on the other hand kill our flexibility.
Thursday, 23 January 2003
I am not talking about some small detail here or there which any living and dynamic organisation has to change as it evolves from time to time. I am talking about something as serious that can only be changed with two-thirds qualified majority vote by our House of Representative.
I am talking about our neutrality. Chapter 27 dealing with CSFP (Common Foreign and Security Policy) was closed without
Furthermore we have been repeatedly assured that our neutrality will be safeguarded and there will be no conflicts between our obligations as EU members and the neutrality provisions of our Constitution. To satisfy doubters like myself the government has agreed with the EU to attach to the final Treaty a unilateral declaration confirming Malta’s neutral status and that as things stand today EU membership presents no conflict with our Constitution.
“In simple language
But even before we will be invited to sign the Treaty and more than a year before the projected enlargement date the Acquis is about to be completely re-designed and overhauled particularly on matters concerning CSFP.
Pardon my French but I just read the French text of the release of the Franco-German governments of their joint proposals for the European Conventions tasked to re-write the EU constitutional documents. It was released only in French and German and as my German is worse than my French, which is hardly adequate in any case, I had to read the French text.
In simple language
These are exactly the sort of developments which would be in direct conflict with our Constitution. How can the Maltese government protect the Constitution if it is taking an obligations where its Foreign and Security policy could be determined by others through the qualified majority rule, against its own wishes and against our own interest?
“So once again, pardon my French, but I am far from satisfied that our Constitution is being preserved through a unilateral declaration which does not in any bind the co-signatories of the Treaty and just state facts of the matter as they stand on date of signature.”
So once again, pardon my French, but I am far from satisfied that our Constitution is being preserved through a unilateral declaration which does not in any bind the co-signatories of the Treaty and just state facts of the matter as they stand on date of signature.
Given the clear intentions expressed by the big guns of the EU, government has an obligation under the Constitution to insist on the unilateral declaration to be replaced by a formal protocol to be signed by all present and future members of the EU where they engage themselves to respect our Constitution and give Malta the freedom to opt out of any future development that will conflict with our Constitution on matters that are entrenched by the two-thirds majority rule.
This crucial point needs to be cleared before we continue the headlong mad rush for a referendum to embark a one-way train leading to where our Constitution prohibits.
Otherwise the PN billboards EWROPA NIDDECIEDU INT U JIEN will be carrying a message with a very short expiry. Once we become members INT U JIEN will not decide anything anymore. Not even when our Constitution requires two thirds majority.
The Membership cake is half baked. Labour’s Partnership is far more realistic and should present us a much better fit.
Monday, 20 January 2003
Rarely a week comes like last week where one is spoilt for choice of events of news value `happening in quick sequence all packaged in a such a short space of time. I comment briefly on the most relevant
Labour accepts VAT
This not only shows maturity and national interest considerations, but it shows pragmatism in adopting policies to suit current realities rather than yesterday`s conditions. As usual the PN media never see anything positive in Labour. They say it`s a U-turn forgetting the maxim that it is a sign of consistency to change one`s mind in the face of changing circumstances.
`the maxim that it is a sign of consistency to change one`s mind in the face of changing circumstances.` Labour`s decision on VAT brings out strikingly the flexibility superiority of the partnership model over the membership model. Rather than having VAT imposed on us in all its details, including its application on basic essentials of food and medicine, Labour can use VAT as a truly flexible tool of fiscal and social policy.
As a prime mover behind this development it gives me satisfaction seeing the PN worried ` VAT could be their downfall again in the next elections.
That Fenech Adami is under severe stress more intense than that we had noticed `in the 1996 electoral campaign (you remember his gaffe of housewives going out to work to put air conditioners in the kitchen!) was evident again this week.
He made a dumbfounding statement. Unless we join the EU in membership all serious industries will close down, he said.
`He was caught naked having to pay homage to those he had just labelled not serious` Companies like ST Thomson, Brandstatter, Methode, Dowty, Pharmamed, Denim and Baxter ` all top brass highly competitive exporters ` made huge investments over the last four years to extend and enhance their operations in Malta.
Unless these companies have some super-human 6th psyche sense, or unless they are so irresponsible as to invest huge millions knowing that they might have to close down if Malta aborts its EU membership bid, then the only residual logical conclusion is that these companies are not serious.
But as it so happened the PM this very same week inaugurated the Lm2 million extension at Methode and very dutifully sang praises to `their competences. He was caught naked having to pay homage to those he had just labelled not serious.
If anyone is not serious it is the PM trying to involve foreign investors in local political games.
Nine hundred or so veterans of Labour sympathies` have received a court intimation that they have to undergo medical tests to prove their mental sanity because the PN is claiming that they should lose their constitutional right to vote because of their sick minds.
One of these is none other than Gigi Gauci the 91 year old who enters Valletta most mornings and whose mind is still sharper than a razor blade. Others like him abound. ` What basically the PN are telling us is that their arrogance and prepotence has reached such chronic and dangerous proportions that they consider all Labour sympathisers as being sick in the mind.`
What basically the PN are telling us is that their arrogance and prepotence has reached such chronic and dangerous proportions that they consider all Labour sympathisers as being sick in the mind. They only do it to the veterans as the rest of us miss the old age attribute to use as a smokescreen.
Arrogance and prepotence could in acute doses lead to mind sickness. The electoral commission could just as well test the state of mind of the perpetrators of such vile act. As to the local media, trying to equate such despicable act to Labour`s application to dis-enfranchise Dr Arnold Cassola of his vote because of deficiency in the residency requirements according to law, is another proof that most of them would justify anything provided it helps the PN. Whether Dr Arnold Cassola has the right residency ingredients to vote can be proven as a matter of fact and bears no bad connotations to his sanity or other personal attributes. It is not different from the PN`s disenfranchisement of Doreen Attard Monataldo from contesting the last Zebbug local elections.
The letter riddle
Following a weeklong parliamentary debate where the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition must have faced each other to boredom level, the Prime Minister felt the need to write a letter to the Leader of the Opposition and to read it out on Xarabank rather than in parliament. For the PN,` Xarabank has become `the official medium replacing `the House of Representatives where TV cameras are only allowed to transmit foreign dignitaries` speeches advising us that EU membership makes sense. `The only thing that could make sense in this context would be to proceed to early elections and seek consensus to hold a truly national referendum soon thereafter where people would choose if they want to proceed with the negotiated deal for membership or open up fresh negotiations for partnership.`
Rarely have so many contradictions been contained in such a brief document. The Prime Minister acknowledges that Labour wants the issue to be decided by an election and acknowledges that in the country there is a damaging state of indecision. The only thing that could make sense in this context would be to proceed to early elections and seek consensus to hold a truly national referendum soon thereafter where people would choose if they want to proceed with the negotiated deal for membership or open up fresh negotiations for partnership.
Instead the Prime Minister`s letter `offers` Labour that if they accept his insistence on pre-election yes/no referendum without any boycott and then he is prepared to agree on the latest date for an election.` This is just like offering consensual agreement provided Labour agrees to what the PN wants!` If the matter was not related to such a serious matter requiring appropriate language, `the short answer could possibly be something it like this : `Tell it to the marines!`
The latest date for holding the general election is well-known.` It is 24th January 2004 which incidentally happens to be three months and one week before 1st May 2004.` For Labour the longer the Prime Minister takes to call an election the better as it brings out the falsity of government 2003 budget and gives Labour time to explain the riddles in the negotiated EU membership package and explain the advantage of flexibility and differentiation in the Partnership policy.
Early elections are needed for the national interest not for Labour`s sake. The PN on the other hand wants a Labour condoned pre-election referendum as the only effective stepping stool to overcome the high barrier they built themselves for next election from their `disinterest in the local problems which afflict people`s daily lives.
Id-decizjoni tal-Partit Laburista li jzomm izda jizbor il-VAT, bhala sistema ta` tassazzjoni indiretta, giet milqugha tajjeb minn kullhadd.` Il-Partit Laburista wera maturita` kbira li aggorna il-pozizzjoni tieghu.
L-unici nies li ma ghogbithomx id-decizjoni tal-Partit Laburista dwar il-VAT kienu nazzjonalisti. Dawn qatt ma nistghu naghmlu xejn tajjeb ghalihom.` Kieku ghedna li se nnehhu l-VAT kienu jghidu li ser noholqu aktar instabilita`. La ghedna li kollox ma kollox ikun ahjar li nzommuha u nizbruha qed jghidu li ghamilna U-turn.
Xejn ma jimporta ghan-nazzjonalisti li Alfred Sant kemm qabel l-1996 u kemm qabel l-1998 kien qal li kienet l-ahhar cans li titnehha l-VAT u li jekk jitla` gvern nazzjonalista ikun imbaghad difficli jekk mhux impossibli li tnehhi is-sistema VAT li tkun rabbiet l-gheruq.
`Is-sodisfazzjon huwa li z-zmien wera li jien mhux nitbieghed mil-policies tal-Partit izda nikkontribwixxi biex il-Partit jifforma policies li jkatturlu c-cans ta` rebha elettorali l-ewwel u ta` tmexxija efficjenti u effettiva galadarba fil-gvern.` Din il-kwistjoni lili gabitli ugieh u sodisfazzjon. Ugiegh ghax meta il-Partit ddikajra li kien qed jikkonsidra l-pozizzjoni tieghu rigward il-VAT u jien hrigt bl-istess idejat li issa gew addottati mil-Partit,` uhud, avversarji u hbieb, hasbu li jien qed nitbieghed mil-policies tal-Partit.` Is-sodisfazzjon huwa li z-zmien wera li jien mhux nitbieghed mil-policies tal-Partit izda nikkontribwixxi biex il-Partit jifforma policies li jkatturlu c-cans ta` rebha elettorali l-ewwel u ta` tmexxija efficjenti u effettiva galadarba fil-gvern.
Izda din l-istess kwistjoni tal-VAT fiha nfisha tigbor id-differenza li tezisti fil-posizzjoni taz-zewg partiti rigward l-UE. Iz-zewg partiti jaqblu issa li l-VAT ghandha tibqa` u fic-cirkostanzi hija pozittiva fis-sens li tipprovdi lill-gvern b`parti sewwa mil-finanzi li ghandu bzonn biex jamministra. L-istess iz-zewg partiti jaqblu li l-UE hija zvilipp pozittiv ghall-ghaqda tal-kontinent Ewropew u ghat-tkattir tal-gid u l-paci fid-dinja.` It-tnejn jaqblu li Malta ghandu jkollha rabtiet mill-qrib ma` l-UE li jiggarntixxu access shih ghas-swieq ta` l-UE ghal produzzjoni tal-fabbriki Maltin.
In-nazzjonalisti il-VAT bidluha u qed ikomplu jibdluha biex igibuha totalment konfermi mar-regolamenti ta` l-UE.` Nehhew ir-refunds tista tghid f`kull settur inkluz is-settur ta` l-edukazzjoni u s-sahha, l-insurance u s-servizzi finanzjarji. U issa kommessi li jdahhlu l-VAT fuq il-medicini u l-ikel.`
Gvern laburista mhux hekk.` Filwaqt li accetta li jzomm l-istruttura tal-VAT wera bic-car li mhux lest igibha preciz bhal ma trid l-UE izda jizborha biex jilhaq l-ghanijiet socjali u bzonnijiet partikolari tal-pajjiz.` Ghalhekk il-Partit Laburista qed jaghmilha cara li VAT fuq l-ikel u l-medicini ma tidholx. Qed jaghmilha cara jerga jdahhal ir-refunds fuq setturi sensittivi tas-sahha u l-edukazzjoni biex dawn is-servizzi essenzjali jibqghu accessibbli ghal kullhadd.` Irridu ndahhlu l-VAT bla ma nghabbu lis-self employed iz-zghir b`ammistrazzjoni ezagerata u sproporzjonata mal-livell tal-bejgh tieghu.
`Fejn ma jaqbilnix ma nqablux. Dik id-differenza bejn Partnership u Membership.` L-istess rigward l-UE.` In-nazzjonalisti mhux iridu jahdmu mil-qrib ma l-UE.` Iridu jsiru haga wahda maghha. Issa li wasslu lill-pajjiz fi stat ta` rovina u ma jistghux imexxuh izjed, flok iwarrbu u jaghmel spazju ghal Partit Laburista li ghandu energija u idejat biex joffri soluzzjoni ghal problem tal-pajjiz, iridu li pajjizna jibda jitmexxa mil-barrani. Iridu li pajjizna jdewweb is-sovranita tieghu u nghamlu il-famuza shared sovereignty ma pajjizi ewropej ohra. Ma jghidulnix izda li x-share taghna jkun farka minn muntanja.
Il-Partnership tal-Partit Laburista mhux hekk. Ahna wkoll irridu relazzjoni mill-qrib ma l-UE.` Izda ma rridux insiru haga wahda maghhom. Irridu nibqghu zewg partijiet distinti li nahdmu mill-qrib ma xulxin izda mhux permezz ta ghaqda shiha izda permezz ta` ftehim, jew sensiela ta` ftehim, bilaterali. Bhal VAT mhux naccettaw dak kollu li jridu l-UE kemm jekk naqblu u kemm jekk ma naqblux ( innotaw li lanqas il-gvern nazzjonalista ma jaqbel ma l-introduzzjoni tal-VAT fuq l-ikel u l-medicina u baqa` sa l-ahhar jipprova jgib deroga izda fl-ahhar kellu jaccetta perjodu tranzitorju ghax ir-regoli ta` l-UE japplikaw ghal membri bla rispetti tac-cirkostanzi partikolari taghhom) izda naqblu biss fejn jaqblilna naqblu. Fejn ma jaqbilnix ma nqablux. Dik id-differenza bejn Partnership u Membership.
Dawk li ma jafux jinnegozjaw u li qatghu qalbhom mit-tmexxija tal-pajjiz jghidulna li dan mhux possibbli u li l-UE mhux se ttina fil-Partnerhsip aktar milli tatna fil-Membership.` Lil dawn nghidulhom bla tlaqliq li huma gwejjed u ma ghandhomx jassuma li kullhadd ce bit-tikka bhalhom.
Biex tikseb trid tinnegozja. Biex tinnegozja irid ikollok alternattivi.` Ma tistax tinnegozja sew jekk inti minn qabel tiddikjara li Malta ma ghadix strategikament importanti ( gidba!) u li Malta ma ghandix ghazla hlief membership fl-UE. Biex tinnegozja trid taghraf x`ghandek x`tati u tippreggjah halli tpartu u ddahhlu fil-pakkett tan-negozjati bl-oghla prezz possibbli.
U iva,` f`Partnership l-UE tista tkun flessibbli maghna hafna aktar milli kienet man-nazzjonalisti f`kuntest ta` membership, fejn dak li tati lilna kien taht il-lenti ta` pajjizi ohra u ghalhekk l-UE kellha bilfors izzomm iebes anke jekk xtaqet li lil Malta tatiha izjed.
Bil-Partnership li jkun accettat mil-poplu f`elezzjoni u referendum il-Partit Laburista joffri assikurazzjoni ghal futur ta` pajjizna, taghna u ta` wliedna hafna ahjar milli jista jkun tant Membership. Assikurazzjoni li jkun hawn aktar xoghol, aktar gid, aktar progress, u kwalita ta` hajja ambjentali kulturali u socjali ahjar fejn nibqghu kburin li ahna Maltin b` rajna f`idejna
Sunday, 19 January 2003
Biex nirbhu l-elezzjoni irridu nigbdu lejna il-magguranza tal-voti. Il-Partit Laburista` irid igid nofs il-voti validi u wiehed. Ghal mod kif graw l-affarijiet f`dawn l-ahhar sitt snin insostni li l-Partit Laburista ghandu opportunita` li l-elezzjoni li gejja jirbahha bl-akbar maggoranza li qatt kiseb gvern f`Malta.
Izda l-affarijiet ma jigux wahedhom. Ma nistghux nibbazaw biss fuq l-inkompetenza tan-nazzjonalisti biex nirbhu l-elezzjoni. Veru hawn minn jghid li l-elezzjoni jitlifha l-gvern u mhux tirbaha l-oppozizzjoni. Izda ahna ghandna nirbhu fuq il-merti taghna u mhux bis-sahha tad-difetti u l-ghelt ta` haddiehor.
`minn analizi bhal din ma jifdallix dubju li l-Partit Laburista ghandu ghax ikun kunfidenti mir-rebha elettorali li jmiss, jaghmel x`jaghmel il-gvern rigward ir-referendum` Ghalhekk tajjeb li naghmlu analizi dwar minn ser jivvutalna.` U biex nghamlu dan naghmlu ezercizzju ta` segmentation ta` l-elettorat u naraw x`jimmotiva kull settur dwar il-mod li jivvota.
L-akbar settur huwa s-settur ta` votanti li huma Laburisti u li jsegwu il-policy tal-Partit Laburista rigward il-Partnership ma l-UE.` Dan jinkludi hafna Laburisti li ghal raguni jew ohra, valida jew mhix, fl-1998 ma vvutawx jew ivvutaw lin-nazzjonalisti bi protesta u zgur mhux b`konvinzjoni.` Dawn issa fehmu li pprotestaw bizzejjed u regghu inghaqdu maghna.
Imbaghad fuq in-naha `l ohra` ta` l-ispettru hemm settur iehor kbir izda izghar minn ta` qablu ta` votanti nazzjonalisti li anke rigward l-UE jaghmlu dak li jghidlhom il-Partit Nazzjonalista. Dawn ma jaslux biex jivvutawlna mqar jekk il-partit taghhom jghidilhom joqghodu nofs ta` nhar taht l-ilma.
Imbaghad hemm laburisti u nazzjonalisti` li izda rigward l-UE ma jaqblux mal-pozizzjoni tal-Partit taghhom u f`referendum jivvotaw kif jahsbuha u mhux kif jghidulhom il-partit ghalkemm f`elezzjoni mbaghad jivvutaw ghal partit taghhom.` Hawn ninkludi nicec ta` kaccaturi, bdiewa, sajjieda, self-employed` u ohrajn li jivvutaw kontra shubija fl-UE izda jivvutaw ghan-nazzjonalisti f`elezzjoni. Imbaghad hemm nicec ta` zghazghah, ambjentalisti, omosesswali li jidhirlhom li d-dirttijiet taghhom ikunu salvagwardjati aktar bis-shubija fl-UE ghalkemm jivvutaw ghal Partit Laburista fl-elezzjoni.
Imbaghad hemm Laburisti u Nazzjonalisti li mhux biss ma jaqblux mal-partiti rispettivi taghhom rigward l-UE izda li sahansitra lesti li jivvutaw ghal partit `l iehor biex l-opinjoni taghhom rigward l-UE tkun tista` titwettaq fil-prattika.
Fl-ahhar hemm il-floating voters li ma tantx jimpurtahom mil-kwistjoni ta` l-UE izda li fl-elezzjoni ser ibiddlu l-vot milli kif ivvotaw l-ahhar darba. F`dan ir-rigward nahseb li l-voti ser iduru sew favur il-Partit Laburista ghax minn beza u qaleb habba r-rati tad-dawl u l-ilma l-ahhar darba, din id-darba ser idur mhux ghal raguni wahda izda ghal mitt raguni ta` kemm qaxxarhom u ttraskurahom dal-gvern fl-ahhar erba snin.
Mela minn analizi bhal din ma jifdallix dubju li l-Partit Laburista ghandu ghax ikun kunfidenti mir-rebha elettorali li jmiss, jaghmel x`jaghmel il-gvern rigward ir-referendum.
Izda biex il-Partit ikollu rebha elettorali kbira, rebha li ttina magguranza ta` mill-anqas tlett siggijiet fil-parlament minkejja t-tbaghbis tal-konfini elettorali, biex dan isir irridu nigbdu lejna lil dawk il-Laburisti jew dawk imdejjqin bin-nazzjonalisti li izda jidhrilhom li l-kwistjoni ta` l-UE ma ghandix tkun deciza b`elezzjoni izda ghandu jkun referendum specifiku li jaghmel dan.
L-argument huwa li decizjoni bhal din torbot mhux biss il-gvern li jaghmilha izda torbot ukoll lill-gvernijiet li jigu wara. Hija decizjoni irriversibbli li l-effett taghha jinfierex fuq zmien fit-tul mifrux fuq diversi leglizlaturi u allura tehtieg decizjoni popolari specificika u mhux pakkeggata m`affarijiet ohra.
Lil dawn irridu naghmlu ghazliet ghaqlin biex naghtuhom cans jivvutaw kif jixtiequ ghal Partit Laburista fl-elezzjoni li gejja halli ngibu l-akbar magguranza li qatt kellna u npattu ghad-deluzzjoni tal-1998.` Nahdmu b`rasna.
Friday, 17 January 2003
There is no division between our main political schools on the positive elements of the EU formation, history, process and the forthcoming enlargement. What is being debated and needs to be decided is whether
I have no hesitation in endorsing the praises sung in parliament, this week to the benefits that the EU has brought to the European continent. I have no hesitation also to applaud the enlargement project.
But by no logic can this be taken to mean that
“Partnership has the competitive edge of keeping our cost base more contained by avoiding huge membership compliance costs and unnecessary measures such as VAT on food and medicine”
So, arguments that we should join the EU simply because it is a positive development simply do not cut ice. What matters is whether we will be better off as EU members rather than as partners.
The most forceful criterion that should influence our choice is whether we believe that we can attract more foreign direct investment (FDI) as members rather than as partners. Assertions are easy and they abound. But reality is different. Most of the FDI we have enjoyed in recent years, was sourced by existent industries that expanded or upgraded their operations here. Names like ST Thomson, Methode, Baxter, Brandstatter, Dowty, Denim, and Pharmamed easily come to mind. These companies invested without waiting for us to decide whether we will be in or out. They simply accept that being here and tapping experienced human resources with high productivity and creativity ratios can lead to economic success and that market access is assured, whatever relationship we decide to follow with the EU.
If anything, partnership has the competitive edge of keeping our cost base more contained by avoiding huge membership compliance costs and unnecessary measures such as VAT on food and medicine.
In preparing the electorate to make our choices regarding the EU, government should come off its high horse of undisputed generalities about the positivism of the EU and explain in specific terms its impact on our one nation. On the other hand, the Opposition must couple its information campaign with plentiful re-assurances that we can do better than the scrappy deal negotiated by government.
Monday, 13 January 2003
The public finance position statistics for November 2002 just issued by the NSO could throw some light to the panic changes in the tax legislation proposed by the Ministry of Finance in December 2002.
The published deficit for the 11 months to November 2002 was given at Lm110 million.` This is after extraordinary receipts of Lm21 million from the privatisation of MIA and Lm7 million from the Investment Registration Scheme.` Both sources are one-off deals which very arguably and unconventionally were taken as ordinary revenue. Without this unorthodoxy the deficit would have come in at Lm138 million compared to Lm96 million on a like for like basis in the first 11 months of 2001.
Let`s for a moment put aside the unorthodoxy and accept the figures as published. To hit the Lm77 million projected deficit for the full 12 months budgetary period 2002, the month of December 2002 had to be net cash-positive for government to the tune of Lm33 million.
`The published deficit for the 11 months to November 2002 was given at Lm110 million` December of 2001 resulted in a net cash positive position of Lm11 million. December of 2000 proved to be net cash negative for `Lm6 million.` It is not useful going further back as Provisional Tax payment regulations were changed in 2000 to shift more revenue in the month of December so prior year figures would not provide meaningful comparisons.
The question is how likely is it for December 2002` to be net cash positive to the tune of Lm33 million in order to hit the projected budget target and avoid political red faces as the budget figures result` embarrassingly elusive right in the run-up to the referendum/election`
December figures are normally published in April or May so we still have quite some way to go before we get formal answers to the questions the answers for which could and should be available by end January or early February at the latest. Left to its own accord the chances of hitting Lm33 million cash positive in December 2002 were indeed slim. They appeared slimmer considering that capital expenditure payments were evidently being held back so much so that only 85% of the projected budget had been funded by November 2002. An unfunded budget expenditure of two months capital expenditure had to be fitted in the last month.
It is in the light of this position that one can understand the hysterical last minute changes made to published rules governing Investment Registration Scheme. Changes which are an integral part of the Scheme that could even be challenged as to why they were not announced before giving people the opportunity to register at the lower rates applicable earlier i.e. 3% up to March 2002 and 4% up to June 2002. `The result is a hotchpotch confusion which forced the Institute of Taxation to officially label the proposed legislative changes as `dangerous and unorthodox
It must have been quite a measure of panic that constrained the Ministry of Finance to decree so late in the day that foreign interest bearing securities registered through a local nominee could enjoy the 15% final withholding tax facility but only if registered in the Investment Registration Scheme, failing which it was proposed to exonerate the local nominee from the professional secrecy obligations.
An Investment Registration which was meant to stay operational for over 12 months had its rules radically changed in the last couple of weeks, in the peak of the festive season,` forcing investors to decide in confusion after waiting in stockbrokers` queue lines which needed police crowd control.` Some way to pass the Christmas holidays!
But the November public finance figures give us some explanation.` Panic must have stricken at the Ministry in December 2002 when hit by the reality of the November situation. Panic that was forced upon normal citizens in an attempt to force extra revenue which must have ruined quite a few peaceful Christmases , in a desperate attempt to save political blushes.
The result is a hotchpotch confusion which forced the Institute of Taxation to officially label the proposed legislative changes as `dangerous and unorthodox`.
Whether these measures succeeded to generate the additional one-off revenues to bring the final deficit at least respectably close to the projected Lm77 million is something we have to await a few more weeks before we know it.
Sunday, 12 January 2003
The Malta Independent on Sunday
This Sunday newspaper has an influential editorial line strongly in favour of Malta`s membership in the EU at the next enlargement.` It has a right to do so. It portrays its opinion in doctrinal terms, as an opportunity not to be missed, a unique chance to catch the last train to heaven and that no alternatives are worth considering because none exist.
Its contributors` line-up firmly reflects the editorial line with this fortnightly contribution being a sole small counterbalance to the other four or five opinions appearing weekly all eulogising EU membership. Obviously it is also fully within the right of the editor in charge to line up contributors` whose opinion is tilted in a way to support his editorial line, though it does little to add value to the independent nametag.
What the editor of this newspaper, or any one for that matter, has no right to do is to threaten a priori a future democratically elected Labour government with political instability if Labour sets out to execute the programme on the basis of which it gets democratically elected. This is telling Labour that if against the Paper`s wishes the people choose it to govern, it is not entitled to do so in accordance with its manifesto but has to follow policies set out by its predecessors and supported by this Paper. Sort of you can only govern if you do what I say.
`What the editor of this newspaper, or any one for that matter, has no right to do is to threaten a priori a future democratically elected Labour government with political instability if Labour sets out to execute the programme on the basis of which it gets democratically elected.` Last Sunday this Paper editorially warned Labour that if it is elected democratically to follow an EU partnership policy and thus disregards a consultative referendum decision taken earlier which favours membership, Labour would be inviting political instability as that of the third Labour legislature between 1982-1987.` That legislature was marked by parliamentary and social boycotts, bombs exploding mysteriously on doorsteps of whoever co-operated with the elected government and bad publicity circulated internationally to scare away investment from coming to Malta.
So what are we saying here` That we need an opposition as a mere ornament to give credence to the PN democratic credentials` That the opposition has no right to govern in accordance with its democratically chosen mandate and has to be tied to an earlier consultative decision which carried no facility of execution`
Is a decision taken by the people in terms of the Constitution during a general election mandating their chosen government to execute a pre-defined political programme in any way subordinate to any other decision taken earlier which does not require two-thirds majority of the House to over-rule` Certainly a popular decision in a consultative referendum, taken with prior knowledge that it carried no possibility of execution unless the electoral mandate is first renewed, does not qualify as needing two-thirds House majority to over-rule.
Democracy has always been played by the rule that the last will of the people should prevail. Take the electoral mandate of 1996. It was meant to run until December 2001.` But once people were given the opportunity to express their wishes again in a new general election in September 1998, nobody dared suggest that the new government`s mandate was in any way subordinate to the previous government`s mandate even though this had not run its full term. `A clarification or a retraction is well due to ensure that our press, influential as it may be, has the means and the goodwill to play by the democratic rules whoever the government happens to be.`
Editors have to play by the rules.` The will of the people is supreme whether editors agree with it or not. Their eternal right to disagree does not give them a right to threaten or obstruct the execution of the programme mandated by the majority. A clarification or a retraction is well due to ensure that our press, influential as it may be, has the means and the goodwill to play by the democratic rules whoever the government happens to be.
Incidents like these prove the futility of holding a consultative referendum prior to an election thus being short of the power to execute the option chosen in the referendum. Instead of terminating indecision and anxiety, a pre-election referendum stokes further indecision leading to unfair instability to a democratically elected government by those who find difficulty playing by the rules and who try to give more meaning to a consultative referendum than it truly has.
Yet another reason why it makes full sense to proceed immediately to a general election and then follow it up immediately as necessary with a referendum on the EU issue knowing that the government in sede has the necessary authority to execute the people consultative decision taken in a post-election referendum.
Once executed the referendum decision becomes binding on us all whether we agree with it or not.
As I said elsewhere I am all for a binding referendum, but one that is carried on a national basis, away from the election heat, with choices properly and calmly explained and executed soon after the next election.
In-nazzjonalisti dahrom mal-hajt. Iz-zmien qed itektek u se jigu mgieghla jiehdu decizjoni li ma humiex komdi maghha.
Normalment fic-cirkostanzi li qed fihom il-pajjiz l-interess nazzjonali jitlob li mmorru ghal elezzjoni. Hawn wisq incertezza fil-pajjiz li qed tistagna kollox. Jerga il-mod kif mexxew dawn l-ahhar erba` snin kien ghal kollox ippermjat fuq l-UE u n-nazzjonalisti nsew li l-poplu l-ewwel li jiggudika huwa fuq l-esperjenza ta` kuljum u mhux fuq il-holm ta` ghada.
L-incertezza tista` titfejjaq biss permezz ta` elezzjoni.` Referendum wahdu qabel l-elezzjoni huwa biss konsultattiv bla sahha ta` ezekuzzjoni la l-gvern ma ghandux mandat twil bizzejjed biex iwasslu sad-data tat-tkabbir ta Mejju 2004. `Referendum wahdu qabel l-elezzjoni huwa biss konsultattiv bla sahha ta` ezekuzzjoni la l-gvern ma ghandux mandat twil bizzejjed biex iwasslu sad-data tat-tkabbir ta Mejju 2004.`
Mela referendum jista` jkun utli biss jekk qabel ikun hemm tigdid tal-mandat permezz ta` elezzjoni generali. Izda n-nazzjonalisti jafu sew li fl-elezzjoni ma ghandhomx cans ghax il-poplu ser jiggudika fuq il-mod traskurat u hali li bih mexxew u mhux fuq il-weghdi ta` ghada.
Mela minkejja l-interess nazzjonali jitlob elezzjoni, in-nazzjonalisti elezzjoni qabel ir-referendum ma tinzilx minn grizmejhom ghax is-siggu tal-poter jogghobhom.
Allura mohhhom huwa li jaghmlu referendum qabel `bit-tama li jirbhuh u jservihom ta` staffa biex idawwru mohh in-nies ghall-elezzjoni li tigi wara fl-ewforija tar-rebha tar-referendum.
Izda dan il-pjan ghandu problema. In-nazzjonalisti ma jistghux jifhmu x`inhi l-istrategija tal-partit laburista rigward ir-referendum u allura ma jafux hux ser jilghabu wehdihom jew loghba ta` veru. Ghandhom seba mitt sena sa ma jisru jafu biex jiggwidaw ruhhom kif ser jiddeciedu izda l-Leader taghna qed ihallihom b`xiber imnieher. Habbru ir-referendum jekk ghandkom thabbruh u mbaghad inhabbru x`se tkun il-posizzjoni tal-Partit Laburista, dejjem hekk sostna l-Leader.
`Lanqas haga li jridu ta` l-UE huwa li fl-ewwel referendum ghal pajjizi kandidati dan imorrilhom zmerc billi jitilfuh jew jigi bojkottjat` Lanqas haga li jridu ta` l-UE huwa li fl-ewwel referendum ghal pajjizi kandidati dan imorrilhom zmerc billi jitilfuh jew jigi bojkottjat. Ghalhekk dan it-titubar kollu fuq ir-referendum. U jekk ma jaghmlux ir-referendum jew l-lezzjoni ikollhom isiru l-elezzjonijiet lokali fit-8 ta` Marzu li bla ebda dubju ikunu disfatta kbira ghan-nazzjonalisti bil-poplu mdejjaq kif inhu bil-problemi jikkargaw rigward l-aktar affarijiet bazici ghal hajja ta` kuljum.` Dan xejn ma jkun ta` awgurju tajjeb ghal dak li jrid bilfors jigi ftit wara.
In-nazzjonalisti wasal iz-zmien li jhallsu l-prezz ta` kemm ittraskuraw il-problemi tal-pajjiz u ta` kemm berbqu f`dwan l-ahhar erba` snin. Bhal loghba chess gabu lilhom infushom checkmate .
L-importanti izda li l-pajjiz ma jigix checkmate billi jghaggel jidhol f`organizzjoni li tibilghu. L-importanti li ahna nibqghu intambru fuq il-problemi ta` kuljum li qed jifnu`l familji taghna.
L-issue ta` l-UE mhux prijorita` assoluta.` Wara l-elezzjoni gvern laburista gdid juri kif tassew jezistu toroq ohra li huma aktar addattati ghal relezzjoni fit-tul fl-interess kemm ta` Malta u ta` l-UE.` U jaghmel dan billi tassew jezegwixxi l-ghazla libera tal-poplu u mhux billi jistaqsi mistosija li qisha dik li intuzat ghall-elezzjoni mill-gdid ta` Saddam Hussein bhala l-uniku kandidat ghal presidenza ta` L-Iraq.
Friday, 10 January 2003
The Malta Independent
`Do you agree that Malta becomes a member of the European Union in the enlargement that will take place on 1 May 2004 That`s what will be asked in the referendum according to the government.` It is half a question.
Assuming that we will be expected to reply by marking a yes or no tick box the obvious question that arises for those of us voting no, is what exactly are we expected to be voting for.` Because saying that we do not agree that Malta proceeds to EU membership in the next enlargement begs the obvious question as to what exactly are we voting for.
It is like someone asking you whether you want to sleep in a filthy room.` If the alternative is to sleep in a clean room you would answer no, but if the alternative is to sleep out in the cold on a filthier street, than you would probably say yes.
`Do you agree that Malta becomes a member of the European Union in the enlargement that will take place on 1 May 2004
So the missing half of the question should read something like this: `or do you agree that Malta negotiates a special type of close partnership, but non-membership, relationship with the EU`.` In such a case the tick boxes would not be yes or no but would be membership or partnership.
For all the smooth talk of wanting the referendum to be an national one above party politics all measures taken so far indicate that government is actually planning to politicise the referendum to use its to its own political advantage. No matter how much it dislikes it, the government has to acknowledge that there is a sharp political divide on the EU membership issue which cannot be reduced to a straight yes or no flip of the coin, trying to depict those of us who oppose membership as if we are opposing the EU per se, turning our back on it and willing to close off whatever relationship we have.
Government wants us to consider one alternative only. It reminds me of the latest presidential elections in Iraq where the only contender was Saddam Hussein and the people had to vote yes or no for their all powerful leader.` The 100% subscription vote speaks much of the real choice that was on offer. or do you agree that Malta negotiates a special type of close partnership, but non-membership, relationship with the EU`
The referendum question would have been ok, if as in other candidate countries, there existed general political agreement between the government and the opposition to proceed on the road to membership. `In that case the people would have no choice and it would take a political upheaval leading to the creation of a different political scenario if the people in such candidate countries would defy their politicians and vote no to EU membership.
The situation here is different. Even if Labour are 100% wrong, which of course they are not, one cannot but accept that Labour is the formal opposition representing , give or take a bit, half the population. The government cannot behave as if it had no opposition.` Government cannot assume it has eternal power tenure and treat the opposition as an ornament needed purely to formalise its democratic credentials.
It is time for our Prime Minister to behave like a statesman not just a party leader. He should seek an agreement with Labour for a commitment for a post-election binding referendum with the electorate choosing between membership and partnership and proceed to call an early general election before the fallacy of 2002/2003 budget projections get too much further exposed.