The Malta Independent
This being the last contribution in this medium where I can discuss matters related to the EU referendum, next Friday being the silent day for reflection,` I am probably expected to make an appeal to vote no, abstain or cancel the vote.
I will not do so.` My appeal is on the contrary to the government to postpone the referendum.` Not that I harbour any hope that this will even be considered.` But, if the Prime Minister means what he says that this should be a national above politics decision, the case for postponement is clear.
We are being requested to approve or disapprove membership on the basis of a Treaty still in draft form in the English Language and which will only be approved in the final format by the European Parliament on 9th April 2003, one month after the Malta referendum.
The draft English version of the treaty was published on-line on 26th February 2003 and in 10 days I am expected to read over 4500 pages. With it for good measure I have to read the Dr Ali Bayar report running into 128 pages and the endless reports being dished out by various organisations, Labour sources included.
`I continue to maintain that the referendum date has not been chosen in the national interest but has been dictated by pure partisan politics in an attempt to use it as a springboard for the general elections which will follow hot on heels if the wished referendum success materialises.` Malta is the first of the 10 candidate countries going for the referendum. The country harbouring the most division of opinion in its ranks is being made to go first rather than being allowed more time for the information to seep through and for further attempts to be made to find a compromise agreement for holding a binding referendum. The only other country with a comparable division of opinion on the subject, Latvia, will go last for the referendum i.e. on 20th September 2003.
Apart from Malta only Slovenia and Hungary will hold the referendum before the Treaty signing ceremony of 16th April 2003 but in any event after Malta`s referendum. In both countries the referendum is a mere formality as its results are a foregone conclusion.
I continue to maintain that the referendum date has not been chosen in the national interest but has been dictated by pure partisan politics in an attempt to use it as a springboard for the general elections which will follow hot on heels if the wished referendum success materialises.
To make it much worse not only is the electorate not being allowed sufficient time to consider and reflect on such an important matter, but the little thinking time left is being filled with a bombardment of misinformation` which denies the possibility of genuine thinking electors to reach informed conclusion.` `Putting it in simple words this government brought an economic malaise that can only be cured through shock therapy.`
The referendum can only be truly national if people are allowed more are more time to think, when it is not held in the throes of an election campaign and when both arguments are given commensurate resources to state their case and justify, where possible proof, their assertions.
One of the best sources I came across on this matter, is strangely enough the much talked about Dr Ali Bayar study on the macro-economic impact of membership. While Bayar`s case of membership economic benefits are not impressive and certainly I conclude that they emanate from econometric models which has no sensitivity to local realities and is wrongly built on the assumption that the alternative to membership is the status quo of the bad economic performance of the last 10 years, Bayar`s analysis of the current economic malaise is objective and impressive.
I think the whole issue can be summarised by quoting Bayar on the declining GDP performance of the last 10 years.` Bayar says: `This gives rise to the question whether this declining GDP growth rate can be reversed.` In our view this can be achieved however the economy need a `shock` to break in the decline.` EU membership could provide the required shock.`
Putting it in simple words this government brought an economic malaise that can only be cured through shock therapy. Do people understand that what`s on offer is ultra-shock insensitive treatment to be administered by the EU according to their rule-book through membership, or precision` therapy administered in partnership with the social parties to` ensure that the least protected can be spared the pain they are in no position to endure.
This is the reality of the choice in front of us and people need more time to realise it.
Friday, 28 February 2003
The Malta Independent
Wednesday, 26 February 2003
26th February 2003
This week, in the very heart of the referendum campaign, Mr Gallimore called a press conference ‘to set the record straight’ on some ‘inaccuracies’ emanating from the No camp.
If I needed a reason for staying away from voting in the referendum Mr Gallimore gave it to me. Thank you Mr Gallimore! Because his to ‘set-the-record-straight’ press conference was nothing but diplomatic interference in our internal affairs. The moment the referendum has been called the EU should take a back seat and let the Maltese decide for ourselves. After all, the yes camp has all the resources, including our tax money funding MIC office, to set any record straight.
“ If I needed a reason for staying away from voting in the referendum MrGallimore gave it to me”
Where was Mr Gallimore to set the record straight when just weeks ago, the PM said that all serious factories would close down if we do not vote Yes to EU membership, implying that the EU would deny them their present access to EU markets.
Where is Gallimore to set the record straight each time individuals from the yes camp claim that we can influence decisions taken by the EU when most decisions these days are taken by qualified majority voting which we will have no hope to influence with just three votes out of some 350?
And what did Mr Gallimore want to set the record straight about? He said that the alternative to EU membership,(not full membership please just membership), is a partnership within the context of the EU’s Euro Med’s policy and Malta will not be offered any special relationships.
Hearing such arguments I cannot help remembering the days before Labour was elected in 1971 for the first time post-independence. I remember how many times we were advised by the British that they will not give any better deal than what was given to Borg Olivier at independence. Yet experience shows that whilst in the decision stage foreign powers will throw their weight behind the faction which best serves their interest, once they face an elected government with a democratic mandate to re-negotiate the deal, re-negotiate they will.
And considering, what would make
“Where was Mr Gallimore to set the record straight when just weeks ago, the PM said that all serious factories would close down if we do not vote Yes to EU membership, implying that the EU would deny them their present access to EU markets”
At a time when all EU countries,
Can the EU afford to refuse to negotiate with
Mr Gallimore should have taken a back-seat and let us decide for ourselves. Let us believe in our own strengths or let us be over-awed by our weaknesses, but in the name of democracy he has no right to interfere at this stage. If the EU wanted to ensure that
Concessions are like a binding protocol by all present and future membership acknowledging
In the name of democracy the EU and its representative here should leave us to our own devices to reach our own conclusions. If there is any need to interfere, it is about the democratic deficit of this campaign with one side being given all the resources to make its case, even helping itself to lavish public funds, whilst the ‘no’ side having to fund itself from its very frugal resources. If democracy still means anything to EU and is still a basic criterion for membership, Mr Gallimoreshould have set the record straight on this democratic deficit.
He should set the record straight by condemning the government for seeking a referendum so early, clearly for politically partisan reasons, and expect us to ratify a treaty which is still in draft form and is not available in Maltese language to all who want to access it.
For me this campaign is an insult to my freedom to think and decide. I strongly believe that Labour should protest vehemently about this interference by pulling out of the campaign without any further consideration.
Monday, 24 February 2003
“I strongly believe that if properly led we can succeed and prosper better outside the EU.”
Membership or partnership is not an end in itself. They are simply a means to an end; an end to procure a better standard of living for the citizens through sustainable economic growth in a context of regional and international peace, in harmony with the environment and with strong social policies.
If we find the leadership we need, membership would be an obstacle not an aid to reaching the ultimate objective. If we do not find the leadership we need, we will fall into EU membership by default, and will be forced to rely on our intrinsic defence values in order to regain economic composure and source economic development.
The issues at stake are as simple as that. The choice is ours. If Labour cannot persuade the majority of the electorate not to vote yes in the next referendum, we cannot simply blame the high din of the electoral campaign financed by our tax money through a strikingly obvious democratic deficit.
If the democratic deficit of this referendum is seriously prejudicing Labour’s ability of being perceived as capable to offer this country a solution to prosper without having to rely on our defence values then we should protest more vehemently by considering seriously to pull out of the referendum campaign.
Simultaneously Labour should offer to re-hold the referendum in the first 90 days of a new Labour government when we will be able to correct the four basic democratic deficiencies of this referendum, namely:
Sunday, 23 February 2003
The Malta Independent on Sunday
The way government is going about the referendum is typical of its now well established way of not solving a problem.` Rather than devise proper structured solutions and organise the resources to carry them out effectively, the PN for the last 16 years has worked differently. They have consistently tried to address problems by blindly throwing money at them, engaging the media to promote the idea that problems are being solved, conduct expensive surveys with questions skewed to produce the desired result, and then just continue paddling aimlessly while the underlying problems remain unaddressed.
Why is a referendum being held` What is the problem` Is the referendum the right solution I try to answer these questions in this contribution.
Malta has to decide. It has invested too much money and effort in this EU issue and now it is time to decide once the negotiations have been crystallised and the enlargement date has been fixed for 1st May 2004.
Whether the government likes it or not, there exist two political schools on the matter. The people should choose between one of these two schools of thought.` Yet we are being asked to say yes or no to one of them.
`Whether the government likes it or not, there exist two political schools on the matter. The people should choose between one of these two schools of thought.` Yet we are being asked to say yes or no to one of them.` Whether government likes it or not, democracy demands that both schools of thought are given commensurate if not equal exposure with fair allocation of resources. Yet we are being brainwashed with a bombardment of promotion for the government`s proposal financed by our tax funds and aided by offensive interference from Brussels, while the opposition has been left to fund itself from its own frugal resources.
Whether government likes it or not, where democracy is practised seriously, no referendum is conducted by a government which does not have a constitutional term permitting its execution.` Yet government whose term expires on 24th October 2003 is trying to impose on its successors a decision that can only be implemented more than 6 months later.
So why on earth is Malta placing itself as the first country to go for the referendum giving nobody reasonable time to read let alone study the Accession Treaty which is still being drafted Why are we being expected to give our irreversible consent to joining the EU on a given set of conditions when we are well aware that these conditions are being overhauled completely by the Giscard Convention and when Giscard is on record stating that he envisages even some existing members might have to opt out of membership finding it hard to live under the federal modelled Constitution.
The answer to these is simply that the government is not seriously seeking fair consultation from the electorate about such an important matter.` It is simply trying to make for itself a step-stool to be able to reach over the high, otherwise unreachable, objective of winning the next election when its record on the whole spectrum of domestic management, from the economy to the environment, from education to health and social services, is plainly dismal.
Each time Labour gives solid specific arguments about why membership on the basis negotiated does not make sense to our circumstances, the Prime Minister, in near pontifical style, assures us that membership is good for us and we should consider it as dogma.. And every time the case for membership gets hollower than it ought to be. `The electorate is realising that its anything but `nationalist` government, is attempting to rush us off our feet rather than seek the best solution to suit our circumstances.`
It is clearly back-firing on the PN. And they well deserve it. Rather than seeing EU membership as a practical means to a superior objective of procuring for the country a sustainable improved standard of living in harmony with the environment and sound financial practices, the PN have made EU membership as an objective in its own right. Something that according to them we must believe in as a matter of faith, doctrinally rather than analytically.
It just does not work that way.` The more brainwashing is thrown at voters the higher suspicions rise that lavish wrapping is trying to make up for lack of substance in the content.` As people look beneath the surface, more and more get convinced that EU membership as negotiated is a straight jacket, which gradually, as the transitory periods wear off, will stifle our natural advantages of flexibility and ability to differentiate ourselves as permitted by our small size. People realise that we are being short changed as we are forced to follow other people`s foreign and security policy without getting fair value for our natural strategic position as our harbours have become a regular port of call for foreign warships.
People are realising that personal ambitions have been allowed to gain priority over national interest; that such decision can only be taken when and if our political school of thoughts converge so that we move forward as one nation for the tough challenges ahead where we have to compete with bigger countries on terms set out to favour them and disadvantage us.
The electorate is realising that its anything but `nationalist` government, is attempting to rush us off our feet rather than seek the best solution to suit our circumstances. Even among those who are not yet convinced that Labour`s Partnership is the best option, many are however persuaded that membership as proposed as an insult to all that Borg Olivier and Mintoff worked for. They mean to pause. This is no religious dogma.` This is our future.` If we leave it hostage to destiny we will slip back to neo-colonialism.
Personally, I feel that this is a decision being forced on us prematurely and a no decision is better than a bad decision.` I mean to stay at home.
The Malta Independent on Sunday
The YES campaign for the referendum, well-oiled by our tax money, has stopped making any logical analysis of` why EU membership is good for us. They just limit themselves to assertions and to prove their point they just say that everybody else thinks so.
This `everybody else thinks so` is given both a national and an international perspective. On the national front the business organisations have been organised like a well conducted choir to profess, using dubious studies financed again from our tax-money through grants received from government, that they like what the government has negotiated and are all for membership.` Unions representing white collar employees joined the chorus too arguing that EU`s labour rights and safety standards are superior to ours so employees would undoubtedly benefit from membership.` Little they give weight to the haughtier argument as to whether the EU bureaucracy we would have to carry would leave us competitive to have a job to work here in the first place.
` I meet a significant number of persons who normally vote PN and will probably do so again, that` very confidentially profess that they will vote No in the referendum because they cannot understand how the rigidity of EU bureaucracy could be good for Malta to retain the flexibility and the differentiation we need to survive.` The local chorus was also reinforced by a few` ex-Labourites who lost their way years back,` sometimes many years back,` and who for unclear reasons now think that whatever their ex-Party does must be wrong.
The message being delivered with repetitive impact is that everybody over here is for EU membership and it is only Alfred Sant`s pique that is sustaining a dissenting opinion.` They obviously maintain that this dissent could be overcome through the sheer weight of expensive propaganda.
On the international front we are advised that each and every country with European and democratic credentials is in a mad race to join the EU in membership and Malta should not miss the opportunity to do the same. For good measure it is added that all main European Socialist parties are pro-EU, and that Alfred Sant is not only out of tune with the trends and forces in Europe,` but is also a black sheep amongst his peers in the Socialist International.
So the poor confused voter has to decide on such an important matter which binds him and his children irreversibly into a rigid EU membership position, not on the basis of any logical argumentation,` but through the sheer force of the media campaign that tries to persuade that this is an irresistible force that one has no option but to join purely because everybody else is stampeding.
But how real it is that EU membership is what everybody wants` I certainly challenge it as an unfounded assertion`
Domestically I meet a significant number of persons who normally vote PN and will probably do so again, that` very confidentially profess that they will vote No in the referendum because they cannot understand how the rigidity of EU bureaucracy could be good for Malta to retain the flexibility and the differentiation we need to survive.
Clearly such people will not accept to address Labour Party mass meetings to express their views and sometimes I get the impression that they would not even confide in their own wife/husband/parents/children on the matter. The government is known not only to reward some of the` Labour dissenters who give strength to the Yes campaign,` but also to castigate its own for any deviations from rigid party policy. ` None of the other small states of Europe, that do not have the specific circumstances of Luxembourg and Cyprus, is seeking EU membership.`
And as I reflect on the international dimension I realise we will soon be hosting the European Small Nations games amongst us. The participants will be Malta, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Monaco, Andorra, San Marino and Liechtenstein.
How many of these small states are or are seeking EU membership` Apart from Malta, only Luxembourg and Cyprus meet the bill. But their realities are very different from ours and have very specific reasons for their choices.
Luxembourg is a founder member given the importance of its steel industry in the post-war days.` It is geographically land-locked surrounded by France, Belgium and Germany.` It has used membership to build an `offshore onshore financial centre ` which the big EU members now want to disband.` Luxembourg is using its veto rights together with` Switzerland`s right to dissent to justify why it should maintain its advantages; advantages that are being denied to Malta as a candidate member.
Cyprus has well-known political reason to join in membership.` It considers EU membership as the best lever to force Turkish dilution of support for the occupation of Northern Cyprus. With the help of Greece, Cyprus as an EU member could force Turkey, whose economy depends on EU aid and who is seeking membership, to accept a unified Cyprus and regain the sovereign right over the Northern Cyprus territory which has been missed for nearly 30 years.
None of the other small states of Europe, that do not have the specific circumstances of Luxembourg and Cyprus, is seeking EU membership. They realise that the smaller their state, the bigger the disadvantage of having to absorb the Brussels bureaucracy and retain the flexibility to compete and win.` And these small states are not exactly falling behind, politically or economically, are they`
So whom should Malta emulate` The small states of Europe that because of their particular circumstances which do not apply to us,` are or are seeking EU membership, or the small states who are quietly enjoying their right to be flexibly different`
Il-karnival mhux ser jispicca kmieni kif qalu. Mhux minnu li l-karnival ser jieq it-tnejn 3 ta` Marzu.` Mill-anqas se skompli sas-sibt 8 ta` Marzu meta mistennija mmorru nivvutaw ghar-referendum.
Dak li suppost ghandu jkun l-essenza tad-demokrazija popolari gie ridott mil-gvern arroganti li ghandna bhal farsa jew tragedja demokratika.` Ghax li gvern flok ihalli l-poplu ghazla libera anke jekk juri fejn jixtieq jasal, jibbumbardja l-imhuh biex hadd ma jibqa`jahseb u jisforza lil poplu biex jaghzel dak li jridu jaghhzel il-gvern, m`hi xejn ghajr tragedja demokratika.
`Dak li suppost ghandu jkun l-essenza tad-demokrazija popolari gie ridott mil-gvern arroganti li ghandna bhal farsa jew tragedja demokratika.` Dan ir-referednum ghandu erba` difetti bazici li jcahhduh mill-ingredejnti essenzjali biex jghodd bhala ezercizzju tassew demokratiku.
L-ewwel ghandu mistoqsija hazina. Flok jistaqsi lil poplu jekk iridx li jidhol bhala membru shih fl-UE skond il-pakkett li nnegozja l-gvern jew inkella jaghzilx li nifthu negiozjati godda li jwasslu ghal `Partnership, il-mistoqsija hija biss jekk irridux nidhlu membri jew le fl-UE fi-tkabbir li jmiss. U jekk nghidu le ghal x`hiex inkunu qed nghidu le` Skond Joe Saliba, is-segretarju tal-PN inkunu qeghdin biss nahlu flus il-poplu ghax il-gvern jibqa jaghmel referendum wara l-iehor biex fl-ahhar nghidu iva u mbaghad ma jistqsuna mill-gdid qatt u qatt izjed.
It-tieni, `referendum nazzjonali qatt u qatt ma ghandu jinzamm fis-shana ta` elezzjoni generali.` Sahansitra sar ghodda biex il-PN jaghmel il-kampanja elettorali tieghu mhallsa mit-taxxi taghna.
It-tielet il-gvern li jaghmel referendum ghandu jkun f`qaghda li jezekwixxi dak li jiddeciedi l-poplu. Dan il-gvern ma ghandux manadat li jwassal sa 1 ta` Mejju 2004 meta se jsir it-tkabbir u ghalhekk ma ghandux poter biex jezegwixxi l-ghazla tal-poplu anke jekk il-poplu jaghzel dak li jrid il-gvern. Ghahekk kien ikun floku li l-ewwel ssir l-elezzjoni halli l-gvern igedded il-mandat u mbaghad ir-referednum isir wara.
`hadd ghadu ma spjega ghalfejn din l-ghaggla biex naghmlu r-referendum meta ghadu hadd ma ra t-trattat finali u meta hafna pajjizi ser jistennew sal-harifa biex izommu r-referednum taghhom avolja il-gvern taghhom mhux imdendel minn hajta kif inhu l-gvern Malti li wasal fi tmiem il-mandat tieghu.` Ir-raba il-poplu ghandu b`mod seren jisma` l-argumenti taz-zewg nahat u dawn ghandhom jinghataw facilitajiet pubblici u kontrollati biex iwasslu l-messagg taghhom ha jiffacilita` l-ghazla libera ta` l-elettorat u mhux qed ikollna bumbardament minn naha wahda biss. Kif qed isir dan ir-referednum il-gvern irid li flok tirbah l-ghazla tal-poplu tirbah is-sahha tal-flus.` Demokratikament sejrin lura ghal qabel il-gwerra meta l-voti kienu mhux wiehed kull persuna izjed numru ta`voti ghal kull persuna skond kemm ikollha beni.
Zewg miljuni mil-MIC, Lm200,000 mill-UE, ippumpjar mil-korpi kostitwiti li kollha gew imwiezna minn fondi pubblici biex jaghmlu l-istudji taghhom, kollha qed jiffukaw biex flok ihallu l-poplu jahseb fil-liberta` ibezzghu lill-elettorat li gej `dannu u kastig kbir jekk jitlef l-opportunita` li jaqbad l-ahhar trenn li jwassal sal-genna.
U fuq kollox hadd ma cahad jew skuza ruhu talli Verheugen hedded lil Dr George Vella li jekk il-Partit Laburista se jkompli jaghmel dak li hu fl-interess ta`Malta, l-UE kienet ser tindahal fl-affarijiet interni taghna ha tizgura li l-Partit Laburista jibqa` fl-oppozizzjoni.
U hadd ghadu ma spjega ghalfejn din l-ghaggla biex naghmlu r-referendum meta ghadu hadd ma ra t-trattat finali u meta hafna pajjizi ser jistennew sal-harifa biex izommu r-referednum taghhom avolja il-gvern taghhom mhux imdendel minn hajta kif inhu l-gvern Malti li wasal fi tmiem il-mandat tieghu.
Ghalhekk ir-referendum ser ikun krnival demokratiku li ma jwassal imkien hlief ghal tberbiq ta` flus il-poplu.` Id-decizjoni vera `tal-poplu trid tistenna ll- elezzjoni u x`jigi wara.
Friday, 21 February 2003
The Malta Independent
Dom Mintoff may have been booed and jeered at the University by students too young to remember what the man did to extract this supposed independent state from the grip of fundamental clerics.` Clerics who pretended they had divine right to choose the civilian government by imposing mortal sin on any one who showed as much audacity as to read the opposition`s paper.
But he was certainly right that the referendum being held on March 8 is carnivalesque and serves as a mere extension of carnival from the prior weekend.
Let me make it amply clear. I fully agree that the issue of a Malta`s relations with the EU, in membership or in partnership, needs to be decided once and for all by a popular referendum where the simple majority will prevails. This is not however to be understood that such a referendum decision puts anybody under an obligation to agree to change the Constitution where 2/3rd`s parliamentary majority is necessary.
`he was certainly right that the referendum being held on March 8 is carnivalesque and serves as a mere extension of carnival from the prior weekend.` But the referendum that meets my expectations has to have four basic ingredients. Firstly it has to present a real choice. Whilst voting for membership is a choice, voting against is no choice at all.` The choice at this point in time ought to be whether to proceed in membership on 1st May 2004 under the terms negotiated by the government, or to open fresh negotiations to enhance the present association agreement and reach a series of other bilateral agreements, policies commonly referred to by Labour as Partnership.
Secondly, it must not be held in the heat of an election campaign but has to be held post-election when far from election heat people would be free to use their vote as they think best without risking to prejudice the electoral chances of the party they support in an election.
Thirdly,` it must be held by a government that commits itself to execute the people`s decision whatever it is,` and that has the executive term in power to effectively execute such decision.
And lastly, the arguments are to be explained plainly and serenely to the electorate with public resources being fairly apportioned to both schools of thought and where both have to explain honestly the short term impact and the long term vision. ` There is time for carnival and there is time for serious decisions to be taken which truly affect the future of our children.` They ought not` be mixed. I will save my vote for a referendum which does not tack on to canival.`
This referendum fails on all these four counts and consequently does not merit my participation therein. It does not present a real choice. It is a mere election campaign for the PN with the difference that it is financed from our tax money. The government does not have the executive authority to carry out the people`s decision and the PN general secretary had no qualms in asserting that if the people will vote against, they will just keep on bombarding public opinion and repeating the exercise until the electorate is forced to say yes, just once and then never again.
Than finally a mockery is being made of democracy the way public funds are being spent to force the electorate to vote the way the government wants it. Added to the Lm2 million `information` from MIC, the Lm200,000 worth of `advice` from the EU, we now have the charade of the Prime Minister writing personally addressed letters, written` in his official position and no doubt paid from public funds, giving a very partial view of the matter under the electorate`s consideration. Why was the other side not offered similar facilities Or are we really already working on the premise that the opposition does not exist` In that case` we have lost the prime democratic credential for joining the EU in membership which ought to invalidate the whole process.
And why is the electorate being forced to decide so early when the draft, let alone the final text, of the accession treaty has not been published in English, let alone in Maltese`
There is time for carnival and there is time for serious decisions to be taken which truly affect the future of our children.` They ought not` be mixed. I will save my vote for a referendum which does not tack on to canival.
Thursday, 20 February 2003
The Times of Malta
Lino Spiteri (Breaking the news ` 17th` February) ought` not be surprised that the `yes` campaign, to reinforce their case,` uses his not so new revelations about his conversion to EU membership since October 1996.
Whilst free to make his choices and to change his mind taking account of the unfolding events and new information, he certainly is not na`ve to expect that his conversion is not used by the benefiting side to stress their argument or to expect his former colleagues not to feel let down.
The three reasons he gives, whilst certainly an improvement over the doctrinal terms with which the yes campaign continue to justify their belief in EU at all costs membership, do not carry the necessary weight to justify the change of mind by someone who had taken the full brunt of the pain that Labour movement had to go through for delivering this country from a clerically controlled colony, to a proud independent neutral state that managed to cut it economic over-dependence on its military values.
`The fact that he gave up so quickly on the job in 1996/97 should not mean that country has gone beyond the capacity to repair itself, but rather that it needs more persistence and bolder measures` That the state of public finances inherited by Labour in 1996 was beyond anybody`s worst expectations is not something any serious observer of the local political scene can argue about.` That more than six years later the real economy creaks ominously under the burden of structural imbalances and loss of international competitiveness is again not subject to any serious contention except by those eager to hide their guilt.
But concluding that we cannot work ourselves out of these problems unless we tie ourselves up and down, left and right, with EU bureaucracy leaves me with an ominous gap in the logic used to arrive at such a conclusion. For a time, until the size of the financial net transfers involved by membership was unknown,` one could have been tempted to buy into such logic. But with the disclosure of the financial package which at the most unlikely extreme would bring in a net of Lm81 million for the first three years without any assurances thereafter, and knowing that the cost of compliance and the cost of new` subsidies we have to fork out will erode a very large chunk of these net transfers, I fail to see the logic of how EU membership will address our faults.
Lino Spiteri admits that the ultimate cure has to come from within us. So if this is the case what is going to release the inner strength which has been sterilised by a laissez-faire government that has destroyed work ethics and devalued our traditional values of thrift and cautious financial management` What logic brings Lino Spiteri to conclude that the people who brought us to this desert will find the internal strength in membership to deliver us from this evil` ` whilst the differences between EU membership and non-membership in its economic dimensions could render itself into one of time scales for reaching a common final destination, the difference in the political dimension stands out more clearly and is likely to be accentuated rather than blurred through the passage of time.`
My logic tells me that the stranglehold of the bureaucracy we would be forced into would continue to sterilise these dormant values rather than awaken them. Once the cure has to come from within us,` must we join anybody`s caravan to cross the desert rather than give this country new leadership to help us release the strength that is undoubtedly inside us and that in the past helped us cross many such arduous deserts`
If a football team is under-performing its potential and risking relegation rather than contending for the title as it had aspired for, would it just merge into the team at the top of the table or would it bring in a new coach and some new players to give new zest and new ideas aiming for new synergies to leverage the strengths and control the weaknesses` The fact that he gave up so quickly on the job in 1996/97 should not mean that country has gone beyond the capacity to repair itself, but rather that it needs more persistence and bolder measures coupled with higher communication skills for the new management to succeed.
And what developments outside our control, may I be illuminated, are relentlessly eroding the advantages of being a non-member` Quite the contrary, I suggest. The more EU integrates onto itself countries from the east the more we gain a comparative advantage through non-membership` by retaining our ability to use flexibility to differentiate ourselves from the rest. The maxim that the small guys run under the feet of the big guys becomes applicable with greater relevance to our particular circumstances. ` When and how the media breaks the news is not important. What`s more relevant and within our control is how we make the news. And the news from Labour`s side` remains the old adage that the likes of Lino Spiteri gave their youth for.`
In particular who is coming to invest here if we are forced to offer the same package as that of other new members who have comparative cost advantages through the sheer fact of their being located closer to the core EU markets`
Absent from Lino Spiteri`s calculations for turning pro-EU is any reference to the political dimension. This is strange coming from a person who moved so successfully to and fro between politics and economics. Because whilst the differences between EU membership and non-membership in its economic dimensions could render itself into one of time scales for reaching a common final destination, the difference in the political dimension stands out more clearly and is likely to be accentuated rather than blurred through the passage of time.
When and how the media breaks the news is not important. What`s more relevant and within our control is how we make the news. And the news from Labour`s side` remains the old adage that the likes of Lino Spiteri gave their youth for. The news that we still believe that this country can be sovereign and free, as free as anybody can be in an inter-dependent world, and that such freedom can only be sustained through sane economic policies that can only be promulgated from the strength within us.
Once the cure lies inside us, who needs to join any caravan when the bill for the salvage could be as high as our own freedom and sovereignty`
Wednesday, 19 February 2003
Admittedly the EU is a complicated issue. Thirty-three chapters, four pillars, innumerable treaties, protocols, unilateral declarations, conventions and constitutions, is just too much for the average citizens to digest and absorb. If the accession treaty is published, reading it with a fair chance of understanding the concepts involved, would probably take much more than the two odd weeks left between now and the referendum.
So some simplification could well come in handy. And as often happens, even the most complicated things could in substance by condensed to quite a simple and understandable choice.
“their vantage point is that after sixteen years of nearly uninterrupted stay in power where they made themselves quite comfortable and unarguably extremely arrogant, they see a desert which they are afraid to cross on their own”
The government and the ‘yes’ movement think that the EU is a solution to all our problems; that this is an opportunity which will be fatal to miss; that EU membership opens limitless possibilities that cannot be accessed in any other way; that in reality there is no choice and no matter how hard it is to travel it, membership is the only road ahead; that all other countries who can do it are preparing to travel along that road and that we should not choose to stay out in the cold.
I never assume that those who argue like that are doing it out of stupidity or out of some devious wish to subject this country to eternal damnation. I simply ask what is their vantage point for seeing things the way they are seeing them.
And their vantage point is that after sixteen years of nearly uninterrupted stay in power where they made themselves quite comfortable and unarguably extremely arrogant, they see a desert which they are afraid to cross on their own. Being unable to offer any solutions for safe crossing of the desert, they see the EU as the only available company to offer comfort and support without bothering to ask what will happen to them once they get to the other side near the water and the vegetation. Would the carrier expect eternal gratitude and control of our activities for helping us through?
“ But Labour exudes confidence that with new determination and vigour in leadership, we can get through the desert without selling our soul to the carrier. ”
Labour realises that carrier or no carrier the strength for crossing the desert has to come from inside us and that this will not be missing as in the past we have crossed many more arduous deserts when properly led and motivated. So according to Labour what is missing is the internal strength of leadership and fortitude which in fact brought us to the desert in the first place.
So once it is readily admitted by one and all that the EU is no panacea for our economic home-made problems, that we still need to find the internal strength to re-structure to cut the waste and make optimum use of the scarce resources available to us, why do the ‘yes’ lobby assume that the same team which lead us to the desert can get us out of it safely by simply hooking on to a carrier?
Once we still need internal strength and determination to make our way out of the desert even with the carrier holding our hands, can we just not work our way out of it to ensure that once we can get to the other side near the water and the vegetation we can still do business with the carrier as partners not as a subsumed little brotherly elf who will just have to do whatever is demanded of him?
Clearly the same situation is being seen from two very different vantage points without much disagreement on the factual present reality.
So your simply saying ‘yes’ or opting for one of the three choices in Labour’s package boils down to how much you believe in our inner strength and ability to sort out the economic fracas of the last three administrations. I do. The ‘yes’ camp don’t. That’s what the EU issue ultimately boils down to.
Monday, 17 February 2003
‘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.’
“It shows the panic reigning at the Ministry of Finance where control over the country’s financing is rapidly slipping through their fingers”
It is against this background that one has to weigh Circular 2/2003 of 24th January 2003 issued by the Minister of Finance and addressed to all his colleague Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries. Under the convenient excuse of variable budgeting, the Minister has prohibited the Ministers from committing themselves for 10% of the budgeted expenditure without first getting the prior authorization from his Ministry.
It shows the panic reigning at the Ministry of Finance where control over the country’s financing is rapidly slipping through their fingers. In the same circular the Minister gloats that ‘significant effort has been made to achieve the targets that we had established in relations to further fiscal consolidation. Our efforts have been reasonably successful.’
This cannot be further from the truth. Without the unorthodoxy of considering as ordinary revenue Lm21 million one-off revenues from MIA privatisation, the deficit till November 2002 would have amounted to Lm138 million compared to Lm96 million on a like for like basis in the first 11 months of 2001. Reasonably successful my foot!
The Minister has not yet understood that budgetary control does not come by issuing threatening circulars to budget administrators that their performance bonus would be withdrawn unless they hit the right numbers.
“Effective budgetary control does not depend on EU membership”
What sort of budgetary control would there be if to hit the right numbers, budget administrators keep postponing expenditure from one year to the other creating serious cash-flow problems within the economy as the consequences of delayed payments cascade through various layers? The most vivid example of this is the mounting arrears due by the Dept of Health to its contract suppliers.
Budgetary control needs to have a value for money test throughout their entire application. It needs re-structuring to ensure that resources are utilised optimally without bottlenecks being created which lead to false economy, more waste and further economic disgruntlement.
And this is just a small taste of what would happen if we are forced to join the single currency mechanism a few years after we join in membership of the EU should the people so will.
Should we breach the Euro stability pact’s maximum 3% deficit, the order to trim the budget will not come from the Ministry of Finance. It will come from the EU Commission with threats of sanctions and fines unless we comply.
So even if local circumstances would demand that we run a deficit in excess of 3%, something we can easily afford for valid reasons given our high propensity to save, even if the consequences of trimming the budget would be risingunemployment or cut in the real value of our social services, the Commission’s order would still prevail. We will have to do what the EU Commission orders even though it would compromise our attempts to engineer an economic recovery to address the deficit through economic growth rather than through increased taxation or expenditure cuts.
I am a firm believer and proponent of good housekeeping rules for running the public purse. I am a firm believer that EU stability pact mechanism would make good sense if applied in the long-term after solving the strategic finance fault which the PN are leaving us as a legacy for our children.
But putting ourselves in a straight-jacket which removes our ability to flexibly work our way out of such problems and leaving as the only variables, increased taxation or reduction in social expenditure and subsidies, is like having to play a football game with your hands tied behind your back.
Effective budgetary control does not depend on EU membership. It depends on a total commitment from the government to adopt value for money tests in all expenditure and commitment to treat the tax money extracted from citizens with utmost diligence to ensure they perceive they are being given a fair return for their sacrifices.
Nahseb li issa qed jinqabez kull limitu. Id-demokraizja f`dan il-pajjiz saret farsa tragika. Jidhirli li wasal iz-zmien li l-poplu malti permezz tal-vot tieghu juri li mhux lest ihalli lil min izebilhu , hu min hu, malti kif ukoll barrani.
Ma jistax il-poplu malti, jekk irid jibqa` jissejjah poplu sovran kburi b`pajjizu, ihalli ghaddej qisu ma gara xejn affarijiet li jinsultawh u li jgibu fix-xejn is-sovranita` tieghu.
Ejja nibdew mil-barrani.` Kellna dak li zvela id-Deputat Mexxej tal-Partit Laburista Dr. George Vella dwar it-theddid ta` Verheugen lil Partit Laburisti li l-UE taghmel min kollox biex jibqa` fl-oppozizzjoni jekk jibqa` kontra shubija ta` Malta fl-UE. Ghadda zmien bizzejjed biex jekk xi hadd kellu jichad jew jiskuza ruhu, `jaghmel dan.`
`Ma jistax il-poplu malti, jekk irid jibqa` jissejjah poplu sovran kburi b`pajjizu, ihalli ghaddej qisu ma gara xejn affarijiet li jinsultawh u li jgibu fix-xejn is-sovranita` tieghu.` Is-skiet m`hu xejn hlief ammissjoni li dak li zvela Dr Vella hija l-verita sagrosanta`. L-irgulja u l-onesta` li bihom hu moghni Dr Vella ma jhallu ebda dubju dwar dan.` Mela kif qisu ma gara xejn` Mela x`sar minnhom il-pampaluni li jiftahru kemm jemmnu fid-demokrazija Mur gibu kieku sfida u theddida` bhal din saret minn xi hadd iehor b`gilda samra Mela r-regoli tad-demokrazija saru jimxu skond il-kulur tal-gilda`
Anke min huwa komplatament favur is-shubija ghandu jirribella ghal indhil bhal dan. Bid-differenzi kollha ta` bejnietna, mal-barranin ahna lkoll poplu wiehed u hemm huwa l-kaz li tassew ninsew id-differenzi, `meta l-barrani jinsulta lill-anqas wiehed minnha mqar jekk mieghu ma naqblu f`xejn.
Izda ghal insult bhal dan ma tniffes hadd. Il-media mixtrija din l-istorja difnitha.` Xi hadd minnhom staqsa lil Verheugen jekk hux tassew qal hekk` Xi hadd staqsa lil Verheugen jekk il-Partit Laburista ghandux dritt demokratiku biex jemmen u jghallem li Malta titlef is-sovranita` taghha bi shubija fl-UE`
Min fuq il-Prim Ministru dawwar il-kampanja biex jipprova jigbed lejh il-voti tal-laburisti li forsi jaqblu ma l-UE. Iridna ninsew id-differenzi.` Dawn il-laburisti, li ghandhom dritt ghal fehmithom, izda ghandhom jirriflettu ghala dan l-interess kollu biex Malta ddewweb is-sovranita` taghha u tigi ma tikkmanda xejn f`pajjizna.` Ghandhom jirriflettu x`wassal lil esponent qawwi ta`l-UE jhedded b`mod daqstant baxx lill-Oppozizzjoni li tirraprezenta nofs il-poplu. `Bil-flus tat-taxxi taghna, il-gvern, flimkien ma l-organizzazzjonijiet tan-negozju li dejjem sostnewh,` qed bl-aktar mod sfaccat jipprova jilwi jdejn il-poplu biex flok juza il-liberta` tal-hsieb li ttih demokrazija vera, igieghlu jaghmel dak li jridu l-gvern.`
Ghadhom jirriflettu aktar w`aktar dwar dan dawk in-nazzjonalisti li ma jaqblux ma shubija ghax huma veri nazzjonalisti u jemmnu tassew` fis-sovranita` ta` pajjizna.
Insult iehor lill-poplu qed isir mil-gvern malti. Bil-flus tat-taxxi taghna, il-gvern, flimkien ma l-organizzazzjonijiet tan-negozju li dejjem sostnewh, `qed bl-aktar mod sfaccat jipprova jilwi jdejn il-poplu biex flok juza il-liberta` tal-hsieb li ttih demokrazija vera, igieghlu jaghmel dak li jridu l-gvern.
Il-bumbardament permezz tal-media favur shubija fl-UE sar idardar l-istonku ta` kull min hu serju. L-izbilanc fir-rizorsi bejn il-gvern u l-oppozzizzjoni f`dan ir-referednum qed idawwar dan l-ezercizzju li suppost huwa l-essenza tad-demokrazija fi tradiment ta` l-istess demokrazija.
Spiccaw l-argumenti favur l-UE. Hekk kif dawn qed jitkissru wiehed wiehed mil-kritka specifika ta` l-oppozizzjoni, l-gvern dawwar il-media kollha biex ipengi shubija fl-UE bhala xi att tal-fidi.` Xi haga li ma ghandekx tirraguna dwarha izda li trid temminha b`ghajnejk maghluqa bhal ma tghid il-Kredu.
Mhux hekk forsi jfissru l-appelli tal-Prim Ministru biex ma narawx jekk hux se nbatu jew le, jekk hux se jkollna impjieg jew le, jekk hux ser tghola l-hajja jew le, izda ghandna bhal martri niehdu l-martirju bhala att tal-fidi fl-UE Mhux hekk forsi jfissru l-appelli tal-Prim Ministru biex ninsew li ghandna oppozzizzjoni Mhux hekk ifissru l-appelli tal-Prim Ministru lill-laburisti li jistghu jivvutaw favur l-UE bla ma jichdu l-Partit taghhom avolja huwa car li r-referednum huwa biss staffa ghall-elezzjoni li tigi dritt wara jekk ir-referendum imur kif jixtiequ l-gvern`
Il-flus tat-taxxi taghna mhux` qedin hemm biex il-gvern jillupjalna mohhna izda biex jatina informazzjoni dwar l-ghazliet veri li ghanda quddiemna.
L-abbuz tal-poter kemm minn barra u kemm minn gewwa ghandu jikkonvinci lil kullhadd li dan ir-referednum sar farsa u li hija biss elezzjoni serja u matura li tista twassal ghal bidu tas-soluzzjonijiet veri ghal problemi kbar li ghandu pajjizna
Sunday, 16 February 2003
Iflu ftit x`qed jipproponu n-nazzjonalisti.` Meta jargumentaw favur l-UE lanqas ghadhom igibu argumenti dwar kemm din hija ghazla tajba.
Fil-kampanja insew ghal kollox id-dettalji. Ma ghadhomx jiftahru bil-fondi la bil-mitt miljun , la bil-hamsin miljun u lanqas bis-sitta w`ghoxrin miljun. Kull ma qed jghidu hija biss li l-ghazla taghhom hija l-uniku ghazla u kull ghazla ohra hija falza u ma tezistix u ma ghandnix anqas biss nahsbu fiha. Xhieda ta` dan huwa l-appell tal-Prim Ministru biex ninsew li tezisti l-oppozizzjoni.
Li qed jghidulna n-nazzjonalisti huwa li la tant pajjizi barranin iridu jidhlu membri fl-UE, la xi erba ex-laburisti wkoll jaqblu li din hija l-uniku triq quddiemna, allura mohhna ma ghandux ghalfejn jirraguna izjed u ghandna nimxu wara l-gvern favur is-shubija shiha ikunu xi jkunu il-konsegwenzi. X`jimporta ghalihom li tant u tant nazzjonalisti f`din il-haga huma favur il-politika alternattiva kif imressqa mil-Partit Laburista!` Lil dawn ma jsemmuhomx. `issa jridu l-poplu flok juza s-sahha li ttih id-demokrazija ha jbiddel u jaghzel lil Partit Laburisti biex imexxih, iridu li l-poplu ma juzax mohhu u jemmen fl-UE bhal ma temmen f`Alla, bil-fidi u mhux bir-raguni.`
Qed jghidulna biex filwaqt li l-laburisti ilhom sittax il-sena jigu diskriminati, `issa li wasal iz-zmien ta` l-ghazla u ninsabu lejlet elezzjoni generali, issa ghandna ninsew id-differenzi ta` bejnietna u nimxu maghhom biex nidhlu membri fl-UE halli nservuhom sew ta` staffa halli jtawwlu ic-cens taghhom fil-poter.
Issa li s-sistema demokratika tati sahha mil-gdid lil-poplu biex jghid tieghu u juri s-supremazija fuq dawk li dahqu bih hames snin ilu u naqsu li jzommu dak li weghdu biex hatfu il-poter f`idejhom, issa jridu l-poplu flok juza s-sahha li ttih id-demokrazija ha jbiddel u jaghzel lil Partit Laburisti biex imexxih, iridu li l-poplu ma juzax mohhu u jemmen fl-UE bhal ma temmen f`Alla, bil-fidi u mhux bir-raguni.
Ghax jekk taghsar il-messagg tan-nazzjonalisti u ta` dawk li qed idoqqu it-trumbetta taghhom u jippruvaw jahslulna mohhna halli ma nibqghux nirragunaw, kulma johrog huwa messagg pjuttost semplici. Messagg li n-nazzjonalisti qed jiddikjaraw bl-aktar mod car li qatghu qalbhom milli jistghu joffru soluzzjonijiet prattici ghal problem tal-pajjiz li holqu huma stess, izda mhux lesti li skond id-demokrzija jhallu l-alternanza tal-poter halli jidhol gvern frisk u b`entuzjajzmu u dinamizmu joffri soluzzjonijiet godda ghal problemi antiki. Ghalhekk biex jinstabu soluzzjonijiet godda bla ma jitilfu l-glorja tal-poter, iridu li tkun l-UE li tiehu f`idejha it-tmexxija ta` pajjizna halli taghmel dak li huma mhux aktar kapaci jaghmlu u fil-process pajjizna jitmexxa mil-barrani flok nibqghu b`rajna f`idejna.
L-aktar wiehed sfaccat li jsostni dan l-argument huwa l-Ministru John Dalli. Ripetutament jghid, jikteb u jiftahar li ghandna bzonn shubija fl-UE biex il-poter ma jibqax f`idejn il-poltici maltin issa li wasal zmien l-alternanza ghax dal-gvern ghejja u dejjaq lil kullhadd. `Jekk jghid le issa, il-poplu jifdallu kull cans biex fil-futur jerga` jahsibha jekk ic-cirkostanzi jitolbu hekk.`
Ara f`dawn il- hdax il-sena li ilu hu Ministru tal-Finanzi li matulhom haraq il-kaxxa ta` Malta u mliena bid-dejn ghal uliedna w ghal uliedhom ukoll, ara meta mar wahdu wahdu jbiegh il-Mid-Med Bank bir-rebass lil barrani kontra kull policy ta` trasparenza fil-process ta` privatizzazzjoni, dak in nhar ma ddejjaq xejn li l-Ministri Maltin mhux biss juzaw il-poter tal-kariga izda sahansitra jabbuzaw minnu.
Izda issa, dawn li jippretenduha ta` professuri tad-demokrazija, issa li wasal zmien l-alternanza, iridu l-poplu jaghzel li ma jibqax jitmexxa mil-Maltin izda li jerhi lhietu f`idejn il-barranin li certament jibqa` grat lejn min irid li joffrilhom lil Malta lura fuq platt tal-fidda bi prezz irhis hafna.
Il-poplu ghandu jehodha kontra kull min irid jehodlu d-dritt sovran tieghu. Jekk jghid iva issa ma jkun jista` qatt u qatt jerga` jibdielu. Il-gvern li jeleggi wara li jghid iva, jkun sottomess ghal ligi ta` l-UE li bhal pajjiz zghir ma jkollna prattikament influwenza ta` xejn fuqha. Jekk jghid le issa, il-poplu jifdallu `kull cans biex fil-futur jerga` jahsibha jekk ic-crikostanzi jitolbu hekk.
Min tassew ihobb id-demokrazija ma ghandux jivvota iva fir-referenum.` Ghax anke jekk jaqbel li nidhlu, `dan ghandu jsir biss wara li qabel xejn `pajjizna jerga jitqajjem ekonomikament min gharkubbtejh fejn wassluh in-nazzjonalisti. U ghandu jsir wara li nkunu nafu sewwa x`kostitutuzzjoni ser tkun topera fl-UE. Sal-lum ghadna ma nafux `sewwa x`inhuma l-obbligi u d-drittijiet taghna ghax dak li ftehmna fuqu ser jigi mibdul qabel ma nidhlu membri bla ma ahna parti mil-process ta` tfassil tal-kostituzzjoni gdida ta` l-UE daqs il-pajjizi li ga huma membri.` Tassew li qed ihajjruna nixtru s-shab fl-ajru u l-hut fil-bahar.
Friday, 14 February 2003
The Malta Independent
I never really had much hope that the referendum campaign could fill the gaps of knowledge needed by the electorate to help it make an informed decision.
The Yes campaign, with apparent limitless resources to spend in media exposure,` keeps avoiding the specifics and just expects us to believe that Labour`s partnership is a mirage and that membership as proposed is the last train to heaven which should on no account be missed.
I have now given up hope completely. Anything Labour issues, no matter how detailed, is just written off by government friendly` media as a pipedream lacking credibility purely because Labour has not had the opportunity to negotiate the way the government did. As if the EU would negotiate with the opposition the same way as it negotiates with the government!
`I have enough grey stuff under my hair to realise that growth needs investment and that growth differentials between the partnership and membership models depends on the amount of investment which each model would attract.` But then, if any unheard of professor presents undisclosed and untested economic models and asserts that by just wearing an EU badge on our lapel we can make our economy grow by an additional 6% p.a. without the need to attract additional investment, then the government friendly media presents it as dogma straight from heaven.
If anybody were to seriously convince me that this could reasonably be expected to be so, I would be the first to at least favour Malta to join the EAA, essentially taking on the obligations of the single market, excluding agriculture and fisheries, without participating in the political dimensions of the EU.
But I have enough grey stuff under my hair to realise that growth needs investment and that growth differentials between the partnership and membership models depends on the amount of investment which each model would attract.
I have often made the case that through partnership we could draw more FDI than under the membership model even though through membership we will undoubtedly get more exposure among FDI providers. I made this case nearly four years ago when I had published my book on a practical way forward regarding our relations with the EU.
I argued then, and still do now, that whilst we will get on the short-list of FDI providers more often through membership, we will make it to the final selection much less than under partnership.` This because once we will not have the flexibility to differentiate our investment attractions package from those of other candidate EU countries that are geographically positioned much closer to the market, we will get regularly eliminated on the basis of superior cost structures. `Now that Labour has forced the government to publish a secret report which confirms what was already so obvious four years ago, the government keeps fudging the issue and gives no assurances or indications of whether it will go for numerus clausus or introduce fee based tertiary education.`
I also argued 4 years ago that our free university model would become unsustainable under membership as it would draw substantial subscription from EU students who would settle here, saving the high cost of tertiary education in their country and at the same time enjoying mild Mediterranean weather and the facility to practice the English language.
Now that Labour has forced the government to publish a secret report which confirms what was already so obvious four years ago, the government keeps fudging the issue and gives no assurances or indications of whether it will go for numerus clausus or introduce fee based tertiary education.
But whilst the Deputy PM avoided the issue in a BA press conference when quizzed by a Super One journalist, in a televised information programme` a junior MIC official when faced with the same question readily replied that the government has guaranteed free` tertiary education and will give the same facility to EU students who use their freedom to come here to share the generosity which this nation shows to its students. I could not help concluding that this MIC guy did not know what he was talking about.
I lost hope of getting an intelligent campaign and should never have expected one in a referendum held as an election campaign tool!`
Wednesday, 12 February 2003
As the referendum campaign gets harder and harder perhaps it will do good for the mind and the soul to analyse some softer aspects of the whole campaign.
I cannot but get amused at two psychological factors that are creeping into the campaign much more than the respective party strategists would probably be ready to admit. These psychological factors are working inversely from their intended purpose and could well reinforce the other party`s case rather than that of the strategists behind the respective campaign.
Take Labour`s hard criticism of the country`s economic performance. The shaper and harder the criticism is, the lamer and feebler government`s defence to such criticism, the firmer develops in people mind the opinion that we need the external discipline of the EU to sort out our state of economic degradation.
`Perhaps Labour critics, myself included should take a brief break from explaining the dire economic problems we are facing, and in the run-up to the referendum take a longer-term view of the economic progress registered since independence.` Is it not a living contradiction that psychological factors could turn government`s extreme weakness in the management of domestic affairs as its strongest point for arguing in favour of the Yes in the EU referendum Perhaps Labour critics, myself included should take a brief break from explaining the dire economic problems we are facing, and in the run-up to the referendum take a longer-term view of the economic progress registered since independence.` Saving criticism on the current state of economy for the election campaign would probably be wise.
On the other side of the spectrum there are counter-balancing psychological elements which the PN is using counter-productively. The whole thrust of their campaign is built on the media.` The PN are avoiding the details and just presenting the EU issue as an act of faith. Something we ought not to reason out but just believe in. Something we just have to follow blindly because every other country is doing it and that really there exist no alternatives to it.
This argument sold well in the build-up to the campaign but in the campaign itself it is fizzling out. As Labour continues to build its campaign on the specifics, easily identifying those sectors that will be disadvantaged by the application of EU rules once Malta gets into membership, the electorate is no longer ready to buy into the easy rhetoric and is stopping to pause and reflect on the specifics.
And having well instilled in people`s mind that it is not all fun and games inside the EU people are reacting counter-productively to the increasing bombardment that the EU is the easy solution to all our problems; that we have to take it as an act of faith, not of reason. `March 8th the state of indecision will just continue till the good sense of calling a general election prevails.`
And the more rhetoric assurances people receive from the Yes camp that they have nothing to worry about, and the more EU emissaries come here to tell us what a fine job our negotiators did and how this package can in no way be improved upon, that by saying no we could be missing the last train to heaven, the electorate is if anything getting ever more suspicious.
So from a Labour`s perspective I feel that the PN`s campaign, billboards and all, avoiding the specifics that Labour are throwing up with impressive regularity, and remaining on generic assertions that we should believe in EU membership as we believe in God Almighty, will back-fire. Voters don`t trust humans the same way they trust the Almighty!
Or could it be that the two psychological contradictions will just cancel themselves out.
Then there is the soft aspect of how to interpret the referendum result.` Labour`s decision to give a three choice option to its followers means that the referendum cannot be just decided by a simple count of the `yes` and `no` votes. Unless the `yes` votes scores 50% + 1 of the total eligible votes (something the `no` votes cannot hope to achieve once Labour agreed to split their vote), the result will be open to all interpretations but not to firm conclusions.
Which means that after March 8th the state of indecision will just continue till the good sense of calling a general election prevails.