Friday, 15 August 2008

Marching on Castille

15th August 2008

The Malta Independent - Friday Wisdom

What’s the difference between the French and the Maltese?

The French marched on the Bastille when the oppressed majority had had enough from the monarchy and its court of nobles. The Maltese tend to march on Castille whenever a privileged minority feels threatened by the government who in the name of the majority tries to remove some of their privileges.

Recently we had the transport operators defending their monopolies, where they make more money from sale or transfer of restricted licences and from state subsidies rather than normal down to earth operations, marching on Castille when government declared its policy to liberalise the public transport sector.

We now have the GWU threatening a march on Castille by shipyards workers demanding job guarantees for those among them who do not opt for early retirement schemes. The government is offering these schemes on a voluntary basis to all shipyards’ workers on the pretext that it needs to slim down the workforce even further in order to bring the organisation into shape for a successful privatisation.

I cannot manage to count how many times in the past any sector that felt threatened by the government’s action, chose to express determination to defend its position by marching on Castille. It has become a national trait.

There is in the country a much larger majority who busy as they are with their life, never find time to march on anywhere even though in the end they are the ones who have to foot the bill for the success or otherwise of whoever decides to march on Castille. It is the majority of Maltese taxpayers who through their fiscal contributions put the democratically elected government in funds to administer in the best economic manner whilst striving to maintain social cohesion in full respect of law and order.

It must be remembered that the government has no funds of its own. The government is the representative of the people and the funds it administers belong to the people. So when protesting minorities make claims on the government to protect their narrow segment interests by demanding anything which costs public funds, varying from continued subsidies to job guarantees, they are effectively asking neighbours next door who pay taxes on their hard earned money, to continue to channel those taxes to maintain the protestors’ inefficiencies.

In the case of the GWU demands for shipyards workers, they are effectively asking honest hard working taxpayers whose only job guarantee is their own hard work and efficient output, to provide guarantees, which the general taxpayers do not even enjoy, to certain sections of society who have not found a way to migrate to operational efficiency in spite of a horrendous flow of past state subsidies.

With a left leaning conscience I am all for social transfers in society in order to protect deserving causing who because of their health, age or particular situation, cannot help themselves to participate in the general economic growth created by taxpayers. This is necessary to maintain social cohesion among society which cohesion itself provides an inviting background for stimulation of economic growth.

Nobody among us argues these days, thanks mostly to the Mintoff revolution, the need for society to pay pensions to its retired employees, for providing social payments to those who cannot work due to sickness, destitution or temporary unemployment, and for providing basic free services in education and health services. However we must not fall into the trap of considering long-term subsidies as deserving social payments.

On the contrary, if society is constrained to provide long-term subsidies to segments who refuse to re-organise themselves to commercial success or, where this proves not possible, to move to new self sustaining economic activity, it would in fact be misallocation of resources, meaning that the truly deserving causes for social support will not receive the level of assistance they deserve. It is socially regressive to continue subsidising able bodied who should be contributing to society rather than draining resources away from it.

Nobody had explained this more clearly than Mintoff himself who in 1973 went to speak at the famous meeting for dockyard workers where he actually challenged them to show they have balls to operate the dockyards without reliance on state subsidies. And they did at least for a period as the Dockyard operated profitably until 1981. Then the Mintoff effect withered away gradually and under a 21-year PN administration we have been hopping from one restructuring scheme to another, costing the taxpayer some one billion euro cumulatively, and yet leading to nowhere but threats of marches on Castille.

The only march that the taxpayer will gladly make is that to the ballot box every five years and it would be indeed a pity if the new Labour administration does not position itself as a better defender of taxpayers’ interests so as to give them a real choice when next asked to choose their national leaders.

What the GWU should be insisting upon is that any employees who do not opt for early retirement and who are not offered re-employment in the privatised outfit, will be offered extensive re-training to facilitate transition into new productive sections of the economy. And for this there should be no need to have workers march on Castille. On the contrary, GWU executives should walk head high to Castille for proper negotiations in this sense while respecting the interest of the general taxpayers.

Workers marching on Castille with the evident approval of Labour will distance rather than endear the growing floating voter segment from Labour, making the dream of making it to Castille recede further deep into the future. Going to Castille for serious negotiations which respect to the interest of the taxpayers will bring Castille much closer to Labour.

If Labour truly wants to be elected that is.



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