Friday, 18 December 2009

500 Fridays

500 Fridays

18th December 2009

The Malta Independent - Friday Wisdom

Alfred Mifsud

“I remain a dreamer but dreaming is the raw material of creativity. However, dreaming tires you too, so I intend to take a break until I find it irresistible to start writing again. As Vera Lynn’s song goes, “we’ll meet again, don’t know where don’t know when but I know we’ll meet again some sunny day.” ”
This is the
500th contribution in this series. It will also be the last.

The first contribution was published on 10th March 2000, titled ‘Welcome Professore’ which was a sort of open letter to Professor Romano Prodi who was visiting as President of the EU Commission to discuss our application for EU membership.

Since then I have kept my appointment with you every Friday except those few Fridays when newspapers were not published like Good Fridays, Christmas and Boxing Day.
500 is a nice round number and if I have to stop out of my own choice it is as good a place to stop as any. In writing this column I have tried to keep to three principles. Firstly, to stick to what I know and am familiar with, and to steer away from matters on which I felt I could not make a value-adding contribution. Secondly, I tried to choose subjects which were topical at the time I was writing. And thirdly, I tried not only to criticise fairly and without inhibitions, but also to offer new thinking and ideas on how what was being criticised could be addressed.

Whether I succeeded or not I leave to others to decide. What I know is that I did my best and if that was not good enough I stand by the judgement of my readers. If someone ever felt offended by my criticism I assure him/her that no offence was meant. I never criticised the person but their action, idea or proposal.

This country is not the same it was when I wrote my first contribution nearly 10 years ago. Accession to the EU has been a transformative experience. The discipline which it has imposed on us has in a way saved us from ourselves without suffocating our creativity and ingenuity. On the contrary, the challenge to succeed without artificial protection has brought the best out of our people and no doubt will continue to do so.

The reservations others and I had about EU membership were dispelled in the accession negotiating process where, in spite of our smallness, the EU allowed us to carry a disproportionate influence in the decision making process. Having a Maltese commissioner, being allowed to maintain our neutrality as provided in our Constitution, and similar concessions were given in areas that I had initially thought we would have to give away as part of gaining the accession prize.

Alfred Sant’s major fault was in not recognising that his own tough anti-membership campaign had strengthened the government’s hand in negotiating a generous package. He failed to adhere to the wisdom that to be consistent one should change one’s mind when the basic assumptions on which previous opinions were formed change. Continuing to oppose EU membership after the accession package was concluded in Copenhagen in December 2002, in spite of the package having addressed the main argument of Labour’s criticism, was Labour’s downfall, which led to defeat in the elections in 2003 and yet again in 2008, keeping Labour away from executive power for an extraordinarily long time. This state of affairs is not healthy for the proper working of democracy.

Challenges ahead remain as awesome as they were 10 years ago and this is not strictly related to the difficult recession the world is going through. Recessions come and go. Our challenges are more structural.

The major challenge is how to remain competitive to win in the global market so that our economy can sustain the social model which we have built and which is becoming exceedingly more expensive as our population gets older and as medical costs to sustain an aging population continue to increase.

My hope is that we can make this country a model of smartness. My vision is to emulate Singapore in how a small country could do things which bigger countries find so difficult to execute with the necessary flexibility for success. And when I say smartness I am referring more to the smart grid project being planned with IBM and less to Smart City type projects which in the end remain real estate projects that do not really make a lasting contribution to efficiency gains. The IBM model should be extended to other areas beyond the grid, to our traffic systems, to our education systems and other areas where today’s vision will probably become the norm in the world of the future. Our mission should be to use our smallness to become the technological laboratory of the world.

I remain a dreamer but dreaming is the raw material of creativity. However, dreaming tires you too, so I intend to take a break until I find it irresistible to start writing again. As Vera Lynn’s song goes, “we’ll meet again, don’t know where don't know when, but I know we’ll meet again some sunny day.”

All the best to all my readers.

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