Strutting the political catwalk
The leaders’ debate organised by The Times and the Intercontinental Hotel last Wednesday covered various topics, but the bread and butter issues remained central. The creation of wealth, more value-added productive jobs and the safety net for those who need solidarity remained at the heart of the debate.
The creation of productive jobs remains a top priority in most countries. In this regard Malta has been blessed and credit should be given to all those who have contributed to this, not least the government for taking various initiatives to ensure the highest number of people in employment.
While unemployment in Malta has been kept in check, it has reached record-high levels in most of EU countries. EU unemployment is still rising and has now reached a staggering 23.6 million.
The latest Eurostat table on unemployment puts Malta in fifth place out of the 27 EU member states with 6.4 per cent. Spain has the highest unemployment rate with 22.9 per cent while Austria recorded just four per cent, the lowest in the EU.
It is no surprise that European and international institutions have placed high on their agenda the creation of jobs, more productive jobs and high quality jobs.
The emphasis is on employment to reduce poverty, as well as the recognition of the deep crisis of youth unemployment. The UN Commission report highlighted issues that, over the past decade, have subjugated the agenda of governments and other constituted bodies, not least trade unions.
The report emphasised the need to reduce poverty through economic growth and job creation, which helps to reduce inequality and provides the necessary safety nets and social protection.
The report concluded that if the current trends towards austerity measures in response to the debt crisis are not reversed, the economic and social situation would deteriorate and dampen prospects for economic recovery.
International Labour Organisation director-general Juan Somavia did not mince words, saying that despite strenuous government efforts the job crisis continues unabated, with one in three workers worldwide – or an estimated 1.1 billion people – either unemployed or living in poverty.
With this in mind, local policy-makers must act decisively and in a co-ordinated fashion to reduce uncertainty, real or otherwise. The worldwide economic and financial situation calls for political maturity.
Recently the UK Labour Party leader Ed Milliband told two of the UK’s largest trade unions that Labour was on the “right path” in supporting a cap on public sector pay rises amid criticism from the trade union delegates. In Malta, the Labour Party promises a revision in the water and electricity tariffs. So much for political maturity.
Petty domestic issues continue to plague our national agenda with baseless political bickering, leading to more division between party supporters. This is wasted energy.
Political party leaders are duty-bound to give a detailed rationalisation of their economic and social vision to the electorate.
While Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi reinforced his stance with examples of his government’s achievements in the prevailing worldwide economic climate, Joseph Muscat failed to give the audience the opportunity to reflect on the Labour Party vision.
This brings to mind the promises made by the Labour Party prior to the 1996 election to abolish VAT – introduced by the Nationalist Party during the previous legislature.
VAT was unfortunately relegated to the political partisan arena, scarring not only the political party promoting its abolition but also the credibility and economic stability of Malta’s finances. People had to shoulder the financial burden of a politically motivated decision.
Malta’s membership of the EU and the adoption of the euro were another two major milestones that were highly politicised and which unfortunately divided our small population.
It was only the untiring efforts of the promoters and other organisations who believed that these were the right choices for Malta that secured their adoption. Ultimately, after much energy which could have been directed to more productive issues, these have today become owned by all and sundry.
Can anyone today think of Malta not being a member of the EU or not having the euro as our currency in this worldwide financial and economic turmoil?
One may criticise the Nationalist Party for various shortcomings, but this alone does not necessarily merit a change. If and when people decide to switch allegiance they must ascertain that they have picked the right team with a winning strategy and vision that can match what we enjoy today, if not better.
Political stability also formed part of the discussion, with diverging points of view. If one had to accept the argument that the current political situation within the Nationalist Party is tantamount to political instability, then the Leader of the Opposition must without any hesitation embark on explaining the economic and social models the Labour Party would be employ if it is entrusted with government by the electorate.
The electorate should have ample time to be able to undertake an objective analysis of the proposals before going to the polls.
This small state cannot afford to lose precious time and energy for the sake of one individual or a political party impatient to make the first steps on the catwalk.