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Missed opportunities

The leaders of labour unions recently took part in a day of action against austerity in the most economically bruised capitals of Europe. The streets of Athens, Lisbon, Madrid and other hotspots witnessed violence, demonstrations, riots and mayhem.

The more Labour insist on repeating this blatant lie, the wider their credibility gap grows
- Michael Refalo

Not to be outdone, the representatives of Malta’s labour unions organised a more sedate affair – they met in a hotel and sat on what looked like comfortable settees – to discuss the pain of paying one’s utility bills, fully or in part subsidised by taxpayers and Enemalta.

Meanwhile, the Nationalist Government was doing what it knows best: forgetting to remind the country of its achievements. At a time when most EU states sweat in the doldrums of deep recession, suffer the stress and strain of cutting wages, benefits and pensions, the EU Commission announced that Malta no longer faces the risk of economic sanctions and lifted the Excessive Deficit Procedure set in motion in 2009 when Malta’s deficit had exceeded four per cent of GDP. This is indeed excellent news.

More encouraging is the prognosis that most EU economies are expected to flat line by 2014 while by 2013 Malta is forecast to register a relatively robust growth of 1.6 per cent.

More significantly, the Commission’s autumn statement highlights Malta’s strong performance during the past 12 months. By the end of 2012 and despite the turmoil prevalent in Europe, Malta’s economy is forecast to expand by a further one per cent.

In the same period, the euro economy will contract by a further 0.4 per cent. Moreover, the Commission’s forecasts signal further progress registered in several other key economic fields: the next two years will see an increase in employment, a reduction in the number of jobseekers, greater domestic demand and a rise in exports.

Meanwhile, debt levels and inflation are expected to increase. The proximity of elections and the possibility of policy changes prevent the EU from giving an accurate assessment of Malta’s long-term performance.

Eighteen months ago, the Labour Party realised it could not win the election unless it succeeded to discredit the Government’s reputation for economic competence and yes, why not say and broadcast it loud and clear, follow the same anti-patriotic tactics set out in past campaign manuals.

Labour gave little or no thought to the potential plight wreaked on the weakest members of Maltese society.

Those who recall Labour’s 16 years of authoritarian rule and the travails before the electorate succeeded to unseat the incumbent Labour Government which by fair means and foul was solely intent on building an extreme socialist generation, should at least give some thought to the consequences of not voting.

They will be falling prey to Nimbyism or worse still experiment with change simply for its own sake. Labour set up a triumvirate of in-house economic and finance gurus who during a joint press conference touched rock-bottom and claimed the Government was spoon-feeding the EU with incorrect data to convince Brussels that Malta’s finances were healthy.

Did Charles Mangion and Karmenu Vella, Labour’s finance and economic spokesmen and for that matter MEP Professor Edward Scicluna consider the harmful downside of their noxious, double-edged strategy before stepping in blindly where more experienced kindred spirits had refrained to tread and put their economic credibility on the line?

Would Brussels have otherwise poured so much egg over their faces? More pertinently, did Labour feel any remorse for trying to foment an investment and political climate which could only cause hardship to the people they purport to champion and represent?

Malta’s clean bill of financial health from Brussels is clearly not enough for Labour. Instead of keeping a low profile, Muscat and his team are left clutching at straws and trying their utmost to highlight a specific part of the Commission’s report which they say reveals Government’s plan to increase the energy and fuel costs but only after the election.

Labour is now conveniently trying to change tack from one which fails to discredit the EU’s endorsement of the Maltese Government’s excellent economic stewardship to one which hides the threat of increased energy prices.

The Government denies having any such plan. The Maltese energy units depend mostly on the market price of crude and are actually among the cheapest in Europe. The more Labour insist on repeating this blatant lie, the wider their credibility gap grows.

When reviewing the Brussels report and Malta’s achievements, Finance Minister Tonio Fenech stated unequivocally that they reflect the efficacy of his government’s fiscal and economic policies and enable it to plan ahead and build the 2013 budget on solid foundations.

Like so many of his peers and predecessors, he committed the mistake of forgetting to mention that the achievements are first and foremost the fruit of the hard work by Government, most entrepreneurs and the vast majority of workers and this despite the trip-ups and hurdles placed by the Labour Opposition’s unpatriotic strategy, alarmist tactics, baseless allegations and sniping designed solely to undermine and weaken the people’s resolve.

It is about time that Nationalist ministers remember their job is to run the country and more importantly that they are also politicians who believe firmly in their economic policies and that they are the best for the country.

They should leave no stone unturned until they are convinced their message is understood by every man and woman in the country. On Budget day and the days that follow Minister Tonio Fenech and his colleagues will have the unique opportunity to feel the pulse of the people and get their message across. It is an opportunity which neither they nor the country can afford to miss.

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