From good to great
When the French stormed the Bastille in 1789, it can be said that they did so for many a principle – namely Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. But at the end of the day what it really boiled down to was one thing – improving their lot. And history has repeatedly shown that in the main, we equate quality of life, to a high degree, with wealth. Europe has over the last generation, on this count, shown great progress. No one can argue that when one considers what the continent went through during two consecutive periods of war, the recent state of wealth is nothing short of a miracle.
But over the last few years we have seen a drastic reversal of fortunes which has resulted in a big hit on personal wealth levels for many people. Across many parts of Europe, we have seen a general recession with an accompanying decline in quality of life. There are many reasons and theories why this is happening but without doubt, moving manufacturing out of Europe to cheaper places, while failing to compensate through growth in the knowledge economy and related innovation, is a major, fundamental issue which needs to be addressed.
Malta is part of Europe and the economic situation here is also precarious. The argument being put across by a government that has been in office for practically 25 years is: “There are other European countries who have had it worse, so let’s stop complaining as in these circumstances, it’s a good result.”
But results are always relative. Of course we can compare ourselves with countries faring badly and feel a sense of Mediterranean resignation. But should we not set the bar much higher than that? Should we not be comparing ourselves to the leading countries, rather than the laggards? Should we not be striving for excellence rather than being content with mediocrity?
Reports and statistics are important measures, but so too is the daily state of wealth of families. And today in Malta, the disposable income of a lot of families has gone down. I meet a lot of people in their homes and I can feel this general decline.
We need to be in a position to measure this effectively on a continuous basis and have mechanisms in place to ensure that the greater economic growth feeds into all sectors of the population.
In moving out of mediocrity, we need to also measure quality of life in other ways. Levels of education are fundamental. It is clear that our post-war British-based educational system, that has served us so well for many years, is now failing to help us achieve the next level of excellence required. We need to re-assess our priorities in this regard, ever supporting our youngsters in any way possible to further their studies. We need an open minded, multi-sectoral discussion of what’s next in terms of our education system if we are to cater for the needs of the next 50 years.
Transport is another area where we suffer. Like any badly organised southern Mediterranean country, we have a disaster on our roads, which we all seem happy to live with. Lack of proper long-term planning means we have still a huge number of roads not worthy of an EU country, a public transport system which is at best struggling with real requirements, and a road network system which is not capable of handling today’s demands. For the thousands wasting a couple of hours every day in traffic, this too is affecting quality of life.
We have a lot to be proud of in the way we provide our health services. But even here, we should be aiming to take this forward. I was in a TV debate the other day with a doctor who is a PN candidate and who was making the point that waiting lists are inevitable and we just have to live with them. This is the sort of mediocrity we should not accept.
Using a common business cliché, the shift from “good to great” will not happen overnight. It takes long-term planning and detailed execution. It takes good and competent people to deliver, and requires the involvement of all people who can meaningfully contribute. It entails a “culture change” which can only come about if it is driven by strong leadership guided by a sound strategic vision. If elected, this is what a new Labour government will do: move Malta from good to great.
Chris Fearne is a Labour candidate on the third and fourth districts.