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Labour makes a good start

The Nationalists were caught by evident surprise at the relative soundness of Labour’s proposals to provide water and electricity at cheaper tariffs.

Whatever its final shape, the Labour proposal is credible
- Lino Spiteri

That was clear from the way various spokesmen tripped over their feet to try to dismiss the proposals before they had even read them.

Very quickly they said they were a gimmick. But the unanimous non-political reaction was that a gimmick they were not.

Rather the proposals present a serious effort to shift energy provision on to a new gas-fired basis. It is not a perfect proposal. But there is much to recommend it.

For one thing, it would allow Malta to be dependent on itself for adequate provision. That said, should the Sicilian interconnector possibility become available at affordable financing, it could be incorporated in Labour’s proposal.

The Prime Minister’s reaction was the most confused of all. From an initial gimmick dismissal, he quickly moved to assert that a Nationalist government could also supply cheaper energy. The Finance Minister tried to be the most professional of the critical troika.

The new deputy leader started with a squeaky ‘gimmick’ and was stuck there. He did not get a quick briefing from those who knew better and therefore had nothing better else to say.

The former Nationalist minister Michael Falzon does know better. He immediately said it was no gimmick and proceeded to make objective critcism. That rests on the timeline the Opposition leader has given himself to implement the proposal.

Two years does seem to be a short span. The Opposition leader recognised that and made it clear he was putting a strain on himself on purpose.

If Labour is elected to govern and so push comes to shove, he would be doing the shoving personally with the aid of an energy minister. In that scenario he would need to do a lot of shoving.

Aside from the natural difficulties inherent in the process, the Nationalist opposition would be doing its utmost to hinder the Labour government. A new way would have to be found to spell the word negative.

Other worthwhile crticisms were made by a former chairman of Enemalta. The Opposition leader had a reply to them too.

The Government was visibly angry that the Labour Opposition could put forward a spokesman of a Dutch firm helping the Government to back its proposals. It was also chagrined because the proposal involves no mystery or miracle.

It could have been worked out by the Government itself if it had not been so obsessed, for some reason still to be revealed, to push ahead with the dirty fuel scheme recently put into halting practice, emitting smoke from some mysterious fire which the auditor general could not locate.

That fact will probably unveil fresh suspicions in the future. Many decent Nationalists will be saying if Labour could plan all this from the barrenness of Opposition, why could not the Government have done it from the well-endowed operating grounds of formal office?

The question begs an answer. The thought of some sort of hanky panky will raise its head again. It might be still a bit too early for that. But, it will happen.

The questions will not only come from decent Nationalists but also from the constituted bodies, who have already sounded positive to Labour’s proposal, and from the business community, which together with households recognises that the expense of production of energy, irrespective of the independent price of the fuel input on the interna-tional market, is of paramount importance in their cost structure.

There is much more to discuss. And discussed it will be before the election date arrives, and thereafter, should Labour win.

But the discussion will be on the basis of a factor that the Nationalists have lost in recent months – credibility.

Whatever its final shape, the Labour proposal is credible. So much so that already the Nationalists are moving to try to make it their own. The poeople will not be so easily had.

Many will notice too the unmitigated arrogance of the Prime Minister who rushed to demand that Labour makes available to him all the details of the plan – who drew it up, who would be involved, and such like. That is rich coming from the head of a government who himself was very often chary of giving information he was in duty bound to give. Not a few will remember the shadiness of the current Delimara project and how determined Government was not to give details.

For that and other projects the official line was, invariably, that commercial confidentiality prevented the Government from opening the pages of all the books.

Now the Prime Minister wants his adversary to be so gallant as to do his bidding. As a matter of fact, on the very first day the Opposition had given much more information, location, type, estimates and all than had the Government in similar cases which made it formally accountable to Parliament.

The Labour Party has opened the election campaign with a bang. It is only the start, though the key issue at this stage. It would do well to go by the line of credibility it has established and to make sure that the trait runs through all its proposals.

The Government, which will concentrate on its claim that the economy has done very well, ignoring Himalayan height of the public debt, will have enough gimmicks of its own to produce.

The Labour Party’s initial success is not going to make the Nationalist Party any less negative than it had already sworn to be.

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