Decisions, decisions, decisions…
In less than a month’s time, Malta will elect its 12th government since Independence. We are a young nation, not even 50 years old. To our credit and despite our relatively young age, we have managed to achieve so much. We can boast of a good standard of living, with a better-than-average public health service, a free and all-encompassing education system and an economy that creates wealth and jobs. We live in a safe and secure country where normality is taken for granted.
This is not to say that we all lead a perfect life, that none of us have issues or that the system works perfectly well for everyone. It is to say that life in Malta is generally good.
The election campaign is proof of this. The sublime message of both main political parties is that the going is good but they can make it even better. We are discussing whether to give tablets to all schoolchildren or just to Year Four students. We are discussing how to improve the already generous free medicine system. We are campaigning for increased spending towards arts and culture.
Our campaign messages are very different to what is being said in Italy, which, like Malta, is going to the polls in the coming weeks. Or what would be said by the political parties in Cyprus, Greece, France and Portugal if they had to go to the polls now.
They would be talking about austerity, cutbacks in government spending. Whereas we are discussing how to spend the €1.2 billion funding we got from the European Union, the political leaders of these countries would be explaining their plans on how their country is going to meet the dire obligations that came with the bailout monies they received.
We are talking about improving the welfare system. They have to cut back their spending on social services, pensions, public sector employment, education and health. This is leading to protests on the streets of Athens, Paris, Madrid and other capital cities across the continent.
Some would like to have us think that Malta escaped the wave of economic recession by some miracle. That the wave crashed on all other economies but somehow avoided our shores. Or that we survived and not thanks to the Government’s timely interventions.
This kind of thinking worries me. It worries me because the world is not yet out of the recession. It worries me because we can still fall victim of economic woes. It worries me to think that there are people who think that the Government, the biggest player in the economy, has no role to play in deciding whether the country sinks or survives.
The truth is that reckless government decisions are to blame for most of the economic woes faced by our northern neighbours.
We escaped the worst of the economic recession because we took the difficult and unpopular decisions. We closed down unproductive businesses and diverted funds towards economic activity that added value. We removed subsidies because we did not want to sustain wastage and inefficiencies. The money we saved went into investing more in tourism, in supporting high-value manufacturing concerns, in attracting new business to Malta, in improving education.
I have no doubt that some of the decisions we took hurt us politically but, in the end, it was thanks to these difficult and timely decisions that this country survived the worst economic recession in living memory relatively unscratched. It was thanks to the decisions we made that, today, we have the highest number of people employed, that we have the highest number of students following post-secondary and tertiary education, that we are attracting more and more businesses to set-up office in Malta.
Malta is working. We are being touted as an example to follow. We are attracting the youth from all over Europe who, unable to find work in their country, are coming to seek their fortunes here.
This Government brought Europe to Malta, at the same time opening the doors of Europe to all Maltese who wish to further their academic or work experience abroad.
Things could have been very different had we elected a different government in 1998 and in the elections that followed. We could have stayed out of Europe and the euro, followed Cyprus, remained friends with North African dictators. We could have sunk into economic despair.
We did not do that because you chose wisely. The ball is now back in your court. You have to choose the government that will be deciding on your behalf, a government that will determine whether we keep or lose our normality and prosperity.
I am sure that you will be looking beyond the glitzy presentations and asking the very simple question: who can I trust to decide on my behalf? Who can I trust with my future and the future of my children? Can I trust the party that consistently got it wrong or should I trust the party that delivered even in the most difficult of times.
This is the one decision you have to take. Choose wisely.
Mario de Marco is Minister for Tourism, Culture and the Environment