Post-election reflections

Yesterday, Malta woke up under a new Labour government. The PL is right to feel elated by the result but it should remem­ber that elections come, elections go. In a democracy what persists are the rights and aspirations of citizens for a better way of life.

We’ve been running on punctures for far too long

Elections are not about having new faces or a changing of the guard. Democracy is not a state of being, but a process wherein a society moves towards an improved level of politics and public policy-making, through increased citizen-focus.

As the dust settles on Elections 2013, our society should make a sober assessment of how it does politics, how its economy is performing and how it expresses social solidarity and justice. This should not be another academic exercise. We have been getting too many conflicting messages; we need to have an objective analysis of where our society stands. Only then can we start formulating what needs to be done to move forward.

The PL mandate is very clear: people want ‘a new political season’. Parliament needs to be respected and given greater powers to effectively oversee the work of the executive. Just after approving Budget 2013, enacting the Whistleblower’s Act will be on top of the new government’s agenda.

The reform of the public service is to be accelerated so as to move towards accrual accounting, programme budgeting, outcome-based performance and increased transparency and accountability.

There should be clear and fair appeal procedures. Aggrieved bidders for public contracts should not feel obliged to call on politicians to vent their frustration, or for other purposes.

There is also consensus on the need to update the Constitution. The President’s initiative in this respect should be followed up so that our Constitution reflects today’s global and domestic realities, including the evolution and changed values of our society.

Discrimination, for whatever reason, has to stop.

Our aim should be to work towards an inclusive society, based on meritocracy and social solidarity. The MCESD should be entrusted with taking stock of our political, economic and social situation. We need to have a serious analysis, with no political or other hidden agenda.

The purpose for such an exercise is not to pass judgement on past decisions, but to identify the major opportunities and threats facing our society.

A candid discussion of Malta’s achievements and failures in the EU should no longer be considered as taboo. EU membership is much more than about securing financial assistance. Are our enterprises making good use of the 500 million single market? Why has our economic growth over the last 10 years been overly-dependent on domestic factors, rather external ones? Why do local real wages continue to fall?

Should this not be the ultimate gauge of how well our economy is performing?

We keep boasting that our economy is growing faster than the eurozone average. It is an established fact that smaller economies, especially those with a lower GDP per capita, register higher growth rates than larger, more advanced economies.

While acknowledging that a few sectors are doing relatively well, what is the future of other sectors such as agriculture and fisheries, manufacturing, construction and tourism?

Are we going to continue playing the numbers game, taking a short-term approach to strategic economic management? Why has productivity in many of our economic sectors been sluggish? Giving hand-outs to large companies may do the trick for a while, but does little to ensure their sustainability. Malta’s innovation and technology strategy needs to converge with the local strategies of these foreign companies.

Given the state of our public finances, the Government lacks the resources to drive the economy, and will inevitably depend on the private sector taking the lead. We need to combat excessive bureaucracy which destroys wealth and entrepreneurship. As the EU continues to tighten fiscal supervision, government has to find creative ways of stimulating public private partnerships. Another problem facing our enterprises is the lack of liquidity. The Government, together with all stakeholders, has to find an early solution to the severe cash flow problem stifling many of our enterprises.

As to the social sphere, our society is committed to free health and education as well as adequate social benefits and pensions. This is achievable only if our economy registers a higher growth rate and government makes best use of the resources at its disposal.

But we should not be content that vital public services are free. In this age of globalisation it is no longer acceptable to have such a large number of school-leavers with no skills and no certificates. And it is superfluous to boast about free health, if the only way to get timely treatment is through payment.

And then we need a holistic action plan to combat the poverty that is creeping into our society. There should be a social safety net for every Maltese citizen. It is crucial that Government reviews how social benefits are structured and delivered, so as to cut waste and control abuse.

The Maltese people have voted for a change that really meets their needs and aspirations. A lot will depend on our political leadership. We have been running on punctures for far too long. Hopefully, we will have a peaceful Maltese Spring that will help build a better society.

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