Worrying drop in stability, transparency
When Malta weathered one of the most severe recessions in the wake of the financial crisis, then prime minister Lawrence Gonzi used to say, quite justifiably in the circumstances, that the country’s success in doing so did not come by chance.
Joseph Muscat is today repeating exactly the same mantra whenspeaking about the phase ofeconomic growth the country ispassing through. However, in sharp contrast to the situation then, the waters are calmer today and oil is much cheaper.
Greatly buoyed by this new economic environment, Dr Muscat’s government has been in a better position to roll out new measures that helped the economy grow even further. At the same time, it has also been able to reduce the deficit. But the way forward has not been plain sailing at all. Labour in office is acting markedly differently to what the electorate was promised in the last general election.
Transparency has perhaps received the biggest knock, amatter that the government doesnot appear to be much concerned about, even though it was one of its major commitments in its last electoral programme.
Quite disturbingly, the latest Ernst & Young’s Malta Attractiveness Survey has shown a 15 per cent drop, over the previous year, in the stability and transparency of the political, legal and regulatory environment.
There is much in the survey that is positive, particularly the fact, for example, that the majority of the investors surveyed thought Malta would still be attractive for foreign direct investment in three years’ time. This is hugely important as it would ensure continued growth. But the slide in the stability and transparency ranking is a matter that needs to be tackled with urgency.
However, the Prime Minister did not sound very convincing in his reaction to this worrying finding. He was quoted saying he acknowledged that the government had an obvious responsibility to do better in the face of the 15 per cent drop in political stability and transparency. But, as he does so often, he tried to deflect the criticism on his government by arguing, lamely, that there was no doubt that the year-long campaign on the subject of political transparency by the Opposition inevitably left an impact on people’s perception. He was quoted saying: “I am not saying that this is a matter of perception, all I am saying is that it takes two to tango.”
Perhaps the Prime Minister needs to be reminded that it is his party that is in government, not the Nationalist Party. There is no way he can get away from the responsibility which his government has in being transparent in its operations. But this is exactly what he is refusing to do in so many cases. It is simply not on for the government to publish public contracts only when it deems it convenient for it to do so.
The Prime Minister is not being politically transparent even in less serious matters. When a lawyer asked Minister Without Portfolio Konrad Mizzi in open court to name the firm carrying out the audit of his financial set-up, his answer was to address the question to Dr Muscat. When asked, the Prime Minister replied that the name would be made public only when the audit findings were published. He said he had not been in court for the hearing and that he had not seen the transcript of the minister’s evidence.
Dr Muscat ought to start respecting the people’s intelligence.