As distrust in governments worldwide soars, an inversion of roles is necessary for citizens to become active in decision-making. Political disengagement is commonplace because a sense of helplessness with no access to influencing public policy has set in.
Digital integration of society may restore political activity spurred by bytes, not ballots – a model with positive goals in which subsidiarity is realised through digital access.
Economy: Disruptive economic models have destabilised the government’s role as a regulator. Embracing the digital economy is not about acquiring technology but accepting a different mindset with attributes relating to speed, solution finding and digital inclusion.
Malta needs to embrace a start-up culture within its public policy framework that is pro-experimentation. Instead of promoting inventiveness, we focus on preventing mistakes. The present tax regime, perceived as a ‘success tax’ by start-ups, should be abolished to motivate younger firms to work hard and win big.
As the world invests in kickstarter ventures, Malta touts its stock exchange. As we navigate the eurozone, the world shifts to virtual currencies ousting banks (not banking). While trade unions grapple with employee protection, businesses such as Airbnb create job pockets that are not visible or taxed. Are our local businesses prepared for this leap?
SMEs still don’t have adequate access to business intelligence tools that improve their operations. As a result, our international competitiveness has been unremarkable. For these firms, digital technology should not be an add-on but a constituent element that transforms their value proposition. Government needs to encourage this metamorphosis and maintain rigid cybersecurity protocols to ensure that trust in the digital world can match accepted notions of behaviour in the physical world.
Collaboration is a foundational step in research and development and helps companies scaffold each other in tough economic times. Yet here, collaboration is low and twinning initiatives are limited to councils. This conflicts with Malta’s history which fused cultures and languages to form a resilient nation.
Malta should flog this buoyant quality to establish itself as a multicultural collaborative technology space in Europe that works to solve societal issues that are key to development, such as transparency in public administration.
Referenda should be as simple as an app-swipe
Government: Wide access to ICT and the adoption of social media have created a blueprint for citizen participation, yet government goes about its business without tapping into the huge knowledge capital that lies beyond its bastions. The utilisation of this public resource does not erode the State, it legitimises it further, by providing access to the distributed knowledge that it represents.
Ambitious legislation is needed to regulate uncharted areas such as cryptocurrencies and crowdfunding to give Malta the same lead it had a decade ago in i-gaming. Government can influence international legal norms surrounding intellectual property law to favour the generation of creative commons and more accessible knowledge transfer methods for the advancement of mankind.
We need to reflect on what the government of tomorrow should look like. It must be a government that comes to the citizen, not vice versa. Referenda should be as simple as an app-swipe giving real-time feedback to policymakers on specific matters, thus elevating the principle of subsidiarity to new heights. Openness, transparency and traceability should be the kernel of government’s operation and this should be achieved through a commitment to open data practices.
We should create start-ups within Castille which pair the country’s top technology talent with public servants to improve the usefulness of public services.
Government must embrace the Internet of Things and leverage on multi-sensorial devices. The personalisation of national healthcare through the integration of such trackers is an obvious starting point that can have a bearing on the delivery of primary healthcare. More so, such integration decentralises healthcare by shifting part of the onus of aetiology to the patient, who in turn is more invested in the process of wellbeing.
Legislatively, the government needs to prioritise digital rights, in particular the rights to informational self-determination and to freedom of expression on the internet. This is especially relevant in light of increasing global surveillance and archaic surveillance laws still in place. The internet must remain open and free, and should be a quasi-fundamental human right – an essential tool for the enjoyment of other rights both offline and online.
Education: Access to technology is today’s great caste system of social stratification. It is the key to improve the standing of citizens and reduce basic levels of inequality. In schools, technology should not be a platform for tasks but a tool with which to analyse the world.
We have been unable to align present career paths with jobs of the future. As 3D printing is changing bio-medicine, what is Malta doing to re-skill its ageing workforce that will face job-loss challenges? We may be good at training tomorrow’s nurse but do we know how to train tomorrow’s digital entrepreneur?
Government needs to entrench lifelong learning into its education policy and offer tax deductions to stimulate take-up. Tertiary education should be deeply rooted in real-world challenges to reduce the gaping chasm between the classroom and the board room.
University must reconsider its role. It should commit to longer tuition contracts by guaranteeing its students’ development through their working life rather than merely at the start of it. This will ensure continuous knowledge transfer in line with market needs and protract the government’s commitment to education beyond what we presently recognise.
Technology is not just a way to communicate. It is a voice for our voters; the ability to innovate and learn, discover, create, build and stretch the boundaries of what is possible.
It is not about the lines of code we create but the values embedded in the architecture of the future that we can build together.
Dr Gege Gatt is a technology entrepreneur and lawyer.