Elections are just around the corner. Whether in a few months or even a few weeks’ time, the electorate will choose the party to lead the country for the next five years.
The right choice, though, can only be made after the parties have explained their long-term plans to build sound foundations for economic growth that benefits as many people as possible.
The 2022 budget steered away from meaningful analysis of the formidable challenges the country faces in this regard. Instead, in their budget speeches, the finance minister, the opposition leader and the prime minister focused on a compendium of mainly social measures meant to curry favour with the electorate. The pitfall of such a budget is that it ignores the uncertainties that threaten Robert Abela’s promise of a “new prosperity”.
The PN is doing the job an opposition should do in showcasing its alternative budgetary proposals and promised actions. Bernard Grech listed several initiatives that would favour various sections of the community, from pensioners to students and from self-employed businesspeople to property developers.
The token environmental measures, however, would hardly improve the quality of life of most people. Grech also promised that, if elected, his government would do all it could to attract the big technology multinationals to set up a base in Malta. This could all be just wishful thinking until the country has a credible plan to address the challenges it faces.
Non-political economic research addresses the competitiveness issues that both the government and the opposition keep ignoring. The latest EY Malta attractiveness survey had some sobering news for economic policymakers and political leaders, deflating their bubble as they sought to position themselves as the only solution to Malta’s economic challenges.
The survey results are critically important for the future of thousands of workers, students and families. Ignoring them comes with high risks for the future wellbeing of our community.
The news that “Malta’s attractiveness to foreign investors has reached an all-time low, with more investors finding the country unattractive than attractive for the first time in 17 years” now deserves an honest, if painful, reflection from both the government and the opposition.
For the opposition, it is not enough to say ‘I told you so’ and pledge unsupported timelines for coming off the grey list. Likewise, the finance minister has acknowledged the survey results but narrowed it down to a result of greylisting, which is only part of the problem.
While the FATF greylisting contributed significantly to investors’ change in mood, the structural problems affecting competitiveness predate it. A substantial majority of investors argue that: “Education and skills remain a top priority given that companies’ challenge to find the required skills has resurfaced.” Yet, neither the prime minister nor the opposition leader have come up with any tangible plan to bridge the skills gap through educational reform.
Political communication is a fine art. But political debate loses meaning when mellifluous rhetoric, sound bites and slogans take precedence over substance.
The leader of the opposition had the opportunity to elaborate on the strategic vacuity of the finance minister’s budget speech. He missed this opportunity and resorted to the well-tried pre-election tactic of promising the electorate that what this government can do, the opposition party can do better.
The country faces daunting challenges due to gross public governance failures and shifting global economic dynamics. It is disappointing that in the 2022 budget debate, the people were deprived of a critical evaluation of what needs to be done to underpin economic strategy with sound initiatives to make a “new prosperity” a reality.
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