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michaelfalzon
Michael Falzon

Shaking off the Mintoff legacy

The many Nationalists and Labourites who live in a time warp are more comfortable with the political enemy of old than with the current one

michaelfalzon
Michael Falzon
5 January 2016, 7:39am
Clockwise from top left: Former Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami, Opposition Leader Simon Busuttil, the late former Prime Minister Dom Mintoff, and Prime Minister Joseph Muscat
Clockwise from top left: Former Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami, Opposition Leader Simon Busuttil, the late former Prime Minister Dom Mintoff, and Prime Minister Joseph Muscat
I cannot stop wondering about the fact that many involved in the political sphere seem to be living in a time warp.

Looking at the editorials and certain contributions in the Union Press papers, one finds the same prejudices of old, including one of Mintoff’s favourite arguments. According to Labour lore, the PN, the Church and civil society unite in one front against the government when Labour is in power. This is, of course, nonsense. The situation could have been like that when Dom Mintoff was Prime Minister but the real reason for this was the fact that his way of doing things was not only vulgar but it sometimes also resorted to political violence and dispensing with the rule of law with the end justifying the means.

Perhaps the truth is more that he managed to quarrel with everyone rather than everyone conniving to resist his reforms – that included a number of short sighted and inane impositions – because there was some conspiracy against Labour. 

One of Mintoff’s ‘infamous’ speeches was the one when he told his supporters there were many battles ahead, different battles with different sectors of the population...  Many were in the queue he explained, only to complain later that all the different sectors of the population had united against him! 

All this is water under the bridge. Or is it not? 

With Joseph Muscat’s ‘new Labour’, the past that cannot be undone is now forgiven and sometimes forgotten. Labour has made a fresh start. Yet there are still too many old type Labourites who speak as if this fresh start has not happened and still talk about the conspiracies against Labour, about which I sense a paranoid trait.

On the other hand, there are also PN supporters who insist that there is no difference between Joe Muscat and Dom Mintoff and the present administration is up to Dom’s old tricks.

Many – including the PN media – try hard to depict Labour today as similar to what it used to be then and insist that the problems with Labour 30 years ago are the same as the problems with Labour today. They deny there is any difference and attack the political adversary with the same arguments and vehemence that were the right thing to do against Mintoff but which are passé today.

The many Nationalists and Labourites who live in a time warp are more comfortable with the political enemy of old than with the current one. They know how to fight the battles of yesteryear and therefore deny that the present political controversies are anything different!

The poltical issues today are different. Joseph Muscat is no Dom Mintoff. Nor is Simon Busuttil the latest version of Eddie Fenech Adami. They are both the products of a different age that was much less harsh than that of their predecessors. Our country has been independent for 51 years and Malta is a EU member state. 

Today the political game is so different that it is unrecognisable. Some who are in denial prefer to stick to the parameters of the past, pretending that circumstances have not changed and that they do not have to swim in untested waters.

It could well be that a generation or two have to move to the other side before the Mintoff legacy is shaken off completely.

 

Employment soars

According to the National Statistics Office (NSO) the Labour Force Survey has shown there was a 2.8 per cent increase in employment in the third quarter of 2015. This stood at 189,565, which is more than half the population aged 15 and over. According to the NSO the activity rate for this quarter among persons aged 25-54  was estimated to be 81.9 per cent. 

This is all good news, of course. More so as the third quarter included the best summer months when the tourist industry was faring very well. 

Yet the government is still spending a lot of money in benefits to the unemployed. So what is going on? And why is there, at the same time, an increase in the number of Maltese below the poverty line?

I reckon that many of the unemployed are actually Maltese citizens who do not want to work while the newly employed are mostly foreigners. As a matter of fact, I strongly feel that the statistics of people employed in Malta should show how the number is split between Maltese citizens, citizens of other EU member states and citizens of non-EU states.

Saying that the increase in employment has led to 81.9% of people between 25 and 54 being in a job could be misleading if the new jobs were taken up by foreigners coming from a source of labour that is alien to the registered unemployed!

I am sure that employment is soaring because of foreign workers. Meanwhile this increase in employment is also pushing down unemployment levels as a percentage of the labour force. This is why I think these figures are lopsided: the increase in foreigners working in Malta is big enough to distort the statistics that the NSO dishes out regularly to the public.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not a xenophobic against the idea of foreigners working in Malta – Asian and African migrants included. I am all for it so long as their employment is above board. Indeed I think we owe a lot to them in the present growth in economic activity in Malta. Many work in construction, cleaning and waste gathering and even driving buses. 

I do not buy the inane line that they are taking ‘our’ jobs. Ask any employer and the truth glares in your face: foreigners are taking up jobs that the Maltese are refusing. Some ask for unjustified excessive wages. Otherwise living off social benefits and doing the odd undeclared job suits them better.

Other foreigners work in highly paid jobs in the gaming and the financial services sectors. These push up the statistical mean of individual income and together with Maltese in the same jobs they are statistically distorting the position of the poverty line. 

Yet they are all contributing to make Malta a much better-off place.

More than numbers and statistics that do not really explain anything, we perhaps need an in-depth study about the social and economic impact of the rapid increase of foreigners working in Malta.

That would make much more interesting reading than the numbers and percentages published by the NSO.

michaelfalzon
Michael Falzon is a former government minister who served under several Nationalist admini...
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