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michaelfalzon
Michael Falzon

Joseph Muscat’s time to be resolute

Muscat must be plotting his strategy for the next 18 months – a strategy that will probably show him aiming at fulfilling those electoral promises that he so rashly ignored during his first years in office

michaelfalzon
Michael Falzon
2 August 2016, 8:37am
Muscat's cynical 'conversion' to the straight and narrow path comes at a time that fits perfectly with the run-up to the next election
Muscat's cynical 'conversion' to the straight and narrow path comes at a time that fits perfectly with the run-up to the next election
This is the last summer that the Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, can enjoy without an election looming round the corner as soon as the year elapses. Next year – 2017 – will be the last full year of the current administration’s term. For Joseph Muscat it must be the time to be resolute – to pick up the pieces of his administration’s fiascos and keep on boasting of his administration’s achievements.

The PN is again falling between two stools, trying to be negative and positive at the same time. Ever since Muscat won the 2013 election, polls have consistently shown that he has kept his lead over Simon Busuttil and the PN in the popularity stakes. The PN almost managed to overtake the PL at the height of the Panama Papers scandal but since then Labour has again surged ahead to have quite a comfortable distance over the PN. No wonder that earlier this week, Joseph Muscat was reported as saying that the Panama scandal was one of the most disappointing events in the last three years!

I am sure that Muscat must be plotting his strategy for the next 18 months – a strategy that will probably show him aiming at fulfilling those electoral promises that he so rashly ignored during his first years in office. Many will say it will be too late; but public perceptions have a short memory.

In the last few weeks there were three interesting developments:

– Muscat’s adminstration agreed with the Opposition on a change in the Constitution regarding the appointment of the members of the judiciary as well as giving new powers to the Commission for the Administration of Justice. 

– The House of Representatives started debating the Standards in Public Life Bill – a bill presented two years ago that the government suddenly started to push now… with deputy prime minister Louis Grech saying that the bill is essential in order to have a disciplined, mature and effective political climate, adding that “The bill must make it difficult for individuals in public life to take unethical decisions which impact the lives of the public. This legislation is in the interest of the public, as it will safeguard a certain level of ethical standards.”

– The administration has also launched the bill to create a Lands Authority that will lead to more transaprency in deals involving state-owned immovable property and ensure that it will be more difficult for abuses to happen in this sector.

Suddenly Joseph Muscat wants to be perceived as tackling the issues of ethical behaviour and governance that bedevilled this adminsitartion from day one. I do not blame critics who argue that too many horses have escaped from the stables before the doors were bolted. Some of them go on to insist that the administration allowed some time before tackling good governance to ensure that many of the covert promises that were never in the public domain could be fulfilled. As if to say that Muscat deliberately planned it so that first his cronies enjoyed a period in which all the ‘pigs’ got sated at the trough and then – after the cronies become rich overnight – start governing in a serious way, ensuring that no troughs are easily available any more.

This seems to have happened. Whether it was part of a plan or not is difficult to say. What is sure is that Muscat’s cynical ‘conversion’ to the straight and narrow path comes at a time that fits perfectly with the run-up to the next general election. 

If this ‘new’ behaviour of Muscat persists, the PN’s call for good governance will no longer be as strong as it has been hitherto. In fact, I reckon the PN had already made this the major issue on which to pin its electoral hopes.

Will Muscat’s new image of seriousness pull the rug from under Simon Busuttil’s feet? 

The PN can hardly gain any new votes as regards the economy and the good feel factor there is in the country, although it is known that the bonanza has not really trickled down to the people in the lower income level bracket.

From what he has been saying recently, Muscat is aware of this problem and he knows he must tackle this as well, if he is to ensure a second term as Prime Minsiter. With some €75 million in the so-called social fund obtained from the selling of Maltese passports, it looks like an easy task!

On the other hand, the steep climb in front of Simon Busuttil seems almost insurmountable.

The Air Malta saga

Meanwhile the Air Malta saga goes on and on. 

I almost said ‘never ending saga’ but it does seem that if the matter is not resolved within three months or so, the end might be well in sight. During the hearing of the legal case with the pilot’s Union (ALPA), Air Malta’s lawyers last week revealed in open court that Air Malta is €66 million in the red. 

It is a sad story, the result of a long series of political meddling and mistakes. Over-manning was one problem caused by politicians. Even under the current administration, a number of persons somehow ‘found’ a job with the airline… while it was being restructured!!

Most probably Air Malta got its biggest blow when low cost airlines (subsidized indirectly by the government) were given the green light to connect Malta with destinations that were already being served by Air Malta’s scheduled flights. This was a terrible mistake that the Nationalist administration made at the behest of hotel owners and tourism operators who were only concerned with their patch. Surely such decisions should be taken with the whole big picture in view. In other words that decision meant the state was practically dishing money to help low cost airlines ‘compete’ with Air Malta.

As part of the restructuring process Air Malta reduced its number of planes and the number of flights while there was no reduction in the number of pilots – something I cannot understand.

In this scenario, underutilized pilots hollering for more money is the cherry on the cake!

[email protected] 

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