Smells like an election
An open letter to the leader of the Opposition Joseph Muscat.
26 March 2012, 12:00am
There are widespread rumours that there will be an early election on 9 June. I am not too certain about the rumours.
The odds at present are in your favour, but anything could happen and I would not be too surprised if things end up blown in the opposite direction.
The power of incumbency is not to be taken lightly, most especially when so much is at stake. Twenty-five years in government means a lot to the same group of people who have had it so good.
To start with, you have a tall order.
How you are going to cut government spending if you refuse to cut on employees?
Smaller government must be one of your aims.
Smaller government will mean more efficient departments with a smaller staff, it would mean fewer ministries and ministers, a smaller parliament and less local councils and a smaller number of elected councillors.
Make parliament a full time job, not a pastime.
Transfer government services to Gozo, allowing more people to dream of continuing their career at home.
Reform the police force and make them a modern force and not one that is mediocre and reinvent the army to make it a small efficient force in time of peace - make it useful and full of purpose.
Both political parties talk of better education and health and most important of all it should be free. But should it? Should we think of contributing more through a more reasonable national insurance contribution?
University stipends should be abolished and replaced by a soft loan system payable over a reasonable period. And University should work hand in hand with business visionaries, not only academics.
On pension reform, address the conundrum by involving private enterprise in setting up private pensions and of course pension funds.
If you want better efficiency at Mater Dei, it will mean more beds and more medical staff but this comes only if you have more funds at your disposal. And you do not.
Cut unnecessary private contractors, save money and allow private clinics to take some of the burden of our national health service under an agreed tariff structure.
But you have to restructure and introduce private insurance contribution to make up for national insurance deficits.
Better governance may come by cutting unnecessary expenses and doing away with certain 'ingrained' expenses.
For example can you cut on the number of boards and agencies?
Do we need a board and a chairman for every agency?
What about merging some of the agencies and doing away with others?
Remove dinosaurs such as the Broadcasting Authority and replace it with an executive ombudsman for broadcasting.
That will save you money and do away with those mediocre debates.
And do we need to have so many embassies abroad when most of them offer little or no return?
Do we need to believe we are bigger when we are really just a small island state?
You will think that privatisation is a means to an end. It is not.
Or should we rethink the whole process?
And should we not ask why an activity cannot be carried out by the public sector before delegating to the private sector?
But why not think of taking back the Malta International Airport and Posta Ltd. Or even the lotteries for that matter.
Why cannot we run them efficiently? Is it too much to ask government entities to be efficient and managerial-oriented?
Why cannot we trust Maltese running our own entities?
Does Bank of Valletta run less efficiently because it has no foreign CEO?
Or should we have the MIA model, a company with Maltese employees but one foreign CEO?
I would think not. Why cannot MIA be Maltese again? It is after all owned by a Viennese company with strong links to a political party.
It could not be worse.
Why cannot we make money out of these entities too, just in the same way Bank of Valletta makes money?
Can we keep politics out of these entities?
Of course we can.
Only if you apply meritocracy as a yardstick.
Why not turn them into public companies?
And get Air Malta back on track by using people at the top who have reasonable salaries but not ridiculous ones, understand the needs of the local industry and do not have a habit of calling 'our' airline - crap.
Indeed, we ran Malta postal services in a more efficient manner before it was privatised.
And the banks? It is now abundantly clear that some banks have lost in interest in Malta. HSBC is a case in point. They have lost interest in Malta and treat banking in Malta as a profit exercise, full stop.
Then do what others did abroad. If you want money to regenerate the underprivileged, education and health and depressed areas come out with a windfall tax. Yes, a windfall tax that will give you some spending money.
You need money, so try to tax those activities or objects which are considered a luxury.
You do not need to reinvent the wheel, just look at what other countries are doing.
If you want purchasing power change the income tax regime once again.
People should pay tax according to their purchasing trends.
The less you spend the less you pay.
And make it worthwhile for those who pay their taxes in full and forget about giving amnesties to those who have always defrauded the State.
Public transport - which is an abysmal failure - should be tackled head on. It will require that you confront those business entities that are renowned to be at great pains in bullying government. It will require thinking out of the box.
It will require smaller buses and it will require that you subsidise public transport in a big way to encourage more people to use buses.
But you will need to take back public transport from the private company that runs it. Why subsidise private companies when they cannot get their act together?
Road infrastructure can only come about if you have the money to solve road maintenance and I cannot think of anything more logical than taxing those who purchase cars.
Yet it will also require that road construction and maintenance is subcontracted to those who fully appreciate what goes into making roads.
You say you have a vision for a new Malta.
Well, you will have to start by erasing the face of patronage and meritocracy in Malta.
Start with the judiciary. Make the judiciary a profession, not a politically-determined career. And give the judiciary the executive powers to investigate.
Take PBS and cleanse it from all its political appointees and anchored hosts and put professionals and individuals who have the audience at heart, not the politicians and their agendas.
In those agencies where transparency and accountability is a prerequisite, set the rules.
Rules that cannot be overturned by politically-appointed boards.
Abroad, town and country planning is not determined by boards but by clear guidelines.
You will be under immense pressure from the speculator and construction industry.
Make it very clear that you will fight bureaucracy but you will not oversee the rape of our countryside and our heritage.
Once you have traded our country to this lobby you are at their beck and call.
Like trading to so many other lobbies, such as the hunters.
Uphold the importance of creating quality environments, of better service and commitment to the community and its environs.
Bring back traditional fishing and stand up to the ludicrous demands of the EU. Do not be more Catholic than the Pope, but do not go against the grain. Do not state, for example, that hunting and trapping in Malta can be reintroduced as it was before.
You will face a deluge of unfair demands by several of your constituents. You will have to sift through all of them to determine which are justified or not.
Learn to say NO. And no should mean NO.
You will need to inculcate the idea that tax evasion is not up for discussion, that professionals such as lawyers and doctors are not privileged.
And that everyone should pay their taxes.
Make people know how their taxes are spent.
Transparency is more than a must.
Some brave decisions need to be taken as regards tourism. How can accommodation in Malta be cheaper but still offer quality? How can we offer coupons to visiting tourists to capture the lower-end market. And how can we encourage higher-end boutique hotels?
We can invest in upgrading our heritage and environment to bring more people over to Malta? But it will need entrusting more local organisations to help you in this.
Transform Malta into a mecca for entertainment for the younger tourist. Lift the barriers for those who find too much red tape when they land in Malta and Gozo.
And can we reverse the cost of eating out in Malta which is ludicrously priced by providing incentives in reducing energy bills and rentals for outlets.
Open investment possibilities in Malta by offering unbeatable concessions that will attract all kinds of investment, and by making Malta Enterprise open to offering a service, not dissuading private investment.
To make us more competitive we need to invest in the right energy sources and not the Quixotic ideas and costly concepts such as wind energy, which have little return.
Energy concepts which may be daring but that will lead to dramatic decreases in tariff structures and look to a demanding energy consumption, leading to a lower costs base for businesses and consumers.
On the 'Constitutional' level, open up a debate with a deadline on electoral reform and start seriously thinking of party lists, where political parties choose their candidates.
And kill the party financing transparency problem.
Consider lowering the threshold for the electoral quota to allow for the opening of new political faces.
Make a clear distinction between Church and State in the Constitution and reconsider the role of the President in so far that he may have some limited executive powers rather than simply symbolic ones.
More than ever we need to be more European, to be standard bearers of standards. On the international be firm, but do not try and be an overbearing replica of Dom Mintoff. Stand for modernity. Embrace diversity, gender equality and discard those vestiges of xenophobia and migrant bashing so pervasive in your party.
First of all, from our acceptance of a diverse and tolerant society, to one that cares for its environment by acknowledging the future and doing away with the past. To a society which will be led by politicians who take decisions, who can face their peers and inform them that times have changed.
If change happens just for the sake of change, then we would have missed out on the possibility to transform this country into a Mediterranean paradise.
I could go on, but I have run out of space.
Saviour Balzan is the founder and co-owner of MaltaToday. He has reported on Maltese poli...
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