The coronavirus effect

In the current circumstances, the government should take the Opposition in its confidence and the Opposition should co-operate with government

Prime Minister Robert Abela
Prime Minister Robert Abela

The way things are going, the economic effects of the coronavirus epidemic – now declared a ‘pandemic’ by the World Health Organisation – cannot be taken lightly.

The government’s decision to extend the travel ban and to impose a quarantine to people who have been recently in Italy and other affected countries was unavoidable. The argument goes that short-term sacrifices will lead to a successful long-term recovery. This is what is driving Italy and a host of EU nations to take drastic measures to control the virus from going more viral than it has already gone.

Much more time must pass before one can fathom the full economic toll of the pandemic, but evidence suggests that it will be very serious.

Airlines face cancelled flights and empty planes and, hence, big financial losses. Demand for consumer goods has fallen and factories all around the world have to decrease production. The decrease in consumer confidence is raising doubts about whether the demand for goods will go back to its established level, once production resumes.

Policymakers seem unable to set up an aggressive response to the crisis. An interest rate cut by the US Federal Reserve last week failed to calm financial markets. A similar move by the Bank of England on Wednesday was equally ineffectual.

The situation in Italy is very bad, with Emanuele Felice, professor of economic history at the University of Chieti-Pescara, and economic advisor of the Democratic Party being quoted as saying: “This is the worst crisis Italy has had to face since the end of the Second World War.”

Yet, Malta’s geographical position compels it to have more logistical ties with Italy than with any other EU country. Whatever we would like to do, the sea links with Sicily and other Italian ports are indispensable for our economy – for our supplies and our exports. Air links, on the other hand, have an important role in our Tourism industry.

Last Wednesday morning, employees of Identity Malta refused to open the offices as they should have done since they feared the spread of the disease from the many foreigners queuing and flocking outside the entity’s offices at Msida. Later, Alex Muscat, who is the parliamentary secretary politically responsible for Identity Malta addressed a press conference saying that the problem was the result of a ‘misunderstanding’.

When he then explained that proper monitoring measures were going to be set up and taken, the ‘misunderstanding’ excuse did not hold any water. The employees’ concerns that led to their refusing to open the offices in the morning were actually justified.

This was only a small glitch – especially when compared to the problems being faced by the tourism, catering, entertainment, and sports sectors all over the world. People in these economic sectors will be hard hit the most – they can hardly work at home using computers!

In the House of Representatives also on Wednesday, Adrian Delia – the Leader of the Opposition – pressed the education minister to explain why schools in Malta have not been closed as happened in other countries. He was playing the tune of the teachers’ union (MUT) that was pressing for such a closure as has happened in many nearby European countries.

Government’s hesitation about this step probably stemmed from the fact that in all cases so far, people in Malta who tested positive to coronavirus got infected when they were abroad and cases of persons contracting it from other persons in Malta have not cropped up yet. On Thursday, however, the government relented and decided to close all schools.

This small contrast between the government’s and the Opposition’s position does not augur well. In the current circumstances, the government should take the Opposition in its confidence and the Opposition should co-operate with government after being told all the information available on the issue to the government.

Finance Minister Edward Scicluna was reported saying that the government is considering aid for businesses affected by the coronavirus and that his ministry is holding talks with stakeholders to assess the impact of the disease on the economy. Meanwhile the Opposition is kept out of this loop.

Playing political hide-and-seek on such an issue is reprehensible.

On the contrary, co-operating on how to tackle the situation should help to make the government and the Opposition understand each other better.

Paying for sex (2)

After reading my piece on prostitution last week, a friend of mine – who is more street-wise than me – asked me whether I realised that criminalising paying for sex could lead to more false reports to the police and waste of the force’s human resources.

To say the truth, this possibility had not occurred to me, I had mostly thought about prohibition forcing the practice going underground.

So I asked my macho friend what exactly he was thinking about. He referred to cases of women who make false reports to the police to frame their husbands: allegations that the husband (or rather, ex-husband to be) had sexually abused an under-aged daughter or a relative.

Last July, for example, a man who had to endure four years of court proceedings to defend himself from allegations of sexually abusing his 12-year-old niece said the ordeal had ruined his life. The allegations turned out to be false and had been made up by his estranged wife during separation proceedings, which according to legal experts in the field is becoming a frequent occurrence.    

The Sunday Times at the time quoted the man saying: “The case ruined me. They spent four years lying about me; how do you think that made me feel? It turned out that it was my ex-wife who cooked up the claims. She made up the whole story because she wanted full custody of our son and she used her brother’s young daughter to make up this story about me.”

Would women on the warpath with their husbands be now tempted to report to the police that the husband had illegally paid someone or other for sex? And would the police be sent on a wild goose chase investigating this crime? Or would the other woman ‘co-operate’ with the police?

Such new crimes make good fodder for blackmail.

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