State jobs galore

Meanwhile, Labour keeps fooling everybody by pretending that there is nothing wrong with the increase in unnecessary jobs with the state

Passengers arriving at MIA are reporting having to wait hours to be cleared
Passengers arriving at MIA are reporting having to wait hours to be cleared

The recent Eurostat statistics showing that Malta has registered an increase in early school leavers is worrying. Is this a failure of our education system?

On the positive side is the fact that literacy has increased from 87.9% in 1995 to 94.5% in 2018, but there seems to be a culture in certain swathes of Maltese society that looks benignly at early school leavers.

The difference between male and female students – with many more male students leaving school without knowing how to read and write – has been constant, but that is another issue.

When I became minister responsible for education in April 1994, I discovered that my responsibilities included my having to sign ‘permissions’ for young people to leave school before their sixteenth birthday.

The number of such releases that I was asked to sign seemed too big for my liking and I adopted a policy that I would sign such permits only if the student in question would be 16 before the next scholastic year. These applications had to have documentary proof that applicants were being offered a job – mostly in the hospitality or industry sectors.

The lure of such jobs, considered by many as extra income to the whole family was irresistible.

One has to point out that as far as the Eurostat statistics are concerned early school leavers considered are those between 18 and 24 years of age – quite a difference from the under sixteens of yesteryear.

Jobs in the public sector for early school leavers were practically impossible at the time – more so as the various Nationalist administrations sought to decrease the number of people employed in the public sector.

At the same time, I came across another statistic: jobs with the state and state entities shot up from 41,005 in December 2012 to 50,532 in October 2020 – an increase of 23%. When one considers the number of government employees who were pensioned off during the same period, it results that the state jobs handed out by the Labour government were much more than the difference of 9,427 that the statistics indicate.

The Muscat administration had, in fact, reversed the previous government policy of reducing jobs in the public sector and opened the floodgates to satisfy the demands of its supporters.

This increase of people employed in the public sector was statistically camouflaged by the big increase of people employed in the public sector, so that the percentage of those employed in the public sector did not statistically increase when in real numbers there was quite an increase.

These statistics ignore the fact that the increases in public sector employees were mostly Maltese being given life-long state employment while the increase in private sector employees were mostly foreigners with no assurance of a job for life.

And so the camouflage was almost perfect. The increase of public sectors employees include a huge swathe of jobs being given for Labour supporters irrespective of whether these jobs were needed – as, for example, in the Water services Corporation. Matching the addresses of these new employees with the electoral district contested by the minister responsible for the sector would be a big eye-opener. When the jobs were ‘given’ would also be another eye-opener.

Under Eddie Fenech Adami, it was not possible for people being employed with the State after Parliament was dissolved and the administration was simply a ‘care-taker’ one until the election. Not so under Joseph Muscat.

As far as I can recall, no one from the Opposition felt the need to ask for further information via Parliamentary questions.

Was the possibility of being employed by the State a good reason for some to leave school early? I suspect there is a connection between the increase in early school leavers and the increase in state employment, but I cannot be sure.

How many new employees in the state sector are considered statistically as early school-leavers? Is the Labour bonanza based on giving public sector jobs to its supporters encouraging people to leave school earlier than they should?

A serious study on whether there is any co-relation between the two statistics is sorely needed.

Meanwhile, Labour keeps fooling everybody by pretending that there is nothing wrong with the increase in unnecessary jobs with the state.

What a mess!

75 tourists were denied boarding their Air Malta flight from London to Malta on Wednesday after a last-minute decision not to accept digital UK vaccine passes. They were turned away as they tried to use an NHS app showing that they were fully vaccinated.

The British press reported that holidaymakers with trips booked to Malta saw their plans thrown into chaos after Malta announced it is not accepting the NHS app as proof of vaccination.

From Wednesday, travellers from the UK aged 12 and above were only permitted to enter Malta if they have had both doses of a coronavirus vaccine but the Maltese authorities would only accept printed letters sent by the NHS as proof.

That means tourists planning to use the NHS app to demonstrate their status face being turned away at UK airports or the border in Malta, even if they are fully vaccinated. To request an NHS vaccine letter, one has to fill out a form online, which one can only do two weeks after the second jab. The UK Government’s website states that letters then take ‘up to five working days’ to be delivered.

Health minister Chris Fearne initially said that the change to only accept physical letters was a temporary one and that the digital version of the UK COVID passes would be accepted by Thursday. However later on, his own ministry said that it would take a number of days to fix technical problems and start accepting digital passes.

The health ministry blamed the problem on the UK, saying it had not provided a ‘verifier app’ to allow local border control authorities to verify the passes.

With the tourism sector waiting eagerly for a large inflow of British tourists, it seems that the authorities failed to realise that they had to put their house in order as quickly as possible.

Malta can hardly afford the bad press in the British tabloids that this incident provoked.