The weakening power of consumers

The dip is attributed to shrinking confidence in the services and retail sectors, both of which registered significantly lower scores than in previous months

Tourism minister Clayton Bartolo has also warned restaurants against profiteering during the Christmas season
Tourism minister Clayton Bartolo has also warned restaurants against profiteering during the Christmas season

Restaurants have reported a 20% decrease in sales during Christmas compared to last year. The Association of Catering Establishments (ACE) blames inflation for the business slowdown, adding that, despite restaurants being busy, diners are spending less.

A report in the Times of Malta about restaurateurs being worried by a poor start to the holiday season prompted an angry reaction among the public at large, with hundreds of comments accusing caterers of having sown the seeds of their own destruction.

They were also accused of increasing prices while lowering their standards.

In some catering establishments, pasta - which is considered a cheap but good meal - has even become prohibitive for many. The price charged in restaurants for wine has also provoked negative comments.

Many pointed out that it is now cheaper to eat out in major European cities. Comparisons with prices in Sicily - where many Maltese go for short breaks - make restaurant prices in Malta look shamefully high.

Moreover, the service in many restaurants in Malta has tended to become shabby with many employees coming from third world countries, some of whom can hardly speak in English, let alone Maltese.

Meanwhile, the introduction of a skills card for foreigners seeking jobs in the tourism industry has been postponed from January until the end of March to enable it to be fine-tuned, according to the Minister for Tourism Clayton Bartolo.

The scheme would oblige third-country nationals applying for a work visa in Malta’s tourism industry to pass a skill based assessment before their application can be processed. How this scheme will work is still not clear.

Moreover, nobody knows whether those who are already employed in the catering industry will lose their job when the scheme is finally introduced.

Clayton Bartolo has also warned restaurants against profiteering during the Christmas season, after complaints of sales being low despite tables remaining busy.

Speaking after visiting the staff at a hotel on Christmas Eve, Bartolo said that while it is true costs have gone up across the board for restaurants, establishments should not seek to make an undue profit off their customers and cost of services to the diners should be related to the category of catering establishment.

ACE general secretary Matthew Pace said that inflation was causing diners to penny pinch when going out for a meal and that where before a table may order a bottle of wine, they would much rather opt for it by the glass nowadays.

Despite the issue being handled by the Ministry responsible for Tourism, it does seem to me that the majority of patrons dining in restaurants are Maltese nationals, not tourists. In fact, whenever I go to dine in a restaurant, I find that the number of patrons who are tourists is a minority. It is Maltese citizens who are actually spending money in catering establishments, rather than tourists.

As a result of inflation next year, most Maltese citizens will be losing much of their spending power and with meal prices going up, many owners of catering establishments will end up struggling to make ends meet.

It is no surprise that inflation is still pushing food prices up and that, as a result, ‘consumer power’ is weakening.

Moreover, according to the last economic update of the year published by the Central Bank a few days ago,  economic sentiment in Malta last month dipped below its long-term average.

The dip is attributed to shrinking confidence in the services and retail sectors, both of which registered significantly lower scores than in previous months.

1958 and all that

During the Christmas period, I found myself reading a very interesting book penned by the noted historian, Joseph M. Pirotta. The long title of the book is: 28 April 1958, Mintoff and the National Interest.

This is not a review of the book but I cannot desist saying that I was fascinated with the real story of what led to the national day of protest declared by Labour and the GWU on that fateful April day.

Pirotta looks into every nook and cranny of Malta’s political history from the day Mintoff was elected a member of Labour’s Cospicua local section in 1933 when he was just 17 and then became the party’s General Secretary three years later.

His struggle centred mainly on his resolve to raise the standard of living of the Maltese, at first mistakenly attempting to solve the conundrum by proposing Malta’s integration with the UK.

His impatient character makes the story somewhat more dramatic. He wanted to get what he wanted as soon as possible. But history forced him to be patient.

He provoked a split in the Labour Party when he ousted Paul Boffa from the post of party leader. His brusque way of doing things stands out clearly. His strategy included blackmail whenever he thought it was necessary. Very often the end justified the means.

For him acting in the ‘national’ interest justified using all the means at his disposal

It is a fact that at the time Mintoff could not envisage the survival of an independent Malta, and this was why he opted for integration.

Eventually when the integration dream fizzled out, Mintoff had to turn to the other option: independence. The disturbances organised by the Labour Party-GWU tandem on 28 April 1958 marks the point when Mintoff switched officially to ‘Malta for the Maltese’. He wanted to show Britain that a Maltese soul exists - a Maltese soul that cannot accept being ill-treated in its own country.

I was a 12-year-old schoolboy when it happened and although I vaguely remember the day, I never understood properly what led to the protest. The ramifications of Mintoff’s struggle to improve Malta’s standard of living are laid out clearly in this book.

Not just that. With this background, Mintoff’s furious actions after he was elected back into power in 1971 have now made more sense to me, irrespective of whether one agrees with them or not.

Even so, his propensity to threaten with violence and blackmail whoever he thought was in his way persisted long after the British had left Malta for good - but that is another story.

Here’s wishing a happy and prosperous New Year to all at MaltaToday and its readers.