It is not all about money

I just think that a message needs to be direct, and most people wish to be addressed in a formal and direct manner with a very clear message

In between a sumptuous ingestion of turkey breast, traditional timpana and pumpkin soup, aided by some red wine, the Prime Minister delivered his choreographed New Year’s message – somewhat less easily digested by many members of the public, apart from Clyde Puli MP. So I feel privileged that on Saturday morning, I dug out a copy of the speech and read through it.

Those with no catering to do at home in the run-up to the New Year would have also seen the video on the internet or TV on the day. It is a well-edited video, but not my cup of tea. Too soppy for my taste, with its naff representations of the islands – choirs, orchestras, pianos – a tad too cringeworthy to bother viewing right till the end.

The style reflects the audio-visual creativity of many of Labour’s videos before 2013, when the PN had lost much of their marketing boldness. There was a piano perched precariously close to the edge at l-Aħrax tal-Mellieha (a Natura 2000 site and just off the breeding site of Malta’s unique seabird colony, the Yelkouan shearwater) and the usual aerial filming from a drone with gorgeous women in silk-like dresses emulating a take from some Enya video.

I just think that a message needs to be direct, and most people wish to be addressed in a formal and direct manner with a very clear message. Nothing beats a direct form of speech.

Most of Muscat’s discourse turned out to be a boastful account of the economic achievements of this administration. The famous slogan, Malta b’saħħitha is repeated ad nauseam and for good reason. There is little doubt that the economy is doing very well and Muscat has every reason to be happy with himself. I guess most of it can be attributed to the government’s open door policy to businesses of all creed and colour, and an upturn in the global economy.

The previous administration had grown into a tired and bureaucratic Pleistocene and corrupt administration. The tired administration may have changed but the ‘corrupt’ have only been replaced. 

The business community has been pampered and is in happy mode. It is clear that Muscat measures success solely according to the financial wellbeing of a person, in the sense that the more purchasing power a person has, the better the policy and the politics.

He cannot go wrong here. It is true that for most political parties, the success of their politics is measured by the financial empowerment of the people and the general financial state of the country.

So I read on in his speech, and again Muscat was immodestly claiming success in the health sector. With the usual reference to out-of-stock medicines and cataract operations and the waiting list of MRIs – a measure of success in our health sector that we have been listening to for the last 12 years.  

Muscat told everyone that such achievements happened only because ‘we had taken decisions’. There is no doubt that decisions in this sector were significantly visible, more visible than those related to allegations of impropriety.

Needless to say the advantage of hosting CHOGM and the Europe/Africa summit were also underlined in the same speech. And the curious reference to the calculation by UK marketing guru Saatchi’s dramatic claim that the international fora promoted Malta and would have effectively cost the country half a billion euros to achieve through promotion.

I am yet to believe this hogwash.

Finally in the final paragraphs of the PM’s message, reference is made to the eradication of heavy fuel oil from Malta’s power generation, and the environmental benefits of the change to gas. And a fleeting reference to the new environment authority and the reforms needed in the lands department, to ‘safeguard’ and these are his words, the limited footprint available in Malta.

And as targets, the Air Malta crisis is referred to once again.

The PM’s message read like a budget speech. It should have not. It could have been different by addressing the concerns of 2015 and reacting to them in some substantive manner.

A vision is not only about euros and cents. Political parties may in their vast majority be concerned with fiscal matters, but there is also a soul in politics. There should be, anyway.

Muscat, at just the age of 41, needs to put that soul back into politics as a social democrat: values not in the Eddie Fenech Adami line, where a false sense of Christian values was marked by empty words and the unnerving consumerism of the nineties, but something solid and meaningful.

Muscat should have reacted and proposed the need to build on his environment deficit.  And this can only be done by actions not words. On the need to widen our scope in education and narrowing the difference between State and private schools. On extending our solidarity to other nations and displaced people. On the serious situation in Libya and North Africa and understanding Islam in the West. On the value of uplifting our cultural heritage and investing in culture in a wider sense, and bringing underprivileged children closer to the arts (music, dance, theatre and literature) and on broadening our concept of democracy.

The latter is in fact just mentioned in the PM’s speech as a proposed initiative, that is to change the Constitution, a reform that the President of the Republic should also engage in seriously, instead of serving as a charity cheerleader – a role that she should step back from in 2016.

But perhaps the most absent and significant omission by the Prime Minister was that there was no reference to good governance or the lack of it. And yes, I know that before 2013, there was little governance. But that is why in 2013 many people voted Gonzi out, precisely because of bad governance.  

Muscat knows that the governance issue will not lose him the next election, more so with a booming economy, but it will eat into his credibility and that of his party.  And once you lose that there is nothing more difficult to get back.

The least he should have made was a clear statement about how he intends to proceed this year on the matter. That he failed to mention this is either because he did not think about it or else because he does not give a hoot about the matter or else because he is aware that in the last two years before the next election, it will be increasingly difficult to implement a new culture in accountability and transparency when faced with a groaning segment of hard-core Labourites who have felt neglected and forgotten.

My take on this is that more important than the hard-core Labourites (who can have no inclination to embrace Simon Busuttil), Muscat should feel concerned about the switchers who are showing serious signs of strain and disenchantment.

It may not be too grave to make Muscat miss out on any sleeping. But 2016 resolutions can still be made well into the year. My advice is for Joseph Muscat to take on the governance issue seriously.