Great again? We’re already there

Malta is registering low unemployment rates, record GDP growth, decreasing deficits as well as there being lots of investment and political will to tackle the declining social inequalities

It is also clear that a considerable segment of our society are reaping the economic fruits – whether this means finding a job, an improved salary, wider opportunities or more business
It is also clear that a considerable segment of our society are reaping the economic fruits – whether this means finding a job, an improved salary, wider opportunities or more business

The European Commission has published its country report about Malta. It’s a technical overview of the various policies being implemented and the overall situation of the country. The results Malta is achieving, especially when you consider our size and market, are very good.

Despite doomsayers, Malta is reaching goals beyond its reach, within its budget. The deficit of the country is going down while exports, especially those relating to services, are doing exceptionally well. Even a first-year economics student can tell you that this growth is not because the government is spending more or because it is employing people in the public sector, but because of private sector growth that we’ve never seen the like of before. From IT-related services to construction, from finance to small businesses, we have seen ‘buoyant economic activity’, with the Commission saying that “real GDP growth was among the highest in the EU in 2014/15, reaching 7.9%”.

The report speaks about Malta addressing one of its country specific recommendations – the skills gap and the strengthening of the labour supply by improving access to and participation in lifelong learning, with a particular focus on the low-skilled.

There is no magic formula to solve this – the reality is that 45% of individuals in the labour market have little to no certifications. Certifications do not imply skills – I am of the belief that a lot of those who do not have certification possess tangible skills which, until now, have not fitted the accrediting model. We are working towards widening this to make sure that those who have real skills can have them certified. Moreover, this is also about reforming important pillars of our education system to make sure more young people leave school and the education experience with much-needed certification and skills that can be used out in the real world.

The Commission’s report lauds various other segments of our economic and policy behaviour. The report tells a story of a country that is punching beyond its size. However, reports such as these need to be put into context. The positive figures are, indeed, very encouraging and reassuring. It is clear that the Prime Minister’s vision of creating wealth first, to be then in a position of investing where it truly matters, is coming good. It is also clear that a considerable segment of our society are reaping the economic fruits – whether this means finding a job, an improved salary, wider opportunities or more business.

However, I’m especially optimistic because this is a government that has not forgotten those who are not doing well. Often, governments ignore those sectors of society which are not doing well. It doesn’t fit the ‘success story’ narrative. But this government also gave prominence to those who are facing difficulties – some may struggle to find a job because of lack of skills, others may have other social challenges and difficulties.

As witnessed in recent budgets, this administration has focused on those less well-off through policies such as in-work benefit, improved pensions as well as a higher spend on social programmes. The report itself states that “poverty and social exclusion risks are declining”. This shows a country that is improving throughout, and not just for the few.

This week, from the IMF report to the European Commission’s Country Profile, we have seen an array of positive outlook reports on our country. But, reports don’t give the whole story. The real story here is that Malta has developed policies which help people help themselves through active labour market policies and pro-business initiatives.

This has tangibly improved the standard of living of tens of thousands of families while also placing an ever-increasing focus on those who most need our help. Other countries are not shying away from taking a peek at what is happening here – policies such as the universal free childcare system are attracting attention because they are seen as win-win-win for families, employers and the state.

As neighbouring Mediterranean countries try to get a grip on spiralling unemployment and huge deficits, Malta is registering low unemployment rates, record GDP growth, decreasing deficits as well as there being lots of investment and political will to tackle the declining social inequalities. This is not a success story of a party, government or any one individual – it’s a success story of hard-working Maltese and Gozitan families who are defying the odds and moulding a great future for this country.

Evarist Bartolo is Minister of Education and Employment

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