Is it the more the merrier?

It’s about time for Malta to take a look at the future and see how we would like it to be, and plan accordingly

The other day I found that my usual barber had decided to hang his scissors and I had to look for another. Searching the internet, since all barbers seem to have a website these days, I managed to register an appointment with a newcomer... an Italian from Reggio Calabria who came to sell his skills in Malta.

While talking trivia with my new barber during the haircut, I chuckled as I remembered Alfred Sant ­– ably aided by his then ‘poodle’, Joseph Muscat – warning that EU membership meant so many ‘foreigners’ (for which read Europeans) coming over to Malta and taking over the jobs of the Maltese such as those of barbers...

Well he was right, wasn’t he? But only up to a point. He did not imagine that Malta’s economy would become the powerhouse that it has now become, probably after having horribly and grossly miscalculated the financial benefits that EU membership would bring to Malta. Malta’s economy is riding high precisely because of the number of Europeans that are now working in Malta. After having been raised and educated in their native countries at the ‘expense’ of their own governments, they are now coming to Malta to work and contribute to our economy in an unheard of, and unpredictable, way.

Their numbers are impressive by Malta’s standards and they have helped to push Malta’s economy into a momentum that seems unstoppable.

According to the latest data issued by the National Statistics Office, Malta’s population rose to 460,297 in 2016. Back in 2006, the total population stood at 405,616. These numbers take into account foreign nationals, presumably including my Italian barber, after benchmark revisions – methodologies and data sources were reviewed – made in the estimates of migration flows.

The main reason for the rise is immigration of both EU nationals and third country nationals. In fact, the share of that total population that is foreign was 11.8% in 2016. Now it is probably even more.

Surely, this rate of annual increase in population cannot be sustained in the long run.

I reckon that in this situation, Malta’s planners should be looking for an optimum number of the population and recommend policies aimed at ensuring that our economy avoids overshooting into an unsustainable population figure. It seems, however, that nothing of this sort is happening and we are leaving caution to the wind. This is probably the result of the current increase in population translating into an incredible increase in the number of people officially working in Malta with the relative increases in government’s revenue in taxes and National Insurance contributions plus other positive effects to the economy in general.

At some point, our infrastructure and the sheer small size of our island will start feeling the strain of a population for which it was never intended and we must be smart enough to plan ahead so as to avoid the indisputable burden that an unchecked increase in the population at the current rates will necessarily bring about.

This is no appeal for some myopic attitude under the guise of so-called ‘patriotism’ of the ‘Malta for the Maltese’ type. It is just the realisation that the current economic momentum must eventually slow down and in favour of fashioning the right policies so as to control this slowing down while keeping in mind that our small island is not infinite. Its small size must necessarily limit an unchecked rate of population increase.

These are new problems for Malta, of course.

The story of how a small island with some forty thousand (or even less) farmers and fishermen became the current cosmopolitan economic powerhouse is fascinating. It was the presence of the Knights of St John that first pushed the population to some 100,000 with so many foreigners in Malta that were needed to support the exigencies of the Order that built so many fortifications (and abodes) all over the island and even a spanking new city.

The push continued under the British period, especially after the opening of the Suez Canal that made Malta a strategic and important staging post in the voyages of the British militay and mercantile navies going to and returning from India.

After passing through the economic doldrums when the British Empire started to fade, with Maltese governments pushing emigration from Malta, we started to raise our heads after being cut off from Britain with the governments of an independent Malta doing what they felt was best for Malta.

Our joining the European Union and the positive economic effects of this very important step have led to the cosmopolitan Malta that we see around us today.

Indeed, except for two short periods after the First World War and after the Second World War our story has mostly been ‘the more the merrier’.

It’s about time for Malta to take a look at the future and see how we would like it to be, and plan accordingly.

Now it’s Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu, who is Israel’s longest-serving prime minister since its founding, was described by Bloomberg earlier this week as one who seemed to have nine lives... now needing a tenth. 

Israeli Police have concluded a year-long investigation by recommending that their Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, should be charged with bribery and fraud in two separate cases. He denies any wrongdoing.

The case now goes to the Israeli attorney general, who has to decide whether to charge the Prime Minister. The process could take months and an indictment is not a certainty: Netanyahu has already got to this stage twice before, only to see the attorney general determine the cases were too flimsy and close them.

Netanyahu has declared that he has no plans for early elections, and so far, his governing coalition has stood by him.

Some people are trying to draw parallels between Israel and Malta. Of course, when the Isreali attorney general decided against his indictment in Netanyahu’s two previous cases, most people accepted the verdict and the parties in the Israeli Opposition did not go all over the world hollering that in Israel there is no rule of law.


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