Playing the underdog card

Rather than boosting the Gozitan private sector, the Labour government dealt it a heavy blow

The Prime Minister knows that it is a siege mentality which galvanizes the support of his core vote, they who have been waiting for more than two decades to see their party back in government
The Prime Minister knows that it is a siege mentality which galvanizes the support of his core vote, they who have been waiting for more than two decades to see their party back in government

Last Sunday, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat played the underdog card again. Only this time, only his staunchest supporters believe him. For Labour has stopped being the underdog way before its landslide victory in 2013, secured by an ever bigger win last year. But that’s Muscat’s way of keeping his staunchest supporters focused, and united – no matter the tension mounting within the party to be known to all and sundry the minute Joseph Muscat calls it a day, and the battle for the labour leadership begins.

The swords have already been sharpened. Chris Fearne, a favourite for the top post has, this week, done what Joseph Muscat failed to do since he took office in 2013 – oust a person within his ministry, accused of corruption. That’s a clear indication that Fearne’s leadership campaign shall feature good governance at the top of its agenda – though he failed, miserably, when tasked with the Health portfolio, to shred to pieces the highly controversial and allegedly shady Government-Vitals hospital agreements, signed by Fearne’s predecessor, Konrad Mizzi, who happens to be elected from Fearne’s electoral district.

Siege mentality

The Prime Minister knows that it is a siege mentality which galvanizes the support of his core vote, they who have been waiting for more than two decades to see their party back in government. This explains why Muscat continues, unashamedly, to play the underdog card. But he has more than his core-vote in mind.

In 2013, hours after taking office, Labour took hold of the civil service and public entities placing government cronies in top positions. The underdog statement was a warning to them too, not to take their comfortable jobs – well paid, very well paid positions – for granted.

Salaries are a problem

Unemployment is down. That’s a fact. But salaries are the second lowest in Europe. And that’s a fact too – supported by stats, and the experience of thousands of Maltese workers. Losing one’s job is always a tragedy, but finding employment is not an impossible feat, not in today’s Malta. Government believes that that’s a feather in its cap – which to a certain extent it is, if for a minute you want to forget that thousands were put on government payroll, and well-established industries, created years ago – way before Labour swept to power in 2013, continue to boom.

But it’s the salaries which are a problem. They have remained mostly unchanged for the last ten years – and there is little indication that this trend shall be reversed. To make matters worse, no new economic sectors have been created under the Labour administrations. For the construction industry and the sale of our passports are not sustainable in the long term. Third country nationals flooded the market – mostly in the construction and the tourism industry. Admittedly, they fill a gap which has been left wide open by Maltese nationals. However, the downside of the increasing number of foreign workers in Malta is that they tend to lower the salaries of Maltese employees. There is no clearcut solution – but the setting up of new industries would be a start. There is no indication that this shall happen any time soon, and that’s worrying.

Gozo’s unemployment

The lack of employment opportunities in Gozo is an acute problem, and there is little, if any, hope that this trend is to be reversed any time soon. To make matters worse, in the run up of last year’s general election, Labour took hundreds of workers in private employment and put them on a government payroll. This politically irresponsible move drained the Gozitan private sector to the extent of driving well established Gozitan firms out of business. Rather than boosting the Gozitan private sector, the Labour government dealt it a heavy blow. Short and long-term solutions have been mentioned – as is the addition of the fourth Gozo Ferry boat, and a fibre optic cable which enables industries to set up shop in Gozo and Gozitans to work from Gozo.

 

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