The ghosts of Labour past

This is a case where heads must roll. Assurances issued – as an afterthought – by the University Rector are not enough

Last Monday, a security guard at the University asked a member of Moviment Graffitti to hand over a mask that he was wearing. The mask depicted an image of Minister Ian Borg. Incredibly, the University tried to ‘explain’ this bit of silly censorship on the grounds that the political criticism might “provoke a reaction”.

I am no fan of Graffitti. I think they are politically on the extreme left with an innate dislike of private enterprise. They have utilised the recent developments in the construction industry to become popular with people, lauding them because of their stance against the abuses of some in the construction industry – all self-wrought harm, of course – rather than because of their ideological stances.

I disagree with extreme-left, Marxist ideologists and get particularly miffed when people touting these policies become popular because of public perception about the sins of private enterprise. This is what Graffitti is cleverly doing at the moment.

However, all this fades into insignificance when the right of freedom of expression is breached. Graffitti’s right to enjoy this freedom should not be challenged – simply because anyone challenging this right would be basing himself on political opinion more than anything else. This is the sort of thing that breeds intolerance – the type that we had in Malta in the past. Allowing security personnel to take decisions based on political bias is the first step down the slippery slope of suppression.

For many, like me, this episode seemed to be ominous – the return of the ghosts of intolerance that characterised the 1971-1987 Labour administrations. Perhaps the ‘reaction’ that the security personnel feared was the sort that used to happen in those days. In one memorable occasion, Labour thugs invaded the University campus and beat anyone who expressed disagreement with the powers that be!

Both the Prime Minister and the minister of education expressed their disagreement with what had happened, with the PM describing the original decision as ‘stupid’.

After its initial inane reaction trying to justify this act of blatant political censorship, the University recanted with the Rector declaring that this sort of thing will not happen again.

I think this is not enough. Some people in the security unit of the University have overstepped their limit and taken a decision that they had no right to take, a decision that harmed the reputation of their employer and of the country.

This is why it is a case where heads must roll. Assurances issued – as an afterthought – by the University Rector are not enough.

The construction industry

The ghosts of Labour past were nowhere to be seen on Wednesday in the 2019 national conference on the construction industry and the property market organised under the aegis of Property Malta.

I think the Prime Minister made some very valid points in his speech.

Is the expanding economy, the motor behind the increase in construction activity or is this increase in the activity of the construction industry the cause of the expanding economy? The Prime Minister has no doubt that it is the expanding economy that is pushing the increase of activities in the construction industry and in the property market, and not the other way round.

The other way round could only mean an unsustainable bubble, of course. The economy is not on steroids, as the PM put it.

To prove his point, the Prime Minister explained that the GDP in 2019 is twice the GDP in 2013 with the construction industry keeping to practically the same percentage share of our economic activity.

Recent figures show that the market is cooling down from the fury that was evident in the previous two years – but cooling down to a normal level and not to some meltdown.

He also argued that the development has three firewalls to help it remain sustainable: the gut feeling of developers, the lending policies of the banks, and the regulatory framework provided by government policies.

Many think the gut feeling of developers is just instinctive greed. My experience has taught me that this is not so. Except for some foolish would-be developers who jump into untested waters that they then find to be beyond their depth, most developers have a gut feeling that consistently proves them right. Studies have shown that trends in the property market are – by and large – as predicted by the developers themselves, basing themselves on hunches and calculated guesses.

Don’t ask me how and why, but in the 50 years since I graduated, I have come across this phenomenon over and over again.

On a tailwind

Minister Konrad Mizzi recently announced one more magic deal. This time it is with Manchester United. Unlike Vitals, they are well known all over the world. We have been given few details but were told that it is a historic and unmatched deal which will result in no less than €20 million worth of exposure for Malta.

Some erroneously interpreted this figure as the money actually being forked out by Malta’s tourism authorities. I understand the sum is actually nearer to €3 million.

As usual with this particular minister, professionals in this field – tourism promotion not football – suspect that there is more than meets the eye. First of all, the deal is definitely not a historic first. MTA had struck a promotional deal with Manchester United some 15 years ago. This included a poster bus campaign with a photo of Gary Neville against a blue sea background and wearing a Manchester City blue jersey, saying that the only place where he will wear blue is in Malta.

I am told that many of these posters on hundreds of Manchester buses were pilfered by Mancunians and had to be replaced twice. The whole campaign, I am informed, did not cost more than £50,000. Konrad’s deal is historic and unmatched only if one has selective amnesia.

Apparently, the MTA people who negotiated the first deal were Liverpool fans and so were not interested in any VIP treatment in Old Trafford for themselves or their friends.

Meanwhile, I read somewhere that the declaration of bankruptcy by the Slovenian Air carrier Adria Airlines is the 13th announcement of an airline carrier to fold this year. The Slovenian Air carrier’s decision followed the one taken earlier on last month by Thomas Cook Airlines and the French Aigle Azur.

But Air Malta is not risking this fate, of course – it is lucky to have Konrad Mizzi piloting it through the bad economic weather that has grounded so many other airlines.

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