‘Economy has no pause button’, Joseph Muscat tells social partners

Sustainable growth cannot be achieved by expecting the economy to pause because it is unrealistic, the Prime Minister tells a Labour Party meeting for the social partners

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat

He agrees with sustainable growth but Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has shunned the idea that this can be achieved by pressing the “pause button”.

In a room full of grey, black and dark blue suits, Muscat underscored that the economy only had “a play, rewind and fast forward button”.

“It is unrealistic to believe that the pause button exists… sustainability does not mean we should cut back on what we are doing but understanding the repercussions and planning for them,” Muscat said.

He highlighted the rapid pace of change the government embarked on in the first legislature in the energy sector. Defending what he described as “the unorthodox methodologies” used to speed up the change, Muscat said that if the government did not press the fast forward button then, the situation would not have changed fast enough.

“If the reform in the energy sector took its normal pace we would not be here today… we used non-orthodox methodologies such as temporary state guarantees, which attracted criticism, but if we had not done so we would not have benefitted from such an important change,” Muscat said.

The breakfast meeting organised by the PL as part of the festivities marking Muscat’s 10 years at the helm was intended to look at ‘the Malta of tomorrow’.

Most of the interventions by those present focussed on today’s problems, caused by the rapid economic and social expansion of recent years.

From the lack of labour supply, to the problems caused the influx of foreigners; from the need to protect the Maltese language, to ensuring that the voices of those unrepresented by the social partners are heard; from the need to tackle the problems of waste management, to the fact that women were still grossly under represented, the problems flowed. 

There was also a general call for long term planning, which Muscat picked on, urging the Malta Council for Economic and Social Development to propose ways to integrate ‘unrepresented people’ within its structures, set up a forum for sustainability in planning and come up with proposals to address productivity.

“The sense I got from this meeting is that things must continue to change and change will remain part of our agenda but the devil is in the detail. In some sectors, the problem is not government but those who because of their narrow interests refuse to change,” Muscat said, throwing down the gauntlet.

From doing things better, to more women needed

The breakfast meeting was opened by professor of sociology Godfrey Baldacchino, who asked what more could be done to encourage more women and pensioners to join the labour market.

It was a sentiment Baldacchino had already expressed during a 1 May breakfast meeting organised by the Nationalist Party.

Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association president Tony Zahra said Malta’s next phase was to do things better, highlighting the fact that there was still a high percentage of youths coming out of school without an education.

The Malta Developers’ Association president Sandro Chetcuti raised the bureaucracy alert, adding there were public officials who simply acted as “spoilers just for the sake of it”.

He said the country was fast running out of space where to dump its construction waste and the Planning Authority was tight-fisted in handing out permits for storage depots.

The General Workers’ Union president Victor Carachi said some people in the Opposition decided to “press the nuclear button” by shooting down Malta’s reputation abroad.

Mary Gaerty from the National Council of Women and Reforms Parliamentary Secretary Julia Farrugia, pitched for women quotas to ensure that gender imbalance in various social spheres is addressed over the shortest time possible.

Alex Torpiano from the Chamber of Architects called for a separate body that took planning for the future within its remit. “The Planning Authority does not plan, it issues permits. We need a forum that discusses long-term plans, whether the island has reached its carrying capacity, the changes that have to be done…” Torpiano said.