[ANALYSIS] It’s a long-term plan, stupid!

Long read • 1,587 words | Adrian Delia’s first political mark on the Nationalist Party is in essence a reaction to Joseph Muscat’s cosmopolitanism

In his foreword, PN leader Adrian Delia mentions the importance of his party acting as an “alternative to government”
In his foreword, PN leader Adrian Delia mentions the importance of his party acting as an “alternative to government”

There is no mistake in concluding that the principle author of the Nationalist Party’s document Wealth for All in a Society that Cares, is a demographer.

If not, the author is somebody enthralled by population statistics.

The first 37 pages of the 56-page document that PN councillors endorsed over the weekend, would make an interesting geography lesson.

The first part of the document tracks Malta’s population growth caused by an influx of foreigners, the country’s population density and how people are aging.

It is this extensive analysis of Malta’s social and economic standing today that sets the tone for what should be the PN’s future direction found in the second half of the document.

But the starting point is a bleak picture of a country bursting at the seams with population growth that is the root cause of problems such as lack of security, rising house prices, congested roads, a deterioration in the Maltese language, low wages, a degraded environment, polluted air and a widening gap between rich and poor.

Although the problems flagged in the document have a basis in reality, the negative picture painted suggests Malta is fast becoming what President Donald Trump would describe as a “shithole country”.

Corruption only gets six mentions in the document
Corruption only gets six mentions in the document

Not just about corruption

In his foreword, PN leader Adrian Delia mentions the importance of his party acting as an “alternative to government”, which in some ways marks the difference between him and his predecessor, whose emphasis on corruption almost rendered the PN a one-issue party.

The document covers a wide spectrum of policy areas and corruption features minimally. Corruption only gets six mentions.

“This document is not intended to delve specifically into the corruption that has characterised the Labour government from its very start,” the document reads.

It does, however, link corruption allegations to the reputational problems Malta faces as a result of the Pilatus Bank saga and other scandals linked to the financial services sector.

It blames government’s lack of action over serious matters such as the most recent 17 Black revelations for the reputational damage.
But the document also attributes increased difficulties people and companies face to access credit from banks to the reputational problems, even though the banking sector world-wide has faced additional regulatory impositions from international and European bodies.

Joseph Muscat's call for a cosmopolitan Malta is branded 'an ideology'
Joseph Muscat's call for a cosmopolitan Malta is branded 'an ideology'

Joseph’s ideology

The document accuses the government of ignoring the impact its immigration policy has on society – it even describes Joseph Muscat’s cosmopolitanism as “an ideology” based on the notion that people are citizens of the world and have a right to work and live in any country they want.

The document argues that the Labour Party went from championing the living wage before 2013 to adopting a cheap labour policy in government.

The influx of foreigners is depressing wages and on the flipside causing house prices and rents to rise, the document argues.

And this is creating an imbalance of wealth because while the economy is growing, fewer people are benefitting from the goods.

Within this context, the PN is calling for “a paradigm shift” but how this will be achieved is not yet clear enough.

The document contains very few concrete policy measures, although there is a disclaimer at the start by secretary general Clyde Puli, who insists the document is not intended as a manifesto or electoral programme.

Cutting income tax is one of the few concrete proposals in the document
Cutting income tax is one of the few concrete proposals in the document

Tax cuts

The clearest direction can be found in a few proposals such as a proposal to cut income tax, especially for certain sectors like those who pay 35% on dividends from companies registered on the Malta Stock Exchange and a pledge to pay back money overcharged in utility bills.

Other proposals include the creation of a Gozo regional authority with no indication whether this will be an elective body.

It also proposes local councils with the capability to address social issues and the ring-fencing of a portion of VAT and commercial licences collected from a locality for use in that locality.

The rest is a wish-list of studies and plans that will form the basis for future decisions. The word ‘plan’ is found no less than 154 times throughout the document.

It's all about long-term plans and studies for Adrian Delia
It's all about long-term plans and studies for Adrian Delia

Plans, studies and more plans

The underlying foundation of the document is the call for the country to have a long-term plan covering the next 10 to 20 years.
This has been Delia’s fixation since becoming leader and comes from a nostalgic throwback to the 1960s and 1970s when a newly-independent Malta adopted five-year development plans as it tried to find its feet.

While this may not be a bad thing, achieving long-term planning will require the country to adopt several other plans, according to the PN.

These include a plan to make Malta a centre for innovation; a plan to foster technological revolution and attract new economic sectors; a plan to develop workers’ skills and ensure people of talent remain in Malta; a plan to determine new means of transport that cater for Malta’s high population density; a plan to safeguard the countryside and farming; and a plan for the Maltese language.

Studies will also have to be carried out, including a carrying capacity exercise that will determine the adequate population size and the infrastructure required to cope with it in the years ahead. Another study will determine the type of housing stock and commercial buildings the country needs for the future.

But while the document is full of ‘plans’ and ‘studies’, it is unclear whether these will be drawn up before the election or only when the PN is in government.

The PN wants to attract highly skilled foreigners
The PN wants to attract highly skilled foreigners

The smart and not so smart migrants

On migration, which lies at the heart of population growth, the document raises the plight of workers who end up living in the rough as a result of low wages and poor employment conditions. It calls for a need to understand poverty among migrants.

But the answer to this is a proposal to attract to Malta high calibre migrants instead, in a policy the PN calls “smart migration”. This is defined as attracting foreigners of talent, who can then transfer their skills to Maltese workers.

The implication is that by earning high wages, these foreigners will definitely not create the social problems witnessed among some of those who live and work in Malta today.

However, the document fails to say how companies will be able to satisfy the demand for more workers, who are not necessarily highly skilled, if the doors are closed to foreigners who are not ‘smart’.

There is the obvious admittance that Malta will have to remain open to people from other EU countries – free movement of people is a cardinal principle of EU membership – but unless the PN is suggesting a forced economic slowdown to curb growth and with it the demand for labour, the document fails to say how its ‘smart migration’ policy will satisfy the demands of business.

The only other suggestion to boost the workforce is to do more to encourage women to join the labour market without saying how.

The PN is ready to offer 'respect' to the LGBTIQ community
The PN is ready to offer 'respect' to the LGBTIQ community

LGBTIQ no, baby boomers yes

On the civil liberties side of things, the document does not once mention the acronym LGBTIQ despite this having been a major political driver over recent years.

Instead it drops in a one-sentence mention: “A society that cares is one that respects the sexual orientation of everyone.”

Curiously, the document calls for ‘respect’ rather than equality and empowerment that have been defining characteristics of the current government’s policy when it legislated for civil unions first and marriage equality later.

But there is no wavering on where the PN stands on other ethically contentious issues linked to life and death.

“A society that cares, protects life from its very beginning to its natural end, in all circumstances,” the document says, effectively ruling out abortion, even if the mother’s life is in danger, and euthanasia.

And given the PN’s stance in Parliament when changes to the IVF law were being debated earlier this year, this statement could also suggest a reversal of legislation that enabled embryo freezing.

The document does flag a particular demographic reality that may have gone unnoticed when it speaks of the post-war baby boomers.
This generation born in the immediate aftermath of World War II is now beyond its 70th birthday and will be approaching its 80s, which means Malta will have a larger population in that vulnerable age bracket.

To address the growing cohort of elderly, the PN wants the country to have more carers and insists these should be able to speak a language understood by the Maltese.

And bang on cue, the document calls for a plan targeting this generation.

Eddie Fenech Adami's PN is credited for setting Malta's European foundations but today's PN appears to be less bold
Eddie Fenech Adami's PN is credited for setting Malta's European foundations but today's PN appears to be less bold

A cautious approach

With Clyde Puli making it clear the document is not one intended to give defined proposals for various sectors, the detail will presumably come later.

But there is no mistaking that Delia’s PN is trying to become the antidote to the Prime Minister’s cosmopolitanism.

In trying to do so it belies a subtle yearning for slower-paced change.

To political observers this may appear as a departure from the bold, reformist agenda of the PN after 1987, which the document credits as having laid the groundwork for Malta to be able to join the EU.

Time will tell whether the PN’s caution is misplaced or whether it is the right approach to address the new challenges caused by a country that has grown and shifted the economic gear upwards.

How often were these words mentioned in the document?

  • Plan: 154
  • Wages: 86
  • Economy: 61
  • Foreigners: 46
  • Immigrants: 36
  • Immigration: 28
  • Studies: 14
  • Cheap labour: 12
  • Corruption: 6
  • LGBTIQ: 0