The spin-meisters of Castille
I have absolutely no doubt that the future is all written down and planned by the spin-meisters at Castille.
We have had the Budget Speech and all the accompanying discussions about it. That has now ebbed and attention has started to pall so it is time to come out with a new argument for popular discussion.
We have to go back to March of this year when the Panama Papers revelations shook the world. The local implications of these revelations, especially when they regarded Minister Konrad Mizzi, seriously disturbed the Maltese public. The polls showed that at this point the popularity of Joseph Muscat and the Labour administration dipped.
So the spin-meisters got one over-riding directive: get the people to forget Panama.
This was done by first of all blocking any more revelations from Panama and then by creating all sorts of issues around the Opposition that had people forgetting all about Panama. Mainly, however, the ‘damnatio memoriae’ was carried out by simply not mentioning Panama at all. People forget.
There was then the popular outrage when the Planning Authority in a callous total mismanagement of news, in one and the same day allowed four towers at Mriehel and one taller one at Tigné. This issue, however, even if it is very real, appeals mainly to what we may call the elites, so the damage caused was limited.
At the same time, Air Malta was flying into a cloud of uncertainty as terrible deadlines drew near but a strategy of fudge and generic promises was allowed to cloud the issue which, even today, remain unsolved.
This was then the time when the annual budget was drawing near and the government, able fisherman, played it out to the max, first by allowing every organization to come up with its suggestions and then by deluging an entire nation under such a welter of details as to wash out the outline delineations of the economic programme.
In this, the government was lucky due to the Standard & Poor’s upgrade just before the Budget Speech. This confirmed, what later became the government’s leit motif that the economy is doing well, very well, better than the other countries.
This claim, later taken on by all speakers in the yet unfinished budget debates, hid from people’s eyes some deep structural flaws and some very important deficiencies.
Only a few solitary voices of reason pointed out, for instance, that the budget does not contain an iota of strategy with regard to the roads situation, though we grumble about them day in, day out.
The Budget Speech then was full of measures aimed at the lower end of society, with so many measures announced at one go that people were overwhelmed by details and could not get the wider picture. They got the main drift, however, and this will become clear in the next poll. Whether it will become as clear by the time the year is over is quite a different thing, as these promises tend to vaporise over time.
It was not this budget but the one before it that was called a business-friendly budget and with reason for right in the middle of the budget debate, the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report came out and our daily paper revealed that Malta remains the worst place to do business in the EU.
Malta ranked 76th out of 190 countries surveyed. The main sore points are in the areas of registering property (147th), getting credit (139th), starting a business (132nd), resolving insolvency (84th), dealing with construction permits (82nd) and getting electricity (77th).
Even before this, there were other indicators that things were not well with our competitiveness, but when I asked Minister Scicluna on Budget Day what the Speech said about improving competitiveness, he answered by listing the Foreign Inward Investments into Malta, which does not quite answer the question.
The Budget Speech did not refer to Brexit and its impact on Malta although one may perhaps read the Prime Minister’s announcement of thousands of Chinese coming to Malta as a sort of replacement.
All through this time the gas tanker was coming, and then it arrived and was welcomed by national angst. Just three days before its arrival the government hurriedly came up with a counter-spin and announced a gas pipeline from Sicily. It has since fleshed out this information a bit but nothing concrete has since been done.
There are all kinds of counterspins on this subject alone. Together with reassurances on safety features in case of storms, etc, we have had counter-arguments on the landside gas tanks in Birzebbuga which have been there for ages without mishaps. That’s different from the gas filling plant at Qajjenza, which soon found itself crowded in by buildings with people holding BBQs on the other side of the wall from it.
I quite liked the quote, I think by Minister Konrad Mizzi, that the previous administration must have continued with fossil fuels because it suited someone to do so (well, the rest of the world which continues with fossil fuels to this day, must be on the take too). So how are we to judge this government’s fixation with energy prices and costs as if it and it alone contains the secret of economic growth?
Other peoples can teach us: the real motors of growth in today’s world are: education, productivity, competitiveness, connectivity, and cutting red tape. And we excel in just one: connectivity.