Selling ice to the Eskimos
So, admittedly, Joseph Muscat might have been a good salesman when selling his ‘Taghna Lkoll’ product but – unfortunately for those who invested their trust in him – he failed grossly in the aftersales service and when it came to the delivery of what they actually needed. The energy issue is but one example, and quite a few others easily come to mind: the eradication of poverty, the fight against corruption, good governance and the sale of citizenship.
The Muscat government’s lack of long-term vision is coming out clearly during the ongoing budget debate. The proposed budget left us no wiser as to how to tackle the above-mentioned issues, and following morning we woke up to the same traffic jams and high energy bills.
A cosmetic budget that does not address the problems
Joseph Muscat believes that he should be applauded for first introducing increases to social housing and then backtracking on the same measure two years later. The pensioners associations have complained that thousands of pensioners have not enjoyed a fair share of the cake, due to the greed of the corrupt few. In the meantime, poverty has shot up to unprecedented levels.
The Economic survey shows that – in real terms – the wages of thousands of Maltese workers today, compared with those of three years ago, have fallen because wage increases are not compensating for increases in the cost of living. Energy and fuel prices that reflect the market, and the technology now available could have reversed this trend, but the government’s stubbornness leaves stagnated in this situation against the recommendations of the Nationalist Party and the social partners alike.
Likewise we are daily stagnating in traffic jams. Simon Busuttil’s Opposition party has been proactive on this one, too. It came up with a number of valid suggestions but the government has wasted three long years doing nothing – or at least very little – to counter the situation. It is finishing off some projects begun by the previous administration but up to now has come up with nothing substantial to resolve the growing problem. In response to Busuttil’s proposal of free school transport for all church and private school children, Muscat asked for support for fining those who did not take advantage of the proposed incentive: so much for his persuasive skills and salesman credentials.
If Muscat’s budget fails at wealth distribution in times of prosperity, it fails grossly in long-term vision to sustain future economic growth. The economic sectors that are the backbone of the present growth are basically all Nationalist government-introduced sectors such as financial services: all bar one – the infamous sale of citizenship scheme. The country is badly in need of a vision that provides a future for our children. It seems that at the moment only Simon Busuttil is offering us one.
A power station we did not need and still do not need
Recent government statistics have confirmed that since the setting up of the brand new BWSC power station and the Sicily-Malta interconnector, emissions and air pollution levels have been falling by an astounding 60 per cent. This lays to rest Joseph Muscat’s ‘cancer factory’ pre-election lie. We now know that emissions have only risen because of the increase in traffic congestion in the last three years.
By now we also know for a fact that government has been buying 70 per cent of its energy needs from the interconnector. Of course this makes perfect sense, since prices per unit from the interconnector are 30 to 60 per cent less than those from Electrogas. What does not make sense is the government’s commitment to buy electricity at a fixed higher price for 18 long years.
The interconnector per unit price ranges from three to six cents, while Electrogas prices are at 10 cents per unit. This means that the interconnector has saved the government €140 million in the years 2015 and 2016 and might save another estimated €95 million in the coming year, if used to its full capacity.
So with a brand new, efficient, BWSC power station we are saving a million euros a week, and with an interconnector we have the potential of saving almost two million a week on Electrogas prices, and international oil prices are now a mere third of what they were during the previous legislature. One wonders how on earth has all this not been translated into more favourable rates for the private consumer and business alike. The social partners are complaining. We must be paying the price of corruption.
So if the cheaper and cleaner energy is solely attributable to the present cheaper international oil price and the sterling work of the previous Gonzi administration, it is evident that we did not – and still do not – need another power station – a power station for which we, the people, and not the private investor will have to take the business risk by providing a €360 million government guarantee; a power station to which we have been committed to either use or pay for all the energy it produces, even if at a handsomely more expensive price.
Simon Busuttil is declaring himself at the outset: his government will buy from where it benefits the Maltese citizen and not the investor.