Sell­ing ice to the Eski­mos

Malta Independent - - DEBATE & ANALYSIS -

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.

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