Taking stock of the local socio-economic scenario
Today we have got accustomed to a multitude of voices, faces and opinions on every subject under the sun. This is positive.
What may be the cause of political polarisation and division is not the high level of political content, but the high level of deceit.
It is not my intention to revive what hopefully is dead and buried, but one cannot ignore the consequences of the national television station seized during the spell of socialist regime of the 1980s, and which still linger in the shadows. The introduction of pluralism in the media was partly the result of the abuse of power which our society had to endure back then. However, I very much doubt whether the political parties’ television and radio stations are helping their respective audiences draw constructive conclusions. Indoctrination, of whatever sort, I resist.
Some of the ills that our society is facing today, I suspect, are the result of pluralism in the media. Our society is impeded from advancing because thousands are blindfolded by partisan politics, flamed by political party propaganda.
This emerges clearly from the 2017 Budget measures.
The Budget is a predictable yearly event which sparks contrasting views, occasionally heated. The politically owned media houses had, and still have today, a field day. Last week, the two party media houses, as expected, went into top gear to drive home their message about the 2017 Budget measures to their faithful audiences.
The PL media house forcefully drummed the fact that the 2017 Budget measures will alleviate the vulnerable from monetary hardship. On the other end of the political spectrum, the PN media house worked hard to rubbish these measures and highlight where these will fall short.
I am not really impressed with the political jargon. I elect to rest on the reactions of the social partners. In doing so, I revisited the reactions of the social partners to the 2010 Budget. Back in 2010, the budget speech coincided with the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, an event which transformed the European Union. Today, we are on the eve of Brexit, a divorce the impact of which is unknown to both the European Union and Britain.
Comparisons are odious, but one can draw some conclusions.
All of the social partners gave guarded reactions for the 2010 Budget. GDP growth was expected to reach 3.4 per cent. Today, it is forecast that Malta’s GDP will remain moderate but robust for 2017, with 3.5 per cent growth. The cost of living adjustment, calculated on the inflation which resulted from the Retail Price Index and according to the methodology agreed upon by the social partners, was €5.82 a week for 2010. The cost of living adjustment for 2017 is €1.16, but government revised this to €1.75 as from 1 January 2017.
The Budget for 2010 was given a cautious but positive welcome by the social partners. This year, the same organisations - with one exception - issued the red card to the current administration.
The Malta Employers Association qualified the 2010 Budget as generally “positive and creative”, and indicated that the main problem in the exercise was the COLA. The GWU considered the measures a “moderate Budget.” The GWU welcomed the incentives to industry and the fact that the COLA had been given in full, but was disappointed that the tax bands were not widened.
The Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the government had, through the Budget, given encouraging signs to the economy. The Chamber welcomed the provisions on micro-financing, the assistance to SMEs and the increased investment in job training schemes by the ETC, but admitted that COLA was a worrying factor as there were no mitigating factors such as flexibility.
The MHRA said that the 2010 Budget was positive with regard to the investment in tourism and the embellishment of Malta, particularly the investment in roads. Nonetheless, the MHRA too expressed concern over COLA, noting that tourism was a labour-intensive industry.
The UĦM qualified the 2010 Budget as one of solidarity and economic stimulus which upheld stability, job creation, fiscal morality, inflation control, and investment in education and health. The GRTU praised government for the assistance being given to SMEs and the self-employed, and welcomed the investment in employee training.
The reaction for the 2017 Budget measures from the same social partners is quite different and should be an eye-opener to the current administration. Their reactions may seem incongruent when one considers that the economy is doing well, and is expected to continue doing so. But their reactions are indicative that something is not quite right.
Perhaps it pays Government to listen!