Malta officially joined Europe on 1 May 2004. It has been an independent country for 41 years and a republic for 31. For all intents and purposes we are a civilised country governed by the rule of law.
But as much as we aspire to be a modern democracy that allows its citizens to fulfil their legitimate aspirations while ensuring equality of opportunity for all, we are constantly battling a cancer that is eroding the moral fibre that binds us together as free citizens of this State.
It does not require a microscope to discover the nature of the cancer. Indiscipline is a serious problem that is leading to all sorts of corruption and illicit behaviour, which threatens those individuals who prefer going about their business in a legitimate and orderly fashion.
How many times have we been offered to buy a counterfeit mobile phone for a quarter of the price of its legitimate branded counterpart? What about the scores of cigarettes smuggled in the country and sold at dirt cheap prices? How about the attempted arm-twisting by contractors that goes on when planning applications are being considered?
And the closing of an eye at the repeated withdrawal of free medicine by patients when it is evident that they do not require it anymore?
These are only but a few examples that abound in every sector. However, the root of the problem seems to be the ingrained way of thinking in this country which seems to prefer the illegitimate and underhand way of doing things.
Even the concept of meritocracy has not yet taken root despite the constant use of the word by politicians each time an election is due.
The business community is not alien to this malaise. Those business concerns that abide by regulations, seeking to obtain every permit before commencing operations are constantly being undermined by operators who flaunt the law left, right and centre.
The system only helps to perpetuate itself by forcing legitimate operators to go down the road of corruption to be able to compete.
It is a sorry state that unfolds in front of our eyes on a daily basis. The problem is further compounded when the authorities decide to clamp down on some form of abuse or other in a draconian fashion that rarely targets the culprits.
Take for example the measure introduced in the last budget to raise the price of kerosene. The reason given for such a move was because the fuel was being used by bus drivers as a substitute for diesel with dire environmental consequences.
Instead of weeding out the culprits by checking fuel emission levels and constantly monitoring vehicles, government took the easy road and raised kerosene prices across the board. As a consequence those using kerosene in a legitimate way were penalised for the sins of others.
It is this way of acting and reacting to situations that is having a negative impact on our quality of life. Too many people are increasingly feeling disenfranchised by the system. High-flying promises made by politicians that are difficult to maintain only serve to deepen the disillusion of honest citizens and business operators.
Half day dread
Summer is in full swing and the usual rant about public service half days is more than justified. The whole government system seems to go into deep sleep for three whole months with users of the service having to scramble to reach the department on time before the dreaded ‘closed’ sign goes up.
To make matters worse, phoning up a government department to enquire about something half an hour before the actual closing time is next to impossible. The phrase ‘we are soon closing down’ is all too familiar when the employees are still supposed to be working.
In an era where air-conditioning equipment has made it acceptable to work in an office at the height of summer, it makes little sense to continue with this work practice. If on the other hand, government finds it hard to terminate summer half days, the practice should at least be limited to the month of August when in any case all the country seems to slow down.
A vibrant and dynamic economy, which government aspires to achieve requires an equally vibrant public service that responds efficiently to the needs of the business community. Three months of half days are not an example of dynamism but a shackle on growth. The country deserves better.