Editorial | Wednesday, 04 February 2009

First the courage, then encourage

Recession may be all a matter of perception, and as Mario Balzan Demajo of Pedigree Toyshops aptly put it when we had the great pleasure of interviewing him a fortnight ago: “If I think of no recession, there is no recession really.”
This philosophy may very well apply to veteran entrepreneurs like Mr Balzan Demajo, but it certainly cannot apply to government.
During these times, the least that is expected of any government is the demonstration of effective leadership, thus limiting the damage by allaying fears. If government wishes to encourage stakeholders, then it must be the first to show courage. Not talking about the problem will simply not resolve it. If anything, it can only make matters worse.
For an entire 10 days after sister paper MaltaToday revealed that STMicroelectronics bosses were holding secret talks with government over plans to downsize, the public got the silent treatment from government. The first political reaction reached us after we called the Finance Minister for his comments yesterday evening. Whether or not he truly believes there is no problem is still a mystery. What is sure is that he has no intention of being alarmist, and he is doing this by projecting his belief on local economy being sufficiently resilient to withstand the global downturn without a costly stimulus package. It is this very attitude, perhaps wrongly interpreted as nonchalant, that is alarming the business community. Fenech blames it on the media.
ST is only part of it, we all know that. A sound banking system does not make our economy resilient to shocks in export, tourism, retail, employment and services.
When the problem soars, because it will, there must be a defined and foolproof plan for Maltese business to fall back on. If there is such plan, the prospective victims of the forthcoming recession - and that is all of us - would very much appreciate knowing what it entails, short of not being invited to participate in its layout. To date, we do not even clearly know whether or not there is an intention to draft one out, although Fenech does not seem overjoyed at the idea.
We know that employer organisations are asking for a stimulus package, we know that unions are asking to be informed and consulted, we know that the press is asking for information so it can pass it on to the public, we know that ST employees are asking whether they need to start looking for alternatives, we know that real estate is at a standstill, manufacturing is drying up, tourism is declining, and we also know that government has said very little to satisfy these demands.
We are not here to harp on how disgraceful all this behaviour is. If anything, we are here to recognise, along with other stakeholders, the need of a boost, the need of a change in mentality and the absolute need of a helping hand to a suffering industry.
Business has entered in crisis mode, and related organisations have proactively put forward their suggestions on how we can limit the damage and perhaps come out of the turbulent times stronger than we entered. We have only seen the parliamentary secretary for tourism attune to this mode. It is now up to his seniors to take his example and follow suit. All it takes is the courage to take a step in deciding to inform and consult the public.
On this note, it is quite depressing to see that the President of Business Europe himself discounted the need of a rescue plan for Malta, when local employer organisations beg to differ. It goes to show that information on how hard we will be hit is scarce and inconsistent – which further proves our point for the requirement of more debate and open consultation.


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04 February 2009

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