Editorial | Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Taking industry seriously

As we face turbulent times, we cannot stop stressing how important it is for government to realise that if there was ever a time when complacency has no place, it is certainly in the here and now. When the President of the MCCEI herself points out that we must wake up to realities and act fast, when the industry keeps begging the government to stop living in denial and do something concrete about the situation – one would have expected the Prime Minister to mean what he said at his party event speech last Sunday.
With the 1200 employees being already put on a four-day week roster, we yet have to face the music when the first 450 employees are given the sack at ST. We will also have to deal with consequences when the massive drop witnessed in Maltese exports throughout the last quarter of 2008 starts taking its toll on national coffers. If these issues, along with a hundred others, are not worrying the cabinet, then they are certainly worrying the business community, thousands of threatened employees and their respective families. If there is truly nothing to worry about, then it is up to government to find a good way of convincing us. Political gimmicks are certainly not the way to go about allaying fears.
It may be comforting to hear Gonzi reassure PN supporters that government is working relentlessly to mitigate the effects Malta will be facing due to the economic downturn. His speech was as welcome as it was predictable.
Whenever Finance Minister Fenech is seen reacting to a challenge posed onto the Maltese economy, he has a tendency of wanting to appear bold – but instead comes out appearing haughty and insensitive. Invariably, we are then to expect Gonzi’s intervention to calm the waters and promote the feeling that government has not lost its touch. The Prime Minister is very good at this.
After his performance last Sunday, one would have expected him to take the concrete suggestions laid out by employer organisations seriously. It was only a few days before Gonzi’s speech in Paola that social partners presented the MCESD and the Prime Minister himself with a list of proposals aimed at convincing government to launch a stimulus package in order to mitigate the dreaded effects of euro zone recession on Malta.
In view of his reassuring speech, we asked the Office of the Prime Minister whether he considers launching a stimulus package of sorts. The message we got from the Prime Minister was that the budget measures for 2009 are expected to stimulate the economy enough. They also told us that the Prime Minister is still analysing the suggestions made by social partners.
The expectation is much higher than that. Industry has taken the trouble to lay out a plan which, if enacted, could help them as much as it could help our economy. It put forward its proposals with the understanding that government would react to its plea to take it seriously and act fast. It is not known which part of “act fast” was not understood.
After an entire week, analysing the proposals is just not good enough.
It is not our role to tell the Prime Minister what to do to improve the way he is perceived by the business community. We must point out however, that his reactions to the stimulus package proposal, coming only days after such an encouraging speech, has only succeeded in extinguishing the ray of light he was meant to project.
Time to look forward. Now that the pleas of a speedy action have been ignored, it is certainly hoped that no more time is wasted and that the Prime Minister holds a press conference to explain what government intends doing on each point proposed by the employers.
On that note, we also look forward to what Tonio Fenech has to say in his interview due to be published in Business Today next week.


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11 February 2009

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