Editorial | Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Summer of horrors expected

Infrastructure Minister Austin Gatt has yesterday announced his intentions not to allow any lower electricity rates for bars and restaurants, and this in spite of Enemalta’s fuel cost plummeting substantially over the past months. If he were to allow cheaper commercial rates, this would in his view constitute a subsidy.
Meanwhile, small and large catering establishments are facing serious difficulties in trying to keep up with the exorbitant utility rates at a time when hotel occupancy rate is down, and tourism prospects for the upcoming high season are at best bleak. Some operators have in fact admitted that their energy costs would be unsustainable even if they were faring well – which they are not.
Also in Gatt’s view, those bars and restaurants receiving larger-than-life Enemalta bills over the past weeks do not classify as tourism operators – regardless of the substantial fees they pay to renew their permits with the MTA, which regulates them.
This is not the only information Gatt seems to be unaware of. Surprisingly, the Minister yesterday seemed to be in the dark on an agreement clinched between the MHRA and government to allow the larger tourism operators pay an increment on their electricity bills, and the smaller ones – a discount.
If even the basic facts have passed by him unnoticed, then let alone the stark realities faced by tourism operators at a time when serious decisions concerning staff, among others, will have to be made prior to the upcoming high season.
One may argue, based on official figures, that considering the situation, employment has not been impacted so badly – or at least not so far. But there’s a different side to the story. It is difficult to calculate how many undeclared jobs have already been shed in the hotel industry, and with that, how many more will be shed after Gatt condemned the tourism industry to a summer of horrors.
Although not necessarily condonable, it is an accepted reality that the first employees to be given the sack are those who will have no case on which to contest their dismissal. A particular hotel has already made redundant 35 undeclared part-timers. If all other hotels within its category had to follow suit, the tourism industry could be easily facing yet another monster.
Undeclared jobs are often offered on a part-time or casual basis to those looking for a secondary job, for the extra cash to spend on - among other things - entertainment.
The yield of what undeclared employees earn is often spent back into the entertainment and leisure industry, and the amounts such expenditures add up to could be nothing to sneeze at.
Most commentators worth their salt have already come out saying that tourism has already taken a blow. This is no longer a big secret. But problems are now coming from all sides, at the most unexpected times, and from the most unexpected sources.
Rumour had spread on Monday that government will be offering the tourism industry a discount on electricity of 25 per cent or whereabouts. Operators were jubilant. Now they are let down, and so will be some of their staff when they are asked to leave, and so will be government when its aspirations for a better tourism product are not met.
It is now hoped that in a lean cabinet of a mere seven ministers, information pertaining to how certain decisions may affect the country is shared, discussed and most importantly taken into serious consideration.


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25 March 2009

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