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Failing on three fronts

This article was first published in The Times of Malta, on Saturday 27th August 2016

I read with interest Desmond Zammit Marmara’s Talking Point titled ‘Problems Labour must tackle’ (August 17). Though the author has tried hard to sound objective, I believe the article was very apologetic of the huge scandals surrounding this administration, and the author has basically joined the government propaganda machine in asking the people to close an eye to the stench of corruption emanating from anything Joseph Muscat has been involved in, just because the economy has kept on doing well.

This has been Joseph Muscat’s sole line of defence in front of all the scandalous dealings that have been uncovered. The country is still doing well, so the people should not worry about corruption. Neither about Panama Gate, nor about the sorry state of the police leadership, nor about the Ombudsman’s damning reports on his Ministers, nor about blatant abuse of power.

Zammit Marmara starts from the premise that this is a “government that delivers”. But is this really such an undeniable truth? Or is it only a strong propaganda message being pushed by the Labour Party?

Let us look at the energy sector, on which Labour’s electoral campaign focused. The main electoral promise was that Labour would commission a new gas powerstation supplied by two storage tank units, financed entirely by the private sector, which would be completed in two years and would supply electricity under a ten-year fixed price contract. This was to be achieved without privatising Enemalta. Joseph Muscat made this promise such a bulwark of his political campaign that he promised to resign if he would not manage to accomplish it. Did Labour deliver in this sector?

Three and a half years down the line the powerstation is not yet functioning, the storage unit will be a floating tanker bang in the middle of Marsaxlokk bay, the fixed price agreement will only be for five years, Enemalta was part-privatised and the BWSC powerstation sold off entirely (meaning that reportedly we have now started to pay more than €40,000 a day for the electricity it generates), and the private sector was so far off from financing the project that we the people had to give a bank guarantee for the loan, bearing all the risks. Moreover, we have now discovered that Joseph Muscat and Konrad Mizzi knew from reports they had in hand before the electoral campaign even started that the project would cost much more than they were promising, would take much longer than they were promising, and could not be achieved by building storage units on land. They knew it was not possible, yet they promised it because it suited their campaign. And Joseph Muscat has not resigned.

And did Labour deliver in its promised fight against poverty? NSO statistics speak for themselves. Average wage increases have slowed down to less than a sixth to the annual increases experienced pre-2013. The number of people at risk of poverty has increased by 13%. Parents are being asked to pay much more for their children’s examination fees. People living in social housing, including persons with disability and social cases, have had their fees increased, in some cases by more than 500%. And the increasing inflation of food prices is hitting pensioners and people on low-income worst, as evidenced by the very detailed Caritas report.

The author is worried about a possible ideological clash within his party between the social policy of the Left and the economic policy of the Right, and between the pro-business aspect and the interests of the working class. I think he can rest assured this clash will be long coming. It is evident there is neither a social policy nor a right pro-business economic policy left in the current Labour party. Being pro-business means allowing a free and competitive economic market. During this administration, we have only witnessed the fruition of hidden pre-arranged deals with probable campaign donors. This has become a skewed controlled market, not an open and competitive one. Far from being pro-business, Labour is pro the vested interests of those who financed its campaign, or maybe, who knows, even some Panamanian bank account. And genuine Labour supporters are feeling this and are already publicly admitting that they lost trust in Muscat as he is more of an elitist than a socialist.

On the other hand, the Nationalist Party is providing a clear alternative style of government. It is the first party in Opposition to publish a pre-budget document, another document defining its alternative economic policies, another document defining its proposals for good governance and better checks and balances on those in power (which proposals the current government is still rejecting), and another document defining its proposals to improve our transport and traffic situation. Simon Busuttil is also the first leader of a major political party to take a clear stand in favour of the environment and against more ODZ development. And throughout his leadership, he has been exemplary in handling cases of misdemeanour within the party ranks, where people under investigation have been suspended and where necessary asked to resign.

Yes, the economy is still doing well, mostly thanks to the difficult political and economic decisions taken by the previous administration, as publicly acknowledged by Minister George Vella. Yes, there have been steps forward in civil liberties and the provision of universal childcare. But the progress of society and its democracy and freedoms is not solely measured by the strength of its macro-economy. It is also measured by the quality of life of the most vulnerable members of society, how much everyone can trust that he can get what he deserves solely due to his merit, and the example given by our elected leaders in leadership, good governance, and civic behaviour. And unfortunately, Labour is miserably failing in all three.

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