January 18 2004
It’s all about being competitive
of jobless has become a burning issue. The level of unemployment is
a major source of concern carrying serious economic and social implications.
The issue must be tackled head on.
The announced meeting to take place between the Prime Minister and the
social partners is most appropriate. We hope a line of action can be
agreed upon and, soon after, implemented, to reach pre-determined targets.
Tackling joblessness requires a serious and honest assessment of its
In essence, unemployment is rising because our country is no longer
competitive. We are experiencing difficulties in competing on the international
market. This is the cause and we are all best advised to find solutions
based on this economic reality.
Citing globalisation or the EU as the cause of rising unemployment is
far too simplistic. It only reminds us of the Mintoff government blaming
the global economic recession as the cause of our economic difficulties
in the early eighties. Both globalisation and Europe have an impact
on our economy, but the real cause is lack of competitiveness. Consequently,
a more profound study analysing what is making our country uncompetitive
needs to be carried out.
The causes of our uncompetitiveness are various including the working
practices and the over-manning especially in the public sector. The
exaggerated number of national holidays, the discrimination between
workers in the public and the private sector, the half-days for persons
employed in the public sector, the monopolies which render certain services
too expensive. The list is endless.
This government which traditionally and with great success has been
perceived to be pro-business and sympathetic to the difficulties businesses
encounter risks losing its reputation as the better manager of the economy.
It must pro-actively address the difficulties businesses are facing.
The government is not all to blame. Private enterprise too must change
and many private companies are still managed like small fiefdoms with
no distinction between company and personal accounts. The Price Club
scandal reported in today’s MaltaToday is a case in point.
Overcoming these difficulties requires both the political will and the
flexibility in the private sector. The Opposition is right in asking
for a recovery plan but wrong in not putting up its own plans for public
scrutiny and discussion. The Opposition should come up with some solutions.
Private enterprise too must stop being parochial and look to the long
One need not be a rocket scientist to individuate some of the steps
which need to be taken forthwith: a freeze on all further recruitment
within the public sector, downsizing the number of national holidays,
removing most of the half-days from public sector employees in the summer.
Added to this the introduction of stricter control on Government spending,
tax collection and the war on tax evasion and ensuring that all government
spending is both scrutinised and reaches the criterion of value for
money, and make the government agencies far more accountable.
Most especially one must pro-actively chase foreign investment. The
case of ITS [Malta] ltd exposes the delays, shortcomings and deep-seated
bureaucracy still prevalent and which is impeding the easy flow of foreign
Direct foreign investment will not come simply because of membership
in the European Union. Lining up with Malta, will be all the other acceding
countries fighting for this same investment. It will only reach our
shores if we are competitive and have the vision.