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Opinion • September 05 2004

Ambassadors are a Waste

Can anyone tell me what is the point of ambassadors? I dare say none. You will recall that ambassadors were appointed at a time when the only means of communication was by sending envoys. Ambassadors used do what DHL does today: they conveyed messages between sovereigns. But now, we have telephone, television, TV diplomacy, faxes and ambassadors are a waste.
In Malta it seems that the telecommunications revolution has not hit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Instead of limiting the number of ambassadors, the ministry extended them even more to the extent that Malta today has seven or more embassies in the European Union, an embassy in China, one in Australia, one in Washington DC, one accredited to the United Nations, and an embassy in Libya, Tunisia and Cairo. There was a time when they made us believe that EU membership entailed the opening of a Maltese Embassy in each member state and in each of the applicant countries.
But then we realised that the other member states, old and new, do not have such a policy. It is not true that the EU makes such a demand on the member states. Then why does this government opt to waste millions of liri opening embassies overseas? The answer is simple – ambassadors are appointed as a sign of gratitude for services rendered to the government and to the political Party in government. Only one or two in the list of our ambassadors has any background in diplomacy or foreign affairs, and the majority of them consider the post as an upmarket form of retirement.
This is reflected in their output. I have no idea how much the ambassadors are costing the taxpayer, and I do not know how much do they spend on Chablis and lavish dinners to friends and family, but I do know that most of them are proving to be a liability rather than an asset to the country.
Can you tell me who or if any of them has attracted any investment to Malta? China and Libya are the talk of the town nowadays regarding investment: China is hosting the next Olympic Games, and Libya is bidding for the World Cup. But to date neither our ambassador to China nor that to Libya, has provided us with any information about the investment opportunities in those countries.
So what is the point of keeping them? America does not have an ambassador to the United Kingdom, nor did the UK have an ambassador to the United States during the Iraq war. Moreover, the government is now expecting them to be salesmen and promote Malta as an investment opportunity.
We hear endless speeches by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs urging and reminding them that their role is not only as ambassadors but also as businessmen selling product Malta. Hello! Does the Minister really think that his ambassadors have the knowledge and the training and the experience to attract investment to Malta? No dear Minister, your ambassadors are only trained to spend the last years of their career quietly and lavishly.
It is so sad when I hear some of these ‘excellencies’ saying that they have nothing to do and their work consists in attending receptions and little else. They are not able to attract any investment because they do now know how. Moreover, most of them still believe that their role is that of a messenger between the governments and hardly anything else. How the Government expects them to become businesslike and bring in investment I do not know. What I do know is that the Government knows that most of the ambassadors are a burden and it cannot do much about it because it does not want to lose faithful friends who become useful at every general election.
Neither do I know how the Government expects our ambassadors, who are all of a considerable age, to travel around and promote Malta as an investment opportunity when they are old and know nothing about investment. It is true that we have just set up Malta Enterprise, but so far it has done nothing in this regard. Investment does not come by sitting at your desk and waiting for someone to call you and tell you he is investing in Malta. Investment comes by setting up a group of ten energetic young men whose role is to live in a suitcase and get this investment to Malta. And if we do not have such men, than we engage people from abroad who are ready to work on a commission basis.
So why not sack all the diplomats except for those in Brussels and replace them with business centres. Bilateral partnerships can nowadays flourish without them: investment does not. Now that Malta is in the European Union, we do not need embassies other than that in Brussels because we all now have practically one common foreign policy.
Our Embassy in Washington, although in existence for a number of years, has still not managed to teach the Americans about the existence of Malta, let alone about its culture and investment opportunities. So why keep it? Embassies are costing us millions of liri and we are getting nothing in return.
Our ambassador’s incapability has led the government to turn to the people for more taxes. More taxes, or contributions, call them whatever, can no longer be the only source of revenue. One does not have to be an expert or an economist to suggest more taxes. More taxes bring stagnation to the economy and stagnation shuns investment. We cannot tolerate a government who is devoid of any idea on how to bring investment to this country. I ask you, can you remember the last investment that came to Malta?
The government does not feel the need to apologise to us for its inability to generate wealth in this country. On the contrary, it shows its frustration by taxing us even more when the only people who should be taxed are those in government who promised us heaven on earth during the last general elections.
The government knows that Malta, in the present circumstances, cannot attract investment and must act fast before people find no more money in their pockets and take to the streets in protest. The Opposition too has to wake up from its slumber and urge the government to adopt a national plan on the issue.
So set up a national plan – sack all the diplomats who have done nothing to bring investment to Malta and the money saved could be diverted to our health and educational systems; study why investment is dry in this country; make recommendations and act fast on them. As the Times of London states, if the diplomats want to remain abroad, they could always retrain as tour reps. That would test their ability to defend the indefensible.





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