Vince Farrugia | Sunday, 11 January 2009

The year of the pragmatist

Pragmatism is the keyword for 2009. In economics, as in politics, and especially in business, the pragmatist will survive. Being rash and passionate is bad.
This little country of ours depends on the rest of the world and out there it’s grade one turbulence. Those who will fasten their seat belts, rein in their indebtedness and plan and work strategically will not only survive, but will grab the opportunity to grow at the expense of those many others who are weak and unprepared.
I meet daily too many people who are in a state of panic. My feeling is that too many people who ought to know better are simply staring at the darkening economic clouds and they are literally doing nothing. Well, almost nothing. They are talking: it’s all psychological they are saying. Sort of, we can talk the recession away.
No economist worth a dime believes it’s psychological. It’s serious. It’s facts and figures. It’s measurable. An economic recession will not be resolved by talk and smiles. We don’t really know how the whole thing started and how it will develop but we know pretty well what the consequences are going to be. All this talk that we’re resilient and will go through it, is premature.
In little Malta we’ve seen recessions before. I’ve lived through three serious ones and know quite well that staring at a recession is no solution. We need to plan and we need to act. Now, not next month.
I wish I can be more convincing on this. But many in authority prefer stargazing. I have not seen yet any contingency plan by any authority or by any bureaucratic outfit paid by public money. If these contingency plans exist then they are state secrets. And MCESD remains on holiday. That is why my advice to people in business is to take heed. Don’t trust anyone or anything. You will be facing the music alone and don’t expect much help from either the banks or the State.
I wish I can be more positive. But I am a pragmatist. My strong advice is act now because you’ll despair later, otherwise. And don’t just wait for the politicians. In our country, unfortunately, many of them are a sad lot.

Going into politics
And this brings me to politics. Do you really want to be a politician, many ask me? The answer is clearly no. I’m not comfortable in politics.
And this is the real issue. Should we really leave politics only for politicians? Isn’t there space for us? Us who have experience and ability and have the aptitude and savoir-faire to do things that matter to us all? Are we all frightened of the biased political commentators or of the passionate blog writers who have nothing else to do but tease, criticise and invent stories? Should we leave the ground to the village doctor, the village lawyer and the few man and woman of quality who dare it all and join the fray with courage?
The European Elections offer in my view a great opportunity for us Maltese to grow up, whatever the little minds like Sergio Zampa splatter out with little thought. I believe that the MEP election should be given a different dimension then elections for our own parliament and for our local councils. One should not necessarily be a party man or woman to contest. And people should be given the chance to offer their service, to lead and represent us if elected, and to return to their work, profession or whatever else they do, if they are not elected.
The European Parliament is not a village local council. The issues discussed there are many times extremely important for all of us in the European Union. Decisions there affect half a billion people. Should we send there someone whose best qualification is that of being a stalwart of the party of his or her heart? Should we vote for him simply because he’s my “friend” or because he gave me a free ride to Brussels, because he took me out to lunch and invited me to a couple of parties… have we honestly downgraded the European Parliament to this level?
I believe the European Parliament is very, very important for us Maltese. We only have five seats, six perhaps, in the near future. We cannot really afford not to send the best we have there. The role of our MEP is ten times harder then that of most other MEPs from the larger countries. Our MEP has to cope with more committees, more active time and more travel than most others. He or she has to be more versatile on more issues than most other MEPs. He has to be far more well prepared, more articulate, more professional, more powerful in his words and action, than many, many others. Yes, he or she has to be generally better and more convincing.
It is far from an easy task to find people who can fill such a role and who are willing to offer their services. Worst still, those who have the talents, the experience, the qualifications and the abilities, are generally terrified of politics. Unfortunately we have coloured our politics with too much passion and too much hatred. We keep saying that politics is dirty. So many warned me about this these last few days.

A tough decision
I greatly admire those politicians who have inspired people with a vision and who have delivered wonderfully. We don’t have many of them, but luckily for us we had, and have, enough and they gave, and continue to give us excellent results. A little country like ours wouldn’t be where it is today if it were not for these valiant few who have thrown all with great sacrifice for themselves, their families and their careers to serve our country well.
If today we are a proud small country enjoying the benefit of a relatively strong and flourishing economy with a relatively sound, social and educational structure, we owe much of it to them.
As proud members of the European Union, we owe much of it to the people who had the vision to lead us there. But should we now simply stop at that? Can’t we make the next step forward and cause more people of quality to come forward?
I do consider myself of quality. I honestly wish I can be of greater service at national level. I am happy where I am and I have the great satisfaction of being surrounded by people who appreciate what I do. I don’t mind criticism and I am not easily intimidated. I believe I have the necessary skills, experience and abilities to be a good MEP. I think I can serve my country well as an MEP.
But how can you be a MEP without dabbling in politics? The independent candidate in Malta is a joke. It’s a waste of effort and talent. In the European Parliament the independent MEP has practically no power. He or she stands very little chance to sit on any of the more important committees and study themes. If one wants to be an MEP, than he or she has to choose from one of the big party bandwagons. He or she has to think of the aftermath if it’s failure rather than success that knocks his door.
And he or she has to return to a normal life. Most probably the political tinge, if not stink will stick.
So what do people like me do? My approach has been to consult and survey. This of course led to the press coverage which I did not really seek so early. No, I have not really decided.
Even if the media seems to have decided for me, I am still weighing the pros and cons, I have too many people who depend on me in what I do today. I cannot just decide and forget all. There are though questions that need to be answered. The first is whether to join the political field and contest, secondly as part of which major party bloc, and thirdly and probably the more difficult, is to lessen or abandon the role I have now.
And I have to think of my family and the impact of it all on my life.
The thing is I need to decide as the ground is literally being taken from beneath my feet. Many have given me their opinion and I am grateful.
Of one thing, however, I am sure. This country deserves better. At European Parliament level we need to send the best. Many of the candidates already on the list are of good material. Some have already proved their worth. Is there space for me too?

Vince Farrugia is the director-general of GRTU, the Chamber of SMEs.


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