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Anna Mallia | Wednesday, 03 March 2010 Issue. 153

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Protests are messages of discontent

Protests are not a walk in the park, and when people protest they send a message to the party in government that they do not agree with the way that they are being governed.
It is true that last week’s protests were in connection with the draconian rise in water and electricity tariffs, making them the highest in the world; but the bottom line is also that the people are sending the message to the government that if it wants to win the next general election, it must change its attitude.

There is no need for Gonzi to take these protests so badly. Rather, he should consider himself lucky and take them as a blessing that the people are warning him midway through his present term that if he does not change this attitude than they will change their voting allegiance. It is stupid for him to think or make believe that the rise in the water and electricity tariffs – which had led to the downfall of Labour’s government in 1996, even though the rise at that time was very minimal compared to what we are paying now –would not cause his downfall.

People do not protest because they do not want to participate in the recovery of the country and make the necessary sacrifices to see this country back on its feet. People protest when they cannot understand how the government is requesting sacrifices, and at the same time continues with its own spending spree. Nor can people cannot understand how they now have to finance Enemalta, when until a couple of year ago Enemalta used to finance our budget.

People are confused because Enemalta is inundated with managers and clerical staff, and yet the government still squanders money on a limited liability company (ARMS Ltd), paying it to manage the collection of water and electricity tariffs. People cannot understand how Transport Malta is not able to handle the collection of taxes paid by those who enter Valletta, so that government squanders more of their money on a limited liability company (CVA Technology Company Limited) entrusting it with the collection of such fees.

These management companies are all waste of the taxpayers’ money, and a certificate by the government that it does not trust the Maltese workers employed with Enemalta or Transport Malta, or with any other government entity with the collection or administration of moneys. Who can convince us that these management fees (which, mind you, are still a secret although we are paying for them) are not a waste of money and a manoeuvre by the government to accommodate its allies and neglect its taxpayers?

The people expect the government to lead by example, and so far we have not seen any signs of sacrifices from the government side. The old spending habits remained the same, and only the people are required to sacrifice their income. The people expect the government to be accountable for its actions and inactions, and if there is a code of ethics for the government, that code of ethics must be respected. It is useless preaching ethics to other sectors of society when the preacher does not abide by his or her own code of ethics.

Gonzi is blessed to be surrounded by a backbench that sounded the alarm bell in good time before the upcoming general elections. Alfred Sant was not so lucky, because although his backbenchers did not have the same courage to let him do things his own way, even at the cost of sacrificing a full five year term in government. But Gonzi must thank his lucky stars for having members of Parliament in his team who had the courage to risk their political career for the sake of the party.

Because let us face it, it is not easy for any member of Parliament to go against the party tide and make a stand, knowing that unless the government listens it will not stand a chance of being re-elected. The repercussions could be that that member will not see that seat in Parliament again. So let us not undermine those backbenchers whose love for the party comes before the love for their seat in Parliament. After all, this is what it is all about: change the attitude or you will lose the next general elections.

Gonzi is not stupid and he took the opportunity to give all the 65 members of Parliament a long break from parliament so that he can put his house in order. We do not have Page 13 to tell us that by doing so, Gonzi has created a Constitutional crisis because he has shown himself to be in control of Parliament, when democracy teaches us that Parliament is there to check the government, and not to be controlled by the government. But to hell with the Constitution, when there is the government’s stability at stake!

And in these last weeks of forced leave from parliament, the Prime Minister did what any leader of a political party in government would do, and put his qualities of good leadership to the test. Gonzi knows that any leader must hear all the stakeholders, and not just his faithful allies. Maybe that is one of the mistakes that he has made so far: listening to his allies and supporting his allies and even defending them for their alleged misdeeds (Minister Tonio Fenech being a case in point) and ignoring the rest of his flock.
But the backbenchers gave him a timely wake-up call, and the rest is history.

What do the people expect from Gonzi now? They want more accountability. They want information about who is negotiating the purchase of crude oil on our behalf; they want information on how our money is being spent; they want to know the accounts that we are submitting to the EU, to put our minds at rest that we will not suffer the same fate as Greece; they want to see the government and his team travel around the world not to attend lavish receptions and lip service meetings, but to get the best deals for Malta.

It is a misnomer to believe that our world is composed only of EU member states and that that funding can only come from the EU. It is false to make believe that our world has shrunk to the size of the EU member states. It is sad to see the government lose faith in itself, and not encourage its staff to beg or borrow from other countries any assistance, be it financial or technical, that is of an asset to Malta.

Xarabank likes to get the promo of Gonzi saying “Minn fejn ser ngibhom dawn il-flus?” (“Where will we get this money from?”, but when you hear a Prime Minister asking this question, it is not a positive sign at all. Because other governments travel around the globe to see what deals they can get for their country. In our case, our travel seems to be limited to Brussels and its member states.

Nowadays we have taken the custom of sending the President of the Republic to look for investment overseas, but this is not enough asthe President’s power is very limited when it comes to the negotiating table. The people want the Prime Minister to listen and to look for other ventures where to make money for this country: no more taxes, but more deals from abroad.



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