Front page.

Editorial | Wednesday, 03 March 2010 Issue. 153

Bookmark and Share

Consumers are the real losers

As the dust settles from Monday’s vote in Parliament on the revised water and electricity tariffs, consumers across the country will find themselves faced with the crippling reality that they may no longer be able to keep their heads above the poverty line.
Having said that – and viewed only from the perspective of a political tug-of-war – few can deny that the events of the week represented a resounding victory for Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi: who, up until just last week, was still desperately trying to fend off a rebellion among his own MPs, provoked in part by unrest over the same utility tariffs.
In all fairness it was a spectacular political coup for Gonzi. By reining in his unruly backbenchers at the critical moment, he both out-manoeuvred and outclassed his political opponents, leaving Labour leader Joseph Muscat to watch in disbelief as his plans to derail the Nationalist government were scuppered before his eyes, and right on the same day as his ‘national protest’ attracted tens of thousands to Valletta.
Furthermore, Gonzi has also subdued his rebel MPs, who appear to have backtracked on all their demands, without their government changing even an iota of its own energy policy. So much, one supposes, for the same backbenchers’ talk of ‘social conscience’ and ‘moral responsibilities’.
But it was at best a Pyrrhic victory for the Prime Minister, who can hardly be expected to celebrate the success of a vote that he knows will translate directly into greater financial hardships for a growing class of impoverished citizens: a class which has come to increasingly include sections of the population that have traditionally always voted for the Nationalist Party, and which now feel understandably frustrated and betrayed.
In fact, one way of looking at the political chess-game that concluded last Monday is that Gonzi’s gain was in a sense also his own loss. The Prime Minister had correctly interpreted the backbencher revolt as a direct threat to the survival of his own government, and – acting primarily on the instinct of self-preservation – he pulled no stops to avert what would have been a politically fatal catastrophe for his own career.
But in so doing, Gonzi had no choice but to pit himself against none other than the common citizen: whose consternation at the increasingly unaffordable utility tariffs is motivated by sheer necessity and genuine financial difficulty, and certainly not by any underhand political agenda.
That Gonzi is aware of this reality was manifest in the expression on his face as he walked out of the Palace on Monday night. It was a mixture of relief, certainly, and possibly even a hint of satisfaction at the outcome of a long and difficult political battle. But there was also the unmistakable cognisance that any hint of triumphalism on his part, any attempt to gloat over the defeat of the Opposition leader’s motion, would almost certainly have been interpreted as callous and insensitive to the very problems his own government once promised to solve.
It is a pity that not all his Cabinet ministers showed the same sensitivity to popular sentiment as their commander-in-chief. In fact it was almost painful to hear former Energy Minister Austin Gatt – under whose captaincy the new tariffs were introduced – boast that Monday’s vote was a reflection of his government’s ‘financial responsibility’... when there is plenty of evidence to suggest that it was actually quite the other way round.
Looking back on the entire debacle, it is difficult to appreciate exactly what is so responsible about halting a €55 million subsidy to the national energy provider – which was, and still is, a State-controlled monopoly – at a time when the same government was more than happy to spend over €80 million to build itself a new House of Parliament in Freedom Square (with half a theatre thrown in for good measure).
Nor is it clear which aspects of the government’s energy policy Gatt had in mind, when he alluded to ‘financial responsibility’. Was it the choice of Heavy Fuel Oil to power the new Delimara plant extension... when the same power station will very shortly have to be converted to natural gas, at considerable expense? Was it his government’s endless postponement of somthing as vital as a national water policy? Could it have been government’s failure to control unbridled expenses at Enemalta – which, like so many government entities, is overstaffed and run on a budget far greater than is actually needed – while at the same time investing in new debt-collecting companies like ARMS Ltd, to accomplish what the same overstaffed Enemalta had failed to do?
Fact of the matter is that, while Lawrence Gonzi certainly emerged the victor from the ‘Battle of the Bills’, the long-suffering Maltese energy consumer has come out as loser on all counts. Old, wasteful practices have been retained in full, with the only difference being that the cost is now greater for the man in the street.
How anyone can construe this outcome as a cause for celebration is at best a mystery.


Any comments?
If you wish your comments to be published in our Letters pages please click button below.
Please write a contact number and a postal address where you may be contacted.



Download front page in pdf file format

Download the MaltaToday newspaper advertising rates in PDF format

European Elections special editions

01 June 2009
02 June 2009
03 June 2009
04 June 2009
08 June 2009

Copyright © MediaToday Co. Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann SGN 9016, Malta, Europe
Managing editor Saviour Balzan | Tel. ++356 21382741 | Fax: ++356 21385075 | Email