4 - 10 April 2001

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Reacting to benchmarking

Last week's Business Times presented an analytical, far from precise, do it yourself benchmarking exercise for a number of professions. We made this very clear.

The end result was a reaction that had many faces, among them very ugly ones indeed.

First was the squealing – as The Malta Independent's editor chose to describe it – of the professionals at the law courts and the second were the medical consultants at the hospital.

The Maltese language has a number of useful sayings that depict how people react when they are pinched and we should not be too surprised.

But let us be honest, what we presented was not far from the truth, indeed, it has to be emphasised that in some cases the figures were very much on the very low side.

What we did not take into consideration - and perhaps we should have - were the variations, especially for those in their novice years.

But let us underline the facts, as they are never published. To state that a medical consultant of some prestige only earns Lm40,000 plus is a blatant lie.

This revenue has to be doubled and at times tripled in the cases of some well-known consultants.

Now compare this to their declared income and what emerges is a frightening scenario.

So if bona fide companies and small businesses are constrained to take on the brunt of taxation, why should professionals who have evaded tax continue along this path?
Here again, we cannot understand our colleagues in the press, who have called on the government to take on the big fish and then, when they appear to going down that route, they begin crying wolf.

Worse still, when all the pleading to cut public expenditure is unaccompanied by concrete proposals.

And yes, it is correct to address these requests with a simple question: What are you suggesting, dear colleagues from the press?
Reducing health and education packages?
Which we would envisage, but the government certainly would not.

Cutting pensions?
Which we would welcome to a certain extent.

Cutting jobs in loss making companies?
Which we have been suggesting for far too long.

Obviously these are not the options.

What is a viable option is guarding against any unsolicited increases in wages within the collective agreements network.

And yes, we do need human bollards, such as the case of Michael Debono from the Ministry of Finance, to stop collective agreements from getting out of hand.

Policies are not about the two sides to a coin, it is not about black and white but about grey, it is not about taking two steps ahead and three steps backwards.

Why do some sections of the press insist on being so consistently inconsistent?
We have said this and we will say this again - we will support the measures undertaken now, with one single condition: if the thresholds are reached then we expect the authorities to relax, to widen the opportunities and to reward those sectors that have for far too long taken on the burdens.

Yes, we are in agreement with tax harmonisation across all sectors, but only when it reaps results and does not defeat a purpose.

The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07
Tel: (356) 382741-3, 382745-6 | Fax: (356) 385075 | e-mail: editorial@networkpublications.com.mt