A safe destination crying out for
MAJOR INVESTOR IS SETTING HIS SIGHTS ON MALTA, ARE WE DOING EVERYTHING
POSSIBLE TO ENCOURAGE HIM, OR ARE WE SIMPLY PUTTING UP HURDLES THAT
ACT AS A DISINCENTIVE? SHADOW MINISTER FOR INDUSTRY JOHN
ATTARD MONTALTO TALKS TO RAY ABDILLA
ON THIS AND OTHER ISSUES
Was it difficult being Industry Minister under a Labour government?
I cannot say I found it difficult, rather I think it is a question of
organisation, management and communication. If one has these abilities
one makes a good minister.
In what way do you think the Nationalists are failing to deliver
when it comes to industry and public investment?
I think it was a mistake for the Nationalists to raise everyones
hopes on the basis of Maltas application for European Union membership.
Evidently this was just a perception.
Do you think the only difference in policies between the two parties
is European Union membership?
No. Although foreign policy appears to be the main difference, in reality
the social perspective is the fundamental difference.
During the seventies and early eighties the Labour governments were
heavily criticised for adopting policies that encouraged cheap Labour
investment. Do you think that the present government is working hard
enough to bring foreign investment to Malta?
I believe that this criticism was unjustified since todays major
industries were born in that period. On the second issue, I always believe
that you have to judge effort by results. The latter has been dismal.
Do you think that the current Nationalist administration is adopting
any of the same policies as the last Labour administration?
It would have been wise if the Nationalists had done just that. Certainly
it is much more difficult to fathom than the changes made.
Most of our industry comes from Germany and specific European countries,
such as England and Italy. Should we be trying to get further investment
from more diverse markets and have we lost some opportunities because
we no longer offer cheap labour anymore?
I dont think that Malta has discarded these opportunities, rather
vice-versa. I believe that the lack of investment from particular countries
is not due to lack of cheap labour.
Do you believe that Gozo should be marketed as a separate destination
or as part of Malta?
Gozo has its particular assets and liabilities. Obviously it is a good
idea to capitalise on Gozos assets and not try to treat the small
island as a smaller version of Malta.
Foreign investment has declined during the past years in Malta.
Although we still house some giants, like ST Microelectronics, new companies
of the same weight are simply not coming here. Why?
None of us should be satisfied with the amount of foreign direct investment
which we have attracted during the past years. On the other hand when
a major investor sets his eyes on Malta, we have to ask whether we have
done everything possible to encourage him, or whether we have instead
put up hurdles.
This is going to be a difficult and challenging year, with ripple
effects from 11 September being felt everywhere. Do you think that there
is something which needs to be done in Malta to curb this uncertainty?
The world changed on 11 September. Malta can gain from this tragedy
by being marketed as a safe location/destination. Perhaps the sceptics
will ultimately learn to value the farsighted policy of neutrality.
Have you always been involved in industry? Was it a surprise to
you that you were given such a ministry?
I was marginally involved in industry although my mothers family
were once Maltas leading entrepreneurs involved in shipping, wine-making,
milling and a host of other things. I was surprised to have been chosen
for industry but when Alfred Sant called me to the Castille, I had a
feeling that he was not going to give me the Ministry of Justice
perhaps for my own good - as I had so many criminal cases pending.
There were rumours that you might not contest with the Malta Labour
Party at the next polls. Is this true?
They are pure rumours.
What are your views about the EU? Will it have an effect on our
In a nutshell, membership would mean the loss of purchasing raw materials
at the best price. I think that this will have a negative impact. On
the other hand one advantage will be that Maltas industry will
gain accessibility to those non-EU countries which have entered into
a trade agreement with the EU.
What does Malta need to do to improve its industry sector?
We need a complete new law relating to foreign investment and an overhaul
of our industrial infrastructure. Marketing must be changed from blanket
bombing to precise targeting and finally we must mean what we say when
we refer to industry.
As a former minister and a long-serving Labour deputy have you ever
considered running for leadership or deputy leadership?
I have been approached but always declined.
Is it true that at the districts you contest there are certain divisions
between the Labour party candidates?
Yes and no. No because the competition is no different from any other
district and yes because our political system demands that you always
have to be more aware of your colleague than your political adversaries.
What is your present relationship with Dom Mintoff? And has his
relationship hampered your strength in the party?
Since 1987, I have been his friend and lawyer. This relationship continues
to this very day. I do not think that this had an adverse effect on
my strength within the party but then I am optimistic by nature.
What about the Busietta Garden's case? Dr Sant did not agree with
you about buying property there
This was a personal investment. I have always believed that to succeed
in politics I should refrain from allowing these two aspects to overlap.
But today this is history as Busietta has been disposed of.
What is your position on Europe?
I am proud to be a Mediterranean European. Neutral Malta forms part
of my Europe in the centre of the Mediterranean. My position is that
these three cardinal aspects- neutrality, the European dimension and
a Mediterranean identity are untouchable.
Do you agree with a referendum on the EU?
Do you think that there is a conflict of interest between politics
and being a criminal lawyer?
As long as I keep these two areas distinct and separate the answer is
Is the MLP still in crisis having lost so many valid people and
suffering from internal conflict?
I do not think that the MLP has a crisis. Like all political parties
theres some differences of opinion. But this is healthy.
Regarding the loss of valid people in the MLP like Lino Spiteri, George
Abela and Toni Abela, this is, admittedly, a minus.
As for criticising the leadership, one has to draw a fine line between
party democracy and party discipline. With less than two years to the
general election everyone should back the party leadership. Doing the
opposite will have an adverse effect on the outcome of the general election.
What are the MLPs strengths?
Can Malta still attract foreign investment with everyone demanding
higher and higher wages?
The Labour party is a party of refuge for the less fortunate. It has
been able to project itself as a party with a place for all sections
Yes. Given that Malta is no longer a cheap labour location, we must admit
that it is a democratic destination with a skilled labour force, technically
able to compete with its peers; a safe and secure country yearning for