13 MARCH 2002

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Cartoon this week: A Dickensian approach to economics

Time for serious reflection
By Saviour Balzan

This is no time for banal excuses and statistical number play. The pure and simple truth is that the Nationalist party lost heavily at the polls last Saturday and the sooner the higher echelons of the party admit defeat the better for the country at large.

The margin of victory by the Labour party, just over seven per cent, is too large to justify by stating that more Labourites went out to vote or that these local councils were predominantly Labour. Three years ago the Nationalist party won a relative majority with a lead of slightly more than two per cent.

And the Labour party’s victory comes after the party won another absolute majority in the local elections held last year. This means that with two thirds of the electorate polled, the Labour party managed to get an absolute majority, which gives a clear indication that the mood on a national level is gradually turning pro-Labour with the very good possibility of a Labour majority.

The warning bells are ringing loud and clear. A heavily taxed public facing an increased cost of living and uncertainty in the job market is not confident that the direction embarked upon by the Nationalist government is the right one. If the economy is picking up, as official statistics seem to show, this is not being reflected enough in the lower levels of society.

The cashflow crisis continues to persist in the business sector and the privatisation process is as secretive as ever and seems to be leading nowhere.

Furthermore, the government is devoting all its energy to tackling the issues emanating from the negotiations with the European Union but unless the bread and butter issues, unrelated to the EU are tackled with the same resolve, people will remain unresponsive to the outcome. With all the emphasis placed on EU negotiations the public will inevitably end up equating the country’s woes with EU membership and this throws wide open the outcome of the result of the referendum.

Last Saturday’s result should serve as a wake-up call. Somehow the public feels that the past three years have been all pain without gain, which is true given the necessary austerity measures that had to be adopted to tackle the deficit. But the biggest problem is that the public has no confidence that things will take a turn for the better. The future remains as unclear as the date when the referendum and general election will be held. And with this creeping lack of trust characterising the national mood, the Nationalist party could only hope for the best.

The electorate cannot and should not be taken for granted. Tackling the macro-economic issues is important but it is the micro-economic issues that interest people. Unless the two courses of action are combined to provide solutions that instil confidence, no sweet words will convince people that this country is changing for the better. And when faced with such a scenario the electorate will start seeking leadership and management elsewhere.


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