17 APRIL 2002
Cartoon this week: Are we one block or are we blocking the way?
Helping the MCESD to realise its potential
It has been described in the past as a coffee shop for exchanges on political and social issues and a rubber stamp for government policies.
But most of the social partners, even those who have been highly critical, accept that the Malta Council for Economic and Social Development is moving in the right direction.
A new name and greater powers through legislation have gone some way to helping in this regard.
But even its chairman, Edward Scicluna, admitted at a seminar held on Monday that the council would be able to function much more professionally and efficiently if its research structures are bolstered.
For the MCESD to be a success it has to enjoy credibility among the social partners. And as Prof. Scicluna told this newspaper in the past, one of the most important steps to getting the social partners to find common ground on key issues and taking a stand on a subject is for them to be able to research topical issues comprehensively.
On Monday, he said that the availability of credible and relevant research would help establish the trust needed to bring about an agreement allowing the social partners to retain their identity and stimulate the government into listening and acting where possible.
Trust is the key word here.
If the MCESD is to reach the point of making its position known on certain issues and producing an opinion on some subjects, the tools enabling the council to do this, such as advisory resources, need to be at hand.
How can anyone take a stand on an issue if the resources enabling them to reach their conclusions are difficult to come by or unavailable?
Over the years, throughout most democratic countries, there have been significant changes in the way consultation at the top level takes place and Malta is no exception.
The MCESD has proved to be an ideal platform for dialogue and the exchange of views on key issues of economic and social importance.
But its potential has not yet been realised.
The direction it follows remains to be seen. There are a number of key players who still view the council as a debating society first and foremost and would like to see it develop further into a forum for negotiations and decision-making, along the lines of the Irish model.
And last year there was criticism at the lack of participation from the government representatives on the council. The social partners also called on the government to give due weight to their views in the instances when there is consensus.
The MCESD is still passing through a time of change.
The chairman has recognised that it needs the will of every partner to help strengthen this institution. But it will only enjoy credibility and success if it is given the scope to function effectively.
At Mondays seminar, speakers on the panel and interventions from the audience highlighted the need to strengthen the council, both administratively and financially for it to work well. Lets hope this tool that has so much potential is given the scope to succeed.