23 APRIL 2003

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Toon this week: Manna from the starry sky...

An Ode to Joy

The reported post election mini-boom in the retail sector coupled with good signs for restaurateurs and hotels cannot be taken as a sign of economic revival. The EU feel good factor will not hit home for some time and in these years important decisions will have to be taken to ensure Malta makes the most of the opportunities that will present themselves with EU membership.
Expectations are high and even in the next few months one can reasonably predict that the property market, if nothing else, will be bullish. All those that passively or actively supported EU membership now expect manna from heaven, foreign investment flying in on every arriving aeroplane.
Malta Enterprise will be expecting to finally rent out every vacant factory block and see all industrial estates thriving while ‘Ode to Joy’ blares out from the voices of the factory workers.
The tourism and retail sector expects that every potential tourist will have Malta in mind as a soon to be member of the EU family, ready to accept idea that Maltese people are now one of them in ways that we previously were not.
A mini-boom could snowball, business confidence would be regained and before we know it we will all be singing the Aida.
The truth will never be that joyous and Malta’s government and civil service will have to wake up to their tasks much ignored in previous legislatures – the business community will be in for some hard thinking too. All those that thought they could relax following the referendum and election victories are in for a nasty wake up call.
Manna from heaven the EU will not be, even if the opportunities are out there and we Maltese will have to trust our wily nature to ensure we get the best we can.
Many years ago a forward-looking Chinese politician set up a one stop shop that potential investors could visit and, theoretically at least, come away with all the necessary information and permits required to set up business in Malta.
There is no good reason why Malta should not be able to do the same, although we can think of a hundred and one excuses as to why this has not been done in the past, and the chairman of Enterprise Malta would do well to follow the Chinese example.
The Civil Service still needs much upgrading to make the second part of its name ring true, and the business community cannot continue to be hampered by red tape.
Some steps in the right direction have been made, it is possible to apply for VAT registration via the internet, for example, instead of taking half a day off to visit the VAT department and hang around in queues.
Most of the civil service departments need restructuring and if steps have been taken in this direction, they certainly do not show in all cases.
The business community too will have to start shaping up to compete. There has been much talk of restructuring, but the time for talk is now over. All businesses will have to become more flexible, ready to meet ever changing circumstances, and remembering in the end, that the customer is king.

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
The Business Times, Newsworks Ltd, 2 Cali House, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann SGN 02, Malta
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