14 MAY 2003

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Toon this week: And for the next trick

Merit, not favouritism

The musical chairs for the various chairmanships of government companies and entities will begin on Friday with the new appointment of Joseph F.X. Zahra as chairman of Maltacom.
There are no doubts about Zahra’s credentials. He has taken Bank of Valletta to new heights despite the harsh competition from the bank’s main rival - HSBC. And given that under his stewardship BOV has opted to explore markets beyond Malta’s limited shores, Zahra will definitely bring that experience with him to Maltacom.
But the exercise of changing chairmen and company directors warrants a critical look.
It is not the exercise of change per se that raises concern. Change is important to avoid stagnation and complacency. But change carries with it responsibility and accountability.
It is understandable for government administrations to appoint people whom they can trust. But trust should not mean blue eyes.
This is a country that has discarded merit for too long. With limited resources it serves no one to divide the country right down the middle.
When considering the appointment of chairmen government should look at the capability of the individuals concerned. Political creed, unless it could hinder the implementation of government policy decisions, should not be a criteria for selection.
A true European ethic warrants a change of mentality in the way appointments are handed out. Appointments should not be used as payback for political support during electoral campaigns. Government companies ultimately belong to taxpayers and the onus is on Austin Gatt, a capable minister without any doubt, to ensure that merit, not favouritism influence the choices that will be made in the months to come.

Malta and the Balearic blueprint

The Maltese archipelago has a lot in common with Balearic islands such as Majorca and Minorca – all enjoy being surrounded by the Mediterranean, all are basked by the sun for the majority of the year, all are heavily saturated by tourists and all depend heavily on the revenue generated from tourism.
Of course tourism, like virtually any human activity, takes its toll on the environment. The situation is, however, something of a paradox: the heavier the tourism inflows, the greater the pressure on the environment and, in the end, environmental degradation can only serve to ensure tourists cease to come. This is, of course, excluding the Maltese public’s role in the state of affairs.
Already many working in the sector are inundated by complaints from tourists who, quite naturally, expect surroundings that reflect the price of their package.
As the situation worsens by the day, it is crucial that the authorities reach deep and determinedly for a solution – and maybe they don’t need to look too far.
The Balearic islands’ eco-tax solution is certainly worthy of inspection. The tax, at the outset was controversial and still proves to be. But the bottom line tends to speak for itself – in its first seven months the eco-tax has raised some Lm7.5 million and is expected to bring in some Lm15 million each year, all of which has been pumped back into the environment.
This re-investment has taken the form of planting thousands of indigenous trees, redeveloping run down areas in the islands’ capitals, demolishing illegal structures and purchasing and safeguarding land holding archaeological ruins and areas of natural beauty.
Malta must find itself an equilibrium between wanting to improve the environment and alienating its core market of families and couples on a budget. Otherwise they may very well choose to vacation with Malta’s competition.
The Balearic levy, which works out to an average of one euro a day, has been looked at closely by other, similar regions and, according to experts, these regions have found that the tax has not damaged the tourism industry and is not excessively expensive to implement.
But any government bold enough to begin considering an eco-tax will undoubtedly face stiff competition. UK travel companies have come out against the Balearic tax, which they said was applied without giving them time to incorporate it in their brochure prices.
Some of the larger Balearic hotels, meanwhile, absorbed the cost of the first year of the Balearic eco-tax by offering tourists food and drink vouchers, but most allowed tourists to pay in full.
However, the Balearic blueprint is by no means the only solution for attaining the balance between environmental quality and remaining an economical destination. A number of tour operators in the Greek islands, for example, make voluntary contributions to offset the environmental damage of tourism.
The possibilities are numerous and encouraging. Now with a freshly re-shuffled cabinet in place, we hope to see steps being taken in the near future to improve Malta’s offering as a whole.

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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