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 Zahras credentials. He has taken Bank
of Valletta to new heights despite the harsh competition from the banks
main rival - HSBC. And given that under his stewardship BOV has opted
to explore markets beyond Maltas 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
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 publics
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 dont
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 Maltas
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 Maltas offering as a whole.