this week: Just one good push...
And thou shall not buy
The edict has been delivered. The MV Doulos, a floating bookshop, cannot
sell books while it is berthed in Malta.
The reason: when it berthed in Malta last year the amount of books sold
totalled eight per cent of the total annual sales of books in Malta.
For a government that has championed the free market and competition
ever since turning the countrys economy around in 1987, the decision
to deny the permit comes as a blotch.
Just a few weeks ago, in the electoral campaign, government exponents
had been rallying for EU membership on the premise that the Union would
open up a market of over 400 million and that the increased competition
would mean competitive prices and better quality for Maltese consumers.
Vince Farrugias GRTU was also at the forefront to champion the
cause of EU membership.
Now that it seems on the verge of formal membership, government, and
the GRTU, are having cold feet on competition.
It is a pity that the Maltese public is being denied the possibility
to buy books just because of the narrow interests of a few booksellers
and distributors, who cannot stomach competition.
Not all booksellers opposed the granting of a permit to the MV Doulos.
Indeed, one particular bookseller has gone on record saying that people
should be encouraged to buy books because they will eventually buy more.
That is the spirit of competition. Who dares wins, but unfortunately
many in Malta cringe when it comes down to the crunch.
Protectionist policies will get us nowhere. This was the main theme
behind the Nationalist Partys drive toward EU membership. Somehow
that argument has now been sidelined. The MV Doulos issue could have
served as an ideal signal of governments intentions to further
liberalise the economy ahead of formal membership.
But some foot stomping by the GRTU was enough to force government to
have a change of heart on free market competition.
If this is a sign of things to come, then we may well witness a lot
of foot stomping from constituted bodies so as to influence governments
direction. In the process the consumer will suffer the consequences.
Its going to take a concerted effort to kick-start
the stagnated economy. Foreign direct investment wont just flow
into the Islands simply because we are EU members.
Admittedly, membership has provided us with an added value that can
be used fruitfully. But government still has to play its part in attracting
The country lacks a general strategy to identify the industries and
services best suited to operate in Maltas economic, social and
Despite the emphasis over recent years on encouraging investment in
research and development, which involves the export of knowledge rather
than goods, little has come our way. More must be done to entice this
Meanwhile, exports are down and consumer spending has not taken off
as expected. Government has to make a bold statement in the next budget
if it hopes to kick-start the economy.
No more new taxes, stricter expenditure controls on public finances
and the gradual dismantling of untenable work practices that are burdening
the economy must be the mainstays of governments programme for
Only then can a new spring materialise.