28 MAY 2003

Search all issues

powered by FreeFind

Send Your Feedback!

Toon 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 country’s 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 Farrugia’s 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 Party’s drive toward EU membership. Somehow that argument has now been sidelined. The MV Doulos issue could have served as an ideal signal of government’s 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 government’s direction. In the process the consumer will suffer the consequences.

Decision time

It’s going to take a concerted effort to kick-start the stagnated economy. Foreign direct investment won’t 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 new investment.
The country lacks a general strategy to identify the industries and services best suited to operate in Malta’s economic, social and geographic climate.
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 knowledge-based industry.
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 government’s programme for 2004.
Only then can a ‘new spring’ materialise.

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
The Business Times, Newsworks Ltd, 2 Cali House, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann SGN 02, Malta
Tel: (356) 21382741-3, 21382745-6 | Fax: (356) 21385075 | E-mail