1 October 2003

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Country needs urgent "medicine" – FOI president

Government and the Opposition yesterday came in for some harsh words by Federation of Industry President Anton Borg, who insisted that unless certain "hard" decisions are taken the country will soon face a bleak future.
Mr Borg was speaking at a familiarisation meeting between FOI officials and Labour spokesperson for industry John Attard Montalto.
"Government needs to take a number of hard decisions to safeguard the national interest and the FOI expects the Opposition to give its backing without taking political mileage," Mr Borg insisted.
John Attard Montalto was quick to jump on the cue. "The Labour Party is ready to work for the national interest but everybody knows that the then-Nationalist Opposition in 1998 did not have the national interest at heart when it voted against the Cottonera Project that eventually brought down the government."
Declaring that he felt at home with the FOI, Dr Attard Montalto remarked that the Opposition need not agree with all solutions proposed by government. "We would be eroding the function of an Opposition in a democratic country if we simply agreed with everything government proposed. But there have been instances where we worked for the national, interest such as when the MLP voted in favour of the Business Promotion Act despite having some reservations on the bill."
Agreeing that difference had to exist between government’s policy and that of the Opposition, Mr Borg insisted that the country needed urgent "medicine."
When asked by journalists to specify what he meant by "medicine", Mr Borg insisted that rising wages were a problem: "For us to be able to sustain competitiveness wages cannot continue rising, they need to be controlled." He then identified two other problem areas. "Government deficit is a major problem and everybody needs to pull the same rope. The other problem is the size of the public sector, which needs to decrease."
Mr Borg added: "We are talking of a culture change in work practices, something the FOI has been saying for years."
Quizzed by The Malta Financial and Business Times on the issue of exorbitant port charges that hamper industry, Dr Attard Montalto said that he considered it to be a major problem.
Without being specific, Dr Attard Montalto said that port charges needed to be discussed in a wider perspective.
"There is need for total reform of the ports. There are problems that cannot be ignored but it is important that problems are not treated in isolation. This is too small a country not to search for an integrated solution.
"If the problem is not solved comprehensively we will hurt a lot of people and an MLP government can reform the situation without people losing their jobs."
The FOI president interjected, adding that the biggest cost for industry was the unloading of containers at the docks. "We are against the old practices adopted at the port but it is not only the port charges that worry us."
The building of a tunnel connecting both ports, a project suggested by the Malta Maritime Authority for EU funding purposes, also came under fire by both speakers.
Dr Attard Montalto described it as a "ludicrous" idea and Mr Borg said that the money that would be spent on the project had better be used to tackle more urgent problems.
Briefly dwelling on the European Union issue, Mr Borg expressed satisfaction on the MLP’s new position, which, he said was conducive to peace of mind for industry and investors.
For Dr Attard Montalto, the EU issue was now "acqua passata (water under the bridge)".
kurt@maltamag.com



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Editor: Saviour Balzan
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