this week: PBS - on its ninth life
In our brave new world
there is no place for slumbering fat cats
Each developed democracy worldwide faces similar challenges
and Malta is no different. Over the past decade the same topics have
taken centre stage as certain problems came to a head.
Welfare reform, sustainable pensions, subsidies, free or just trade,
globalisation, public sector efficiency and streamlining are all on
the agenda. None of the issues are easily understood or easily tackled,
and disagreement abounds. The US has often been a driving force for
change and while some of its positions are socially unacceptable to
both so called new and old Europe, the US provides
a benchmark to measure against.
Nearly all the issues are double-edged swords to some extent and whatever
decisions are taken not all will be content. It is generally recognised,
for instance, that pension contributions are not enough to provide for
future generations, but reform will generally mean that what our descendants
stand to gain we will lose.
Again that too is an oversimplification and countries can choose to
ignore pension reform at their own peril because in many instances failing
to take courageous decisions now will only mean facing a worse situation
some decades down the line.
The trick will be to find solutions that will be acceptable to both
present and future generations now, not an easy task. What is called
for, however, is a change of mentality.
Some forces of conservatism, including the unions, have been too defensive
and their messages have shown an unwillingness to take proactive stances.
Simple semiotic observation of media statements over recent months will
reveal a chasm between those forces that speak about defending the status
quo, and those that work for change.
The increasingly global reality necessitates innovative thought, flexibility,
speed, decentralisation, enthusiasm for IT, high-tech solutions and
mobility. The new business structures best suited for the globalised
situation must be able to respond to new situations quickly, to contract
and expand almost at will, and to change their abilities
or product over a short period of time.
The new structures must look very different from some of our government
departments and agencies, which conger up ideas of lazy fat cats.
The news of imminent restructuring at PBS must be welcomed. Certainly
not because many employees are going to find themselves without work,
but because the national broadcaster will be put on a stronger footing.
There is no space for lumbering felines any more. Anybody that works
for HSBC, for example, will tell you how, since their new bosses took
over, their work life rotates around incentives, targets, deadlines
that have even made employees consider performing under their full potential
so as not to be given even more difficult targets.
While the government has impressed with its willingness to face up to
challenges and changing circumstances, it should never do so, however,
without losing touch of the social implications. Malta needs to offer
retraining possibilities for those employees that work in overstaffed
companies and government departments to move them into growth employment
areas such as technical engineering or the agro-business.
At the same time, and this must be stated strongly, it is socially unjust
for most of the public to be paying tax from their hard earned income,
to see the fruit of their labour being farmed out to overpaid, under-performing,
managers and clerks who take work breaks, between their lunch, tea,
smoke and errand breaks.
Pension reform will be a sine qua non for the future sustainability
of our finances, both public and private. We all have to accept that
our NI contributions will not be enough to cover the pension payments
of the future. The unions and others resisting change must show that
they are willing to come up with suggestions to provide for those that
will come after us. In other countries reform is being pushed through,
so examples of possible models are there to be examined and, possibly,
In a sense we have no choice. Sacrifices must be made, but there is
no reason and indeed, there would be much to gain for the unions, if
they take a leading role in proposing a pension system that is, if a
bitter pill to swallow today, a guarantee that future generations are
to enjoy a more secure future.