15 October 2003

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Toon 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, copied.
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.

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