22 October 2003

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Employing 8,000 civil servants before 1987 election was a mistake – Attard Montalto

By Kurt Sansone
The employment of 8,000 workers with the civil service on the eve of the 1987 election by the then Labour administration has long been blamed as one of the major contributors to the exorbitant increase in government expenditure by subsequent Nationalist administrations.
The Labour Party has never acknowledged its mistake, until last Monday, when MP John Attard Montalto admitted that the employment of 8,000 people was a mistake and a burden on public funds. It was the first public admittance by a top Labour exponent that the decision taken back then was wrong.
The mass employment was a brainchild of then prime minister Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici, who, in a bid to come to terms with massive unemployment and plummeting popularity, bloated the civil service with 8,000 additional employees on the eve of the all-important 1987 election.
Dr Attard Montalto was speaking on TVM programme Reporter that dealt with the precarious state of the economy and government’s finances.
The Labour former minister was sitting along side parliamentary secretary Edwin Vassallo and both were receiving flack from Chamber of Commerce President Reginald Fava.
In no uncertain terms Mr Fava said that the onus was on politicians to reach consensus on important issues such as curbing tax evasion and halting abuse of social services. Mr Fava said that instead of making people redundant and raising taxes, government should fight tax evasion and encourage a mentality that nothing came for free. Citing as an example the health sector, Mr Fava said that those who could afford should pay at least a nominal fee for public health services. The Chamber of Commerce president added that unless both sides of the political divide did not find common ground the country would be heading straight into a brick wall.
It was at this point that Dr Attard Montalto admitted the Labour government’s mass employment mistake and added that it was further compounded by subsequent Nationalist administrations that employed more people with the civil service for political convenience.
The former minister for industry then floated the idea of a national government and said that if the current administration was serious about reaching consensus on major issues it should respect the Opposition and give due weight to its criticism.
Parliamentary Secretary Edwin Vassallo insisted that the country was entering into a new phase of co-operation. He added that decisions were now being taken to tackle major financial black holes.
However, the last word was for Dr Attard Montalto. In a passing comment toward the end of the programme the Labour MP sought to share the onus of the blame with business people and urged Mr Fava to also address his fellow businessmen on issues such as tax evasion.
kurt@maltamag.com



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