A new Chamber for a new, and challenging,
Chamber of Commerce and Enterprise President Reginald Fava addresses
the Chambers recent 155th Annual General Meeting. Following are
extracts from his speech, in which he gives commerces insight
into issues such as EU membership, the Malta Business Bureau, the challenges
and opportunities for small businesses, and the state of public finances
European Union Membership
I am, naturally, referring to Maltas entry into the European Union.
Allow me to take you back to the beginning of the year when we conducted
an important survey to which we received a response rate in excess of
61 per cent of members. You will, no doubt, remember that ninety one
per cent of respondents expressed themselves in favour of the conditions
secured by the Maltese negotiators thereby giving their approval to
Council to support Maltas EU accession. Of course, the Malta Chamber
of Commerce and Enterprise had been in favour of EU membership for the
past three decades but this was always "subject to the right conditions"
which our country deserved. This stand was consistent throughout Maltas
lengthy path towards the European Union and emerged from a number of
studies commissioned by the Chamber, some of which it researched itself.
The final word as to whether the desired conditions had been achieved
or otherwise was down to the grassroots and today, I would like to thank
you for the response and support you gave us.
Further to this crucial survey, we organised a high-level conference
at the Mediterranean Conference Centre where we explained our position
clearly before the entire nation. If you happened to be amongst the
700 present, or perhaps you followed the live broadcast on State television,
you would recall that, on the day, we were addressed by the Prime Minister,
the Leader of the Opposition and the European Commissioner responsible
for Enlargement, Gunther Verheugen.
In terms of EU membership, the Chamber did not cease its efforts at
the result of the referendum or the subsequent general election. On
the contrary, with the Prime Ministers signing of the Accession
Treaty in Athens, we embarked on a bold restructuring process aimed
at the strengthening and re-dimensioning of our resources in this regard.
This should lead to ensuring that the Chamber shall continue to serve
as the countrys primary source of guidance and information for
the commercial community enabling the latters progress towards
prosperity within its new commercial environment so that it can truly
be referred to as "the motor of the economy".
Malta Business Bureau
I augur that the efforts we spent in this regard throughout the year
would soon start to bear fruit. We endeavoured towards the aim of widening
the Malta Business Bureaus representation so that it would come
to encompass all private-sector organisations. Besides, the role of
the Bureau has now been redimensioned and shall now become more specialised.
In fact, the updated role of the Bureau shall primarily involve detailed
research into the EU programmes aimed at private sector companies and
the specific criteria and conditions for participation. Maltas
success from EU membership is strongly dependent on whether our members
are fully aware about the mechanisms of each programme as well as on
effective representation from our part.
We have begun a process to strengthen the Bureaus technical and
administrative capacity with a view to lead the way in the provision
of this type of professional services. We have concluded an agreement
which guarantees the services of Dr. Leonard Mizzi as Director General
for the coming five-year period. During the summer months, we prepared
a detailed business plan on the short-term operations of the Malta Business
Bureau. This plan allows for the employment of two technical officials
to support the Director General in Brussels and another two executives
to run the local office. Some of these new employees have, in fact,
been employed last week after the conclusion of a selection process.
You would, undoubtedly, acknowledge that this new structure required
additional physical space in order to operate. Furthermore, you appreciated,
because you expressed this at the Extraordinary General Meeting held
last July, that it makes more economic sense to invest in our own property
in Brussels rather than continuing with a renting policy.
As previously announced, we concluded the purchase of our new premises
in Brussels after a detailed, albeit, brief process of selection for
a building which was fitting for our profile and needs. The contract
of sale was signed in October after the Council members and senior Chamber
executives accompanied me to Brussels to see for themselves this property
in the administrative centre of Brussels.
Some minor structural works as well as repairs and interior decoration
are under way at this moment in time. The Malta Business Bureau shall
start operating from its new address early next year.
The challenges and opportunities for small businesses
As you are well aware, after last Aprils general election, the
local business community was liberated from the climate of uncertainty
which had been afflicting it for a long period of time. Now, we all
know where our destination lies, when we are to get there and under
Europe is now our territory and the Single Market is the place where,
from May onwards, we shall offer our products and services. Maltese
industry and business must count Europe as their home ground. We shall
now no longer operate in an isolated market limited to 400,000 people.
We must now consider ourselves an integral part of the Single Market
comprising 450 million consumers. Consequently, our entrepreneurs may
exploit a much larger "domestic" market. Besides, they can
take advantage of public procurement opportunities related to 25 national
governments and countless regional and local governments. Our businesses
shall be eligible for EU funds dedicated to research, development and
innovation. Meanwhile, they may also benefit from pan-European projects
aimed at the private sector in the field of education and training.
This is all to the great advantage of our sector, to our individual
and collective competitiveness position and to our nations future
The private sector is currently striving to absorb a huge amount of
information. Through the new role of the Malta Business Bureau, the
Chamber is doing its utmost to ensure that the local business community
would have orientated itself as much as possible towards the European
Union over the remaining months up to membership.
The Malta Chamber of Commerce and Enterprise is hopeful that our commercial
community will soon integrate within the European administrative set-up
and adopt an open mindset to the various opportunities that this historic
step shall bring about. I urge all our members to orientated themselves,
between now and May, towards the new programmes for which they are eligible
and seriously consider participation.
Fellow business colleagues, the challenge is right ahead of us. I urge
you to face it with vigour. Let us demonstrate to ourselves and our
European counterparts that the Maltese business community can reap huge
success within the European Single Market which shall soon be ours to
exploit. As we stressed during our last annual conference, we need not
shy away from this challenge especially if the European Union, Government,
the Opposition and the Private Sector Organisations all perform their
duties. The Malta Chamber of Commerce and Enterprise is right behind
you and I pledge its unequivocal support. I encourage you to take full
advantage of the arising opportunities so as to provide for the deserved
prosperity of our Islands which are so close to our hearts.
The Public Finances Situation
The Malta Chamber of Commerce and Enterprise keeps its fingers on the
countrys economic pulse. It contributes actively to the social
dialogue process which takes place within the Malta Council for Economic
and Social Development (MCESD) between Government and representatives
of employers and employees. Within this forum, as well as in our general
representations, we strive to render our economy ever more competitive
enabling it to develop in prosperity. This stand is taken on our realistic
assumption that our members cannot progress unless the country is doing
We have, for many years, been making strong representations on the state
of public finances. The fiscal deficit concerns us deeply because of
the potential macroeconomic consequences it may exert on taxation, the
interest rates, inflation, national reserves, currency stability and
other factors. These, in turn, affect national competitiveness, consumption
patterns and the momentum of commercial activity.
The Chamber contributed actively in the discussions that took place
both before and after the Budget. During these discussions, we held
strongly to our convictions that the country cannot afford to sustain
a heavier tax burden. The fiscal deficit cannot be eliminated by increasing
taxation but through economic expansion and the curbing of public expenditure.
Expansion in the real economy does not take place unless the right incentives
are made available for the stimulation of investment and employment
creation. Prior to the Budget, we suggested to Government, both publicly
and privately, to control public expenditure whilst reducing the tax
burden on workers and entrepreneurs. However, although our suggestion
was listened to, it was not taken on board. The Chamber shall, therefore,
continue with its representations aimed at economic consolidation and
As you are well aware, for the first time this year, the private sector
Constituted Bodies gave their preliminary reactions to the Budget in
a joint press conference which took place here at The Exchange on Budget
day. This experiment was highly successful, particularly because it
was very well attended by the press who were eager to discover how we
were going to react. Our comments were broadcast widely and in a very
comprehensive manner indeed. We augur that this experience will continue,
and that future events will also incorporate the Unions. In that manner,
our views would cover a much wider spectrum of civil society and we
would be contributing more actively towards the realisation of the social
pact for the ultimate benefit of the country and the entire Maltese
At this point, allow me to make a brief reference to the Euro and Maltas
joining of the Second Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM II). A number of
eye-brow raising statements have already been made in this regard. We
strongly believe in the merits of participating in the Economic and
Monetary Union (EMU) but are well aware of the inherent risks involved.
The latter are mainly associated with the economic discipline that the
country would have to adhere to. Therefore, we maintain that Malta should
only consider adopting the euro when it is healthy enough and suitably
positioned to satisfy the convergence criteria. In our opinion, the
country has not adequately addressed its public expenditure problems
and it would be most inopportune for Government to make any commitments
in this regard before it grasps the solutions to the countrys
Strengthening our Chamber
Our activities and efforts, this year, were not, however, solely directed
at Maltas future within the European Union and the countrys
financial challenges. Upon my election to this post, I immediately declared
my determination to introduce, with the help of my fellow Council members,
the changes that were necessary for the modernisation of the Chambers
internal rules and functioning. It was in the interest of the very Chamber
and its members that this institution remained active, forward-looking,
and prepared for all the challenges facing our nation. It is a fact
that the work-load and the overall obligations of the Chamber towards
the country have increased dramatically over the past years. This stemmed
from the fact that our commitments as members of the commercial community
have expanded. Besides, the Chamber is being consulted by Government
and other authorities on a multitude of issues with more frequent regularity.
During the past twelve-month period, we have taken the necessary steps
to ensure that we instituted all those changes which were deemed necessary.
At this point, I wish to thank the Chamber Vice-President, David G.
Curmi who was entrusted, last year, with forming and chairing a special
committee to study the Chambers Statute and effect the necessary
amendments. In this regard, the Committee consulted legal experts, the
Council, the Chamber Officers and the Trade Section Executive Committee
The primary change that was agreed to during the Extraordinary General
Meeting, held on October 30 last, was an alteration in the formal title
of the Chamber. Consequently, the senior private sector institution
shall henceforth be known as the "Malta Chamber of Commerce and
Enterprise" thereby encapsulating all forms of modern business.
I specifically mentioned the establishment of Economic Groups [as opposed
to the former Trade Sections]. These shall constitute a new and powerful
structure within our institution. In all, there shall be six Economic
Groups in all to cover every angle of commerce and enterprise on these
islands. I augur that this important development would be nurtured properly
allowing it to serve as an initial step towards greater unity and co-operation
between the private-sector organisations in this country. For example,
the Tourism and Leisure Economic Group may co-ordinate the functions
of the various local associations and bodies thereby creating a unified
voice to represent the needs of this sector and the country. Similarly,
this applies also to the manufacturing industry.
Allow me, therefore, to also thank all those members who understood
the great importance of these changes and attended the last Extraordinary
General Meeting to manifest their support towards the Chamber enabling
it to face todays realities and those of the future with valour
I am at the twilight of my term as Chamber President. During this brief
time-span I endeavoured, with the assistance of my fellow Officers and
Council members, to lead this institution well ahead. Regrettably, we
have not managed to conclude all that we had started and it was precisely
for this reason that we sought to amend our Statute to prolong the maximum
tenure of Officers and Council members. I declared that these amendments
would have no effect whatsoever on my Presidency because I genuinely
felt that it was the most honourable way to proceed.
I held strongly to my promise despite the considerable pressure I endured
to re-contest the Council elections which shall commence in a few minutes
time. I augur every success to the incoming President, Officer Group
and Council who shall lead this esteemed institution next year. We envisage
a year of intense activity during 2004 and further historical milestones
that are expected to impact on the work of our institution. Above all,
I sincerely augur that the work we have started this year, and which
I referred to amply throughout my address would be seen through in the
interest of the nation and the commercial community.
Fellow members, the road ahead is not devoid of some obstacles we must
face. But, nevertheless, I remain ever confident because I know that
the Malta Chamber of Commerce and Enterprise is now already geared for
the future. Above all, I am positive because I believe in the prowess
of the local business community and the Maltese population. The challenges
ahead are massive but if we face them with good will, courage and our
entrepreneurial spirit I am more than optimistic that we will make a
successful reality from our countrys integration with the European
Union. At the same time, I strongly believe that the other Member States
will also gain from our accession to the Union. Likewise, our Mediterranean
neighbours will also benefit for our momentous step because, in our
country they shall find an open door to the European Single Market.