23 June 2004

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Listen more, talk less, act faster

The admission made last year by then Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami that for too long a time government was simply patching things up exposed a deep-rooted malaise that has characterised this country’s post-colonial development.
For decades we have exported the Islands’ image as a tourist haven while making sure that large swathes of virgin land were unnecessarily gobbled up to build larger-than-life houses. We encouraged industrial development and trade but made certain that port monopolies remained untouched. While ministers clamoured on the better quality of life citing higher car sales, roads were left to deteriorate and public transport neglected.
This country has had it going good for decades but now the chickens have come home to roost. Patching up may have been enough to ensure the country prospered in the short-term but what we are witnessing today is a roll-back of the good life people had become accustomed to. It is a hard reality to swallow, but bitter pills are many times the most needed.
Coming out of the rut is not going to be easy. Government needs to listen more, talk less and act faster. And to do this government has to have a single motivating vision of where it wants this country to be in 10 to 15 years’ time.
Being an EU member state may be an advantage in this exercise but it’s going to require a change in the way solutions are conjured up by our politicians. Patching up is anathema to what this country requires to be able to apply for the much-awaited funds from the EU.
Government needs to have a coherent, concise vision and a holistic approach to addressing problems. If the Malta Tourism Authority is to target the cultural segment of tourism, it needs to ensure that our historical sites are up to scratch, with proper visiting centres and approach roads.
With Malta being a relatively safe island blessed with moderate winter weather, the MTA might decide to market the island as a peaceful retreat for tourists within the older age brackets. To do so, accessibility of pavements, public transport and other amenities must be improved. Country walks have to be developed and to do so rampant illegal hunting and construction activities must be controlled.
If diving tourism is to be encouraged, making good use of the surrounding sea, the number of fish farms dotting our coastline has to be reduced and pollution control regulations need to be put in place and enforced.
On the industrial front, with Malta increasingly becoming an attractive operational base for pharmaceutical companies, government has to ensure more students take up sciences at school. It is not enough to enjoy seeing pharmaceutical companies opening shop. The human resources pool needs to be replenished to ensure that more large companies choose to invest in this island.
If the Drydocks is facing a bleak future, government can give direction by instructing management to diversify into alternative energy research. The Drydocks can start producing solar water heaters, photovoltaic cells and wind energy generators. Indeed, the whole dock area now within the zone occupied by the former Marsa Shipbuilding could be transformed into an alternative energy research park.
Urban environments need to be improved for the Islands’ residents and visitors alike. Individual localities need to increase and improve the number of open spaces for leisure activities. It will also help to green up the drab residential environments.
The list is a long one indeed. Finances may be a problem but with a single vision that seeks to motivate the private sector to enter into partnership with government, funds can be tapped from the EU.
That is what Portugal, Greece and Ireland have done before us. That is what poorer regions within the bigger countries have done. Malta can follow suit and the Island’s small size can, for once, serve as an advantage.
Acting holistically is the name of the game and government had better take the lead lest the current prime minister be led to admit in 10 years’ time that all the country did was patch up in its first years of EU membership.

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