02 March 2005

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A way forward
The call for applications to be issued today by the Malta Communications Authority for three 3G frequencies represents another milestone in this country’s technological development.
Indeed, 3G technology is good news for consumers and business alike because it offers the ultimate in terms of high speed data transfer that makes the mobile office all the more possible.
It also puts Malta on par with the more developed countries. Our information superhighway seems to be miles ahead of our physical transport highways. And yet that is not enough.
For once Malta’s small size militates in its favour. A medium-to-long term vision to turn this island into a centre for technological excellence is required. Government, through the ministry for IT, has started the ball rolling and it is thanks to strategic decisions and set targets that today mobile telephony, internet and computer education are part and parcel of the young generation’s genetic make-up.
But much more needs to be done, we need to go beyond mere consumer exposure to modern technology.
Through innovation, research and development, sectors such as IT, the pharmaceutical industry and alternative energy can become key growth areas in this country’s economy. They are sectors that will provide tomorrow’s jobs. What the textile factories were for the seventies and eighties, IT, medicine and the energy can be for the new millennium.
To attract foreign and domestic investment to these areas, Government must have a holistic vision of Malta as an island of excellence in all senses. That vision then needs to translate itself into meaningful incentives for industry. The regulatory framework must not be cumbersome, bureaucracy needs to be streamlined and Government-induced costs have to be pushed down. The country must also pursue a strategy of encouraging start-ups by investing heavily and consistently in a venture capital fund.
At the same time, continuous investment in human resources is necessary. Without compromising the independence of the educational system, the authorities must ensure that it is more attuned to the real world. Exposure to science subjects has to begin from a young age lest we fall behind in the innovation race. Too many children are turning their backs on science subjects because of the archaic way they are taught.
University has to become a hot bed of ideas rather than the cemetery it is now. A welcome move in the late nineties was the creation of the Malta College for Arts, Science and Technology. This college’s flexible attitude has shown us how an educational institution can be attuned to the needs of industry without compromising its primary educational role. University needs to emulate the example set by MCAST.
Innovation is Malta’s only way forward. Strategically placed in the midst of a region that has great potential for growth, Malta can draw from the European pool of expertise and present itself as a model for the developing North African and middle eastern states.
The future can be bright, but it will not happen on its own.

Unacceptable comments
The comments uttered last Saturday by Minister Austin Gatt are bizarre to say the least. On another planet the media would be calling for his head, and the opposition too. He has no one to thank but a lame press and a sleepy opposition.
Minister Gatt, speaking on his party’s political station, informed a 76-year-old man who had phoned to complain about gas shortages to phone the GRTU.
The 76-year-old must have fallen into his seat. The GRTU director general did not. His reaction was expected and, as usual, was a treat for the press.
The gas shortage has been blamed on work practices, problems at EneMalta, middle-management incompetence, cold weather, union strikes in France, the GWU and the monopoly that is the gas distribution system.
The Minister’s responsibility does not appear to feature at all in the debate.
To add insult to injury, the Minister let the world know that his abode does not use gas. Therefore, the conclusion is that his understanding of the down-to-home gas issues is foggy to say the least.
This has been a public relations disaster from day one and it has been exacerbated by an abrasive minister, who should be asked to tone down and to address the crisis with some restraint.
There is more on the subject that needs to be tackled, true. The distribution of gas cylinders, or rather the possibility of purchasing gas from various outlets, should be looked into and implemented.
But then this should have thought about a long time ago. After all, this is not exactly a brand new government but one that is close to celebrating two decades in government.

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Editor: Saviour Balzan
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