It has been 41 years since this country took its destiny into its own hands. It has not been an easy journey.
The first 10 years of independence saw a painful transition from an island colony whose economic prosperity was intrinsically linked to the British military establishment to a country that attracted foreign direct investment and encouraged the tourism industry to flourish.
They were exciting years characterised by the pragmatism of Borg Olivier that eventually made way to a more revolutionary Mintoffian regime that cut all military ties with Britain and created a welfare system that enabled the middle class to start growing.
At a relatively young age in this country’s development, during the eighties, Malta was caught up in a quasi civil war. They were the lost years where the very tenants of democracy were being questioned and challenged.
Too much energy and effort were wasted in political fighting, the scars of which have not yet healed.
With the economy unleashed from the constraints of central management, the nineties witnessed a boom that raised the standard of living across the board.
After that, this country passed through a 10 year battle of ideas over European Union membership, an issue that raised the political fever to new heights.
Today, four decades after independence this country is part of an economic and social bloc that carries weight on the world stage.
We are still a relatively young country but change is knocking at the door once again. Malta is at a crossroads. We have an opportunity to prosper and excel both in economic and social terms but to do so the way of life we have grown accustomed to needs to change.
EU membership has been a culture shock for many but it would be misguided for anybody to think that change wouldn’t come knocking on our doors hadn’t we joined the EU. Globalisation is a reality that we face on a daily basis.
Indeed, globalisation posits the single most important challenge for the next decade.
International economic threats created by developing second world countries, a persistent deficit problem and change are creating fear. There is nothing new in this. Fear is a natural side effect of change.
But fear needs to be harnessed and to do so the country requires politicians with a vision.
People need to be inspired. They need to have a goal to look forward to. Unfortunately, the country is facing a leadership problem.
The Nationalist Party, after years in government has lost steam. Ministers are not performing well and the very few who are, can be counted on one hand. The Prime Minister has too much on his plate, focussing his energy on the nitty gritty and missing out on the big picture.
His own party seems to have lost a good part of its identity after Malta’s EU membership and is desperately trying to piece back the different interests that Fenech Adami managed to keep together.
The party’s foray into morally charged issues like abortion and in-vitro fertilisation seem to suggest a return to a more conservative frame of mind that shuns secularisation.
On the other hand the Labour Party is still in search of a vision. The documents that have been produced so far do not offer inspiration for a brighter future. They are vague instruments, telling us what we already know and suggesting a very slow process of change, which creates doubts as to how different it is from the Nationalist Party.
At 41, Malta is facing a crisis of leadership. It is not enough for politicians to talk and act according to what opinion polls are saying. Listening to what people have to say and understanding public concerns and aspirations is important but visionary politicians do much more than that.
They have an idea of how they wish society to change over a number of years and engage in a discourse to convince people to rally around that idea. Visionary politicians offer inspiration, hope and courage. Unfortunately, these qualities are not to be found in the current crop of leaders.
Malta deserves better as it faces the stormy waters ahead.