The temptation of any political party suffering a crushing defeat like the Nationalist Party did last Saturday would be to postpone any reforms that might have a negative impact on the electorate until after the next general election.
It would be a big mistake if government’s knee jerk reaction led it to abandon some of the key reforms it started.
The economy needs to grow much more than it did last year to ensure a decent standard of living for all Maltese. To be able to do so the country’s competitiveness needs to be restored, excessive bureaucracy has to be quashed, taxes have to go down, government expenditure needs to be trimmed, an industrial policy implemented and longstanding reforms in pensions, health and our ports need to be implemented to the full.
In essence the country needs to have a long term vision of where it intends going.
Lawrence Gonzi’s government has started to tackle some of these issues but it has not done enough.
The biggest defect remains the incoherent way reforms and changes are being implemented with no underlying common vision that inspires people.
Increasingly, people across the board are feeling a sense of dejection, with a central administration deciding things of its own accord without addressing concerns. It is a fact of life that over the last three years people have experienced a real dip in their quality of life. It is to be expected at a time of change but with no final destination in sight, asking people to make sacrifices is akin to asking a three-year-old child to sit down indefinitely at the dinner table.
It is this defect Lawrence Gonzi and the Nationalist Party have to address.
On Sunday the Prime Minister reiterated that his government would not waiver in the face of a dismal mid-term local election result. He expressed confidence that the reforms would eventually lead to better times for all and the people would eventually come to realise what the party is trying to achieve.
The problem is that Gonzi’s confidence is not shared by the people. Increasingly, the electorate is not trusting government in all it does. The Qui-Si-Sana and recycling plant controversies in Sliema and Marsaskala respectively are symptomatic of a bigger problem; credibility.
Government lacks the credibility to face residents in these areas and convince them of its plans. People do not trust government would be doing a good job and they feel that what is being proposed will lower their quality of life.
Trust is a major issue. Its erosion may be the result of 18 years in power and the people’s yearning for a change in administration. But it is also partially self-inflicted by the Nationalist government.
It is worrying to hear that the impending port reform might lead to higher costs? It is incomprehensible how after 10 years of studies the proposed pension reform fails to tackle the issue of private pensions? It is unthinkable to suggest that when Mater Dei opens its doors on 1 July 2007 it will not be taking in patients? Why hasn’t a new industrial policy been drafted despite repeated insistence from the Federation of Industry?
The reforms to modernise this country need to continue but they have to be within a framework that gives people hope that they will lead to a better life.
Lawrence Gonzi has tackled some hot potatoes head on such as reforms at the drydocks, Air Malta and Interprint. He has also committed mistakes in the way reforms were implemented at PBS and Sea Malta, which saw the privatisation process being abandoned to the exclusive benefit of an Italian company and the GWU bungle the whole issue.
Enemalta remains an enigma and the various authorities created in the nineties seem to fall outside the remit of government policy making.
Bureaucracy for enterprise remains problematic and EU regulations on funding for industry are being interpreted to the letter giving the impression that we are holier than the Pope.
The Nationalist Party needs to undergo some serious soul searching. After obtaining EU membership for the country, the PN seems to have lost its scope. It has no vision and many times seems to be acting in a rudderless fashion. Time may be running out but finding a vision and explaining it to the people is of utmost importance. It is the country more than the party that needs to know where it is heading.