30 August 2006

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Business Today

Lazing on a sunny afternoon

Spectators wonder in glee: should political opportunities for a new party glow richer in the midst of the waning sun?

In a mystifying way elite columnist Lino Spiteri has penned his thoughts (The Sunday Times, 27 August) concerning the present stalemate in local politics focussing on the pivotal stance of a third party surfacing out of the wilderness to balance the sharp duopoly of the existing political divide.
In his effervescent manner he waxed lyrical about the timing of the formation of such a hypothetical rising of the Phoenix from the ashes. Wisely leaning to an allegory of heavy grapes waiting to be harvested and pressed for fermentation he paves the mood for a lazy sunny afternoon. Naturally the linkage of the harvesting process or the “Vendemia” may have cracked the secret code for the potential date when this event may materialise.
As a poet and a novelist of calibre what is mightier than his pen is his fertile imagination as he lures readers towards a mirage of events that may be totally ephemeral and unlinked with reality.
Undoubtedly his silver hairs will buy a good opinion amongst seasoned political observers who will attest that there is always a rich vein of truth in his logic. Albeit the web he spins is made of threadbare fabric. Is there a mysterious move in the undergrowth of floating voters towards christening such an ugly duckling which has so far always eluded the attention of political observers?
For sure it never escaped the crushing might of the omnipresent party apparatchiks. Can this be a culture shock that needs to be massaged and assuaged by the iterant voter.
As a novelist Lino weaves ceaselessly using fine silver and gold thread to spin a scenario full of wondrous solutions to our perceived political stalemate. Will the grape shrivel under the sinister heat of the midsummer sun? Will it survive the onslaught of heavy pruning by over jealous party cronies who are ever so careful to nib any side growth in the bud?
Can the emergence of a Green party be the kick start for a New Union movement which follows the proverbial ‘third way’? Can the turbulence and disgruntlement prevalent in the Marsaskala and Sliema constituencies give birth to a pocket Hercules? Drilling into the cause of persistent unpopularity of the parties in these towns can reveal wonders. It seems that no amount of trumpeting will bring the Walls of a rebellious Jericho down, no matter how many times the army of party cronies circle. Spectators wonder in glee: should political opportunities for a new party glow richer in the midst of the waning sun? One never knows how the mysterious mood of recalcitrant voters morphs along the coming months while the sun shines incessantly over the ripening vines. Political luminaries warn us that no amount of sun block can rid us completely of its ravaging rays. Without appearing to mimic the master himself I dare say that Lino goes as far as conjuring the scene when a so called green wedge can finely balance the razor sharp political differences. Any prognosis surfacing out of the finest tea leaves may foretell a hanged parliament in the next election.
Can this wedge become the “key stone” of the falling political edifice that may hold it together, alleviating future generations of alleged abuse of power and arrogance that is associated with a “Red” or “Blue” divide. Again all this may be very surreal and the novelist yields in to a reality check to bring us down to our political senses when he exclaims that it is all a midsummer’s dream and nothing may come out of it once the languor of summer is over. It is best compared with the philosophy of Descartes who amongst other things doubts whether our senses are deceiving us .The same happens when wine flows lovingly through our heads letting our imagination run riot.
Sensibly the mascot and leader of the Greens is wagering all his resources on an honourable outcome but then fortune is blind and the Girgentina grapes may occasionally turn sour.
Does one hope for a “greener” support in the sister island. Here one can enjoy a better harvest of “Girgentina” as this grows abundant, saved from the ravishes of the north westerly winds that plague the larger island. Will this district give birth to a new party or at least sustain the chances of one soldiering member of parliament representing the greener fingers of the political divide? Who knows?
It did not happen in the past yet speculation is rife. Pragmatists chew hard facts and they tend to quash all hopes. Party machinery of the red and blue variety is well served by abundant use of spin, mirrors and smoke. This formidable weaponry is well-honed and tested. Who can argue that the use of a 178 page Pre-Budget document is not a subtle tool to calm fears and reassure voters that the worst is over and the days of belt loosening is nigh.
Whether we talk of luscious red Shiraz or pale golden Girgentina grapes they all can be mixed and blended into a palatable brew that will sate the thirst of disgruntled citizens in the circus of electioneering frenzy.
Regrettably memories run short and this tends to obstruct the growth of any grass shoots that may sooth past pains suffered by fickle voters. A popular placebo cure is to lower the tax bands. But to do so if we want to reduce our taxes and trim our deficit while joining Euro then something has to give. Placebo tablets were prescribed to the gullible patient in the 80s and the 90s but the angst persists. The tempting cure will be to trim our social services which have grown like a wild ivy, sucking up the walls of our beleaguered treasury. But there is no political consensus for this option. A more pragmatic approach will be to control recurrent government expenditure such as overlapping of duties in ministries competing for scare resources and more productivity from departments that should lead to tangible savings in capital projects.
Could we be spared the agonies of another Mater Die or Cirkewwa Port saga? Perhaps a quick and smart cabinet reshuffle may do the trick as it will galvanise wary spectators that the string of red cards and auto goals is vanquished. A more accountable and cost effective cabinet will be de rigueur coupled with review of permanent secretaries responsibilities. These must achieve better targets for 2007/8. It is a worn out cliché that bureaucracy in Malta is expensive. Trimming the hedges can only reveal more undergrowth that needs deeper uprooting. It goes without saying that tough decisions were postponed during the Fenech Adami legislation when government was careful not to alienate the electorate in the run-up to the EU referendum. But now that we are in, vast economies can be reaped if we manage to simplify the tax code and discourage participation in the black economy.
The sweetest wine can only be gratified by the electorate if and when the unemployment situation improves. The economy is not so stupid after all. Encouraging people to reconnect with the labour market would provide a relatively economic benign way of increasing employment prospects without necessary stoking inflation by granting of cash subsidies. Tackling the social problems that beset the dole queue will go a long way to quench their thirst for the good life. Nothing works like a feel good factor once the political harvest is plentiful as girls thread over the luscious grapes with their bare feet releasing its gold.
Whether the gods wish us to nurture a new political grouping or not is not certain. Critics point out that nothing seems to defy the embedded two-party hegemony. The die is cast, in tempered steel. Yet, strange omens are looming over the horizon while the beleaguered voter only asks to be left alone to enjoy his tipple wantonly lazing on a sunny afternoon.

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