Editorial | Labour members must strike the balance between change and continuity

The new prime minister has a tall order on his hands. While delivering change in those aspects that have tarnished the country, he must also steady the economy by keeping it moving in the same direction


Malta will find out who its next prime minister will be on Saturday night. The decision will be taken by 17,500 members of the Labour Party.

It is an important decision because the winner between Chris Fearne and Robert Abela will not only become leader of the party but also prime minister at a critical juncture for the country.

The decision will not be taken in a serene environment. The circumstances that have prompted the leadership race are anything but normal.

Serious revelations in ongoing court cases linked to the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia have rocked the country, not least because the outgoing prime minister’s chief of staff has been implicated by suspects.

The damning accusations and the Prime Minister’s reluctance to step down immediately have hit Malta’s international reputation hard. Political uncertainty has jammed the economy.

This self-inflicted slowdown may be temporary until the air clears but only time will tell whether this is the case.

To change this around will require more than the election of a new prime minister on Saturday.

A new prime minister is only the start of a process that is required to start healing this nation’s wounds.

Concrete action is needed to start addressing rule of law and good governance failings with vigour and commitment. This will send the right messages domestically and overseas that Malta wants to change its ways.

Addressing these failings is also important for businesses and the economy. Investment requires certainty and part of this is the assurance that the justice system works.

In this aspect, continuity is not an option. There have to be changes that instil trust and anybody who is elected prime minister has to understand the gravity of the situation and act to implement changes.

Malta must show Brussels that it means business. This is not a question of acceding to the demands of big brother but a question of restoring the country’s reputation to get out of the state of vulnerability the country has been driven to.

But while change in these aspects is a priority, the economy also requires continuity with policies that have made the current miracle possible.

A new prime minister must not ditch the government’s mantra of introducing social and fiscal policies that encourage people to work. The can-do attitude that helps foster enterprise and which provided a welcome shift after 2013 must not be abandoned.

The innovative approach targeting new economic niches must be pursued even if success is not always guaranteed.

Public investment in infrastructure must be maintained as should the drive to modernise this country.

Tweaks may be needed to reduce the dependence on the construction industry but it must not be brought to an abject halt by policies that could stifle regeneration and innovation.

More must be done to attract new banks to the island that can cater for businesses deemed to be high risk by traditional retail banks. The aviation, gaming and the medical cannabis sectors have been stunted by banks that are reluctant to support their growth.

Furthermore, the diligent approach towards managing public finances that has delivered fiscal surpluses and a sustained reduction in the debt-to-GDP ratio must be maintained.

While introducing social measures that weigh up those on the lower rungs of society, care must be taken not to go on an unsustainable spending spree.

The new prime minister has a tall order on his hands. While delivering change in those aspects that have tarnished the country, he must also steady the economy by keeping it moving in the same direction.

This requires someone who is decisive, experienced and can stay the course.

All this should be considered by Labour members when they cast their vote on Saturday.

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