The War of the Worlds

This is anathema to inculcate a thriving economy. The solution of working at home to minimise human interaction is a smart move but business suffers as efficiency and cash flow drops

War of the Worlds (2005)
War of the Worlds (2005)

Reading through the weekend press, critics waxed lyrical on the frantic emptying of shelves of supermarkets by shoppers buying essential foods and face masks.

The hoarding is caused by fears about any potential scarcity of supplies following the intensive coronavirus scare killing thousands.

We have over 38 infected persons (mostly imported). Naturally party apologists in their entirety feel angry and betrayed saying such scaremongering was the menace of a hidden hand aimed to sabotage the nation’s well being.

This angst comes four months weeks since the collective resignation on 26th November of two senior ministers and a chief of staff. Joseph Muscat resigned voluntary on 12 th January and his replacement - Dr Robert Abela, a young lawyer with limited cabinet experience immediately calmed down protests with a smile; he started to prune the garden (a light touch was administered but this gave hope that we turned the corner and the sins of corruption will be atoned).

His stars were not favourable following the sudden collapse of a house next to a building site. This tragedy sent a mother of two to her untimely death.  Her demise  was deeply felt by the public to be avoidable given that the authorities had previously legislated to ensure safety during excavation in building sites.

All the while, the Opposition was baying for justice and pleaded in parliament against the selling of three hospitals to Vitals Health Care and a secret pact signed with the Azeri state for Electrogas (the selection board in both tenders was headed by a partner from Nexia BT).

While the oil price tumbled to $30, Malta did not benefit, since the Electrogas deal had a fixed price supplying electricity spanning 18 years.

Millions were squandered following the bankruptcy of Vitals group. The private-public-partnership was paid €240m in the past four years pursuant to a 30 year contract to rehabilitate and run three major hospitals.

Cosmetic embellishments were carried out, while the Opposition has taken three ministers to court to account for the millions so squandered. The coup de grace was four Panama companies commissioned in 2014 from Nexia BT ( the managing partner previously enjoyed patronage from the justice ministry).

This was a potent scoop posted in a blog by a journalist - she was slain in a car bomb in 2017. Daphne Caruana Galizia revealed two of these Panama structures belong to the chief of staff and Dr Mizzi, then health minister.

This long introduction needs to be read in the light of Malta running an economy which prior to the onset of the pandemic was the envy of all EU states. A multi-million euro property market has been built over the past seven years and Malta has never witnessed such grandiose projects.

Public land worth millions was granted at fire-sale prices to encourage promotion of upmarket tourism. Such affluence came with a wanton greed for erecting of soulless concrete structures that sent the average rents payable-sky high. Money was no problem — yet the effect of increased demand resulted in acute shortage of workers which was solved by recruiting migrants.

In fact, thanks to Muscat ‘s administration, the economy has turned the tables with a feel good factor that saw the nation throwing caution to the wind. The slogan was ‘Aqwa Zmien”.

Let us celebrate our fortune while migrants clean our streets and serve us in hotels and restaurants. An artificial sense of promiscuous living made us believe that the party will never stop- but it did with the discovery last December of a lethal virus in Hubei China. So one may ask what is so wrong now in the isle of milk and honey? Perhaps history repeats itself and human nature tends to score its own auto goals. The Bible story of the seven years of bounty to be followed by another seven years of famine rings familiar.

In context, I found myself reading the seminal yet controversial book The War of the Worlds, by HG.Wells, which sublimely sets a parallel of the fear and devastation suffered by unprecedented  Martian attacks. The novel written between 1895 and 1897, is a narration about a conflict between mankind and an extraterrestrial race.

This fiction gave me a shocking reminder that the world is being shaken to its knees by an unstoppable pandemic (Covid-19) for which as yet no vaccine exits. It has killed thousands while infection grows exponentially in every corner of the globe.

This shocking narrative by H.G.Wells is a good pointer to elucidate the paradox that Malta has just experienced. The novel also drew upon a common fear which had emerged in the years approaching the turn of the century, known at the time “fin de siecle “ or ‘end of the age’, which in our situation one can equate to the apocalypse of the unstoppable virus.

It is a stark reminder that the last pandemic which started in 1918, namely Asian flu, Swine flu, SARS and Ebola (among others) killed over 50 million worldwide.

Notice how our streets are bare as people fear physical contact and stay indoors. A 14-day quarantine mandated for all incoming passengers by air or sea is enforced by police knocking on doors and charging a heavy sum for those caught breaking the seclusion period.

We face a dichotomy in that while Muscat’s seven-year regime enriched all facets of the population (with particular emphasis to soldiers of steel ) yet this legacy was rated by the Opposition as corrupt - the fruits of ill-gotten gains.

State propaganda helped create a false sense of a virtuous administration under which the going was good and the island is now rich-in surplus.

In hindsight, we observe how private vices result in public benefits like expanded industry, three million tourists with full employment to boot. Bank credit is cheap and mortgages are affordable to the lower income earners.

Cheap shopping trips to Dubai for the entire family became popular while many can sport a second imported car even though the cost of a garage has escalated and is beyond the means of many households.

This is a paradise state, where society flourished in many ways, yet on closer scrutiny it transpires that no trade/project was pure as the driven snow. The Opposition party (itself in disarray) regularly preached to its faithful, pointing incessantly to moral corruptness. Such vices served an indispensable role in the economy during the Muscat golden regime gained by stimulating trade, industry and upward economic improvement i.e., public benefit.

Today, we face a drastic change in mentality that drives thousands of white collar workers to telework at home so as to avoid all physical contact (except for procurement of medicines and essential food). In less than a month, this pandemic has devastated the domestic economy. All schools, university, hotels, restaurants, gyms, cinemas, bars and places of worship are shut as if the Martians have landed and citizens  fear for their life.

This is anathema to inculcate a thriving economy. The solution of working at home to minimise human interaction is a smart move but business suffers as efficiency and cash flow drops.

International business - so crucial to an island economy - is currently on the rocks. Layoffs and redundancies in the retail, manufacture, financial services and hospitality sector are piling up and the Chamber for SME’s pleads with government to dig deeper in its pockets.

A mini budget helps to assist its members by subsidising salaries and reducing taxes. Sadly, the only way to kill the Martians is to produce an effective vaccine.

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