The ‘money no problem’ syndrome

So Abela could not pull the strings and move away from the ‘money no problem’ mentality that Muscat’s tenure in power had generated

Robert Abela (left) could not pull the strings and move away from the ‘money no problem’ mentality that Joseph Muscat’s (right) tenure in power had generated
Robert Abela (left) could not pull the strings and move away from the ‘money no problem’ mentality that Joseph Muscat’s (right) tenure in power had generated

Robert Abela became prime minister just after the country had experienced an economic boom under Joseph Muscat. This was partially due to Malta managing to survive a global recession practically unscathed, thanks to the sound economic management of the Gonzi administration.

Under Muscat this situation generated a ‘money no problem’ mentality, although what goes on - and what was allowed to go on - was checked and monitored by Muscat and his henchman, Keith Schembri.

There followed the period of the COVID epidemic – an occurrence that practically coincided with Robert Abela taking over from Muscat. Governemnt found itself having to spend quite a lot of money to support the country when its economic drive had been slowed by the epidemic. The positive economic situation of Malta waned during the COVID years and subsequently the government should have assumed a parsimonious attitude to its money management.

Abela could not afford politically to do this as he knew the electorate would eventually ignore the impact of the COVID years and compare the ‘feel good factor’ the country would have experienced under the two prime ministers.

So Abela could not pull the strings and move away from the ‘money no problem’ mentality that Muscat’s tenure in power had generated.

This time, however, the effect on the country’s finances was drastic. Ministers continued spending – in excess of the budget – as if there is no tomorrow and it did not take long before the country’s debt exceeded €9 billion.

Now we have a situation where the finance minister cannot control government expenditure and the overall economic situation is only surviving through the use of cheap labour provided by third country nationals who seem to have invaded Malta.

In my days, when first George Bonello Du Puis and later John Dalli ran the finance ministry, no minister could spend money for which there was no budget provision, or even exceed the budget provision. Many a time, ministers had to go to the prime minister to resolve such issues with the finance ministry – not with the minister of finance personally, of course, but with the finance and treasury officials who ran a strict regimen ensuring that expenditure does not run riot.

This sort of discipline was unheard of under Muscat and it continues under Abela as well, even though Abela does not have the clout to rein in erring ministries who habitually ignore budget provisions.

The ‘money no problem’ situation that nurtured under Joseph Muscat in the particular circumstances of those years, became permanent under Robert Abela in spite of the fact that the financial situation could not allow for it.

Now – as rumours have it – the Prime Minister and his minister responsible for finance, Clyde Caruana, are not on good terms. Apart from signifying the beginning of the end of the current Labour administration, such bickering makes controlling ministers’ expenses even more difficult.

Fancy projects – like the metro and other so called ‘big environmental projects’ – seem to have been completely abandoned. Ministers prefer to carry out projects that could have an impact on their own personal election results, rather than benefitting the country in general.

Party apparatchiks that run commissions or other entities – like the Film Commission –

spend money without any restraint, ignoring any budget that was simply concocted for the sake of formality.

The ‘metro’ project has been abandoned while every day the number of cars on the road increases by 58 or thereabouts. Proposals such as the ones intended to turn the main street in Floriana and the area in front of the San Gwann parish church into garden areas permanently blossoming with flowers – while cars move through underground tunnels – remain the dreams that they have always been.

Whatever one thinks of the Joseph Muscat/Keith Schembri tandem, they controlled the pilot boat that determined the path and decisions of every official decision. They had clout over ministers. Today, ministers are not disciplined by anybody and unlimited expenditure is just an ordinary piece of cake.

Meanwhile foolish Labour supporters keep on believing that ‘money no problem’ is a permanent feature of new Labour.

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Yet another mess

The switch in the responsibility for waste collection from individual local councils to a regional level has proved to be a veritable mess.

Apart from the fact that foreigners who come to live in Malta are not told of the days when different types of waste are collected, the efficiency of the system has gone to the dogs.

When a local council was directly involved, it used to have clout over the contractors engaged by the council. In those days, most waste bags were collected by 10am. Today they stay in the sun sometimes even up to 2pm and 3pm.

I live at the end – but for one house – of my street and whenever the contracted collector missed picking up my bag, a phone call to the local council would provoke a prompt action for the job to be done. Today no such thing is possible.

I am told that bags in another locality that are not visible because of parked cars are often left where they had been placed and not picked up.

The setting up of local councils was intended to decentralise the administration of processes that affect directly the citizen at a local level. The move back to collection of waste organised at a ‘regional level’ undermines the principle of subsidiarity – the principle that political power should be exercised by the smallest or least central unit of government possible. The result is that the community is not being served as efficiently as it was before.

Today uncollected waste bags can be seen in our streets and roads all the time of the day. Tourist areas look absolutely shabby because of this. The tourist authorities spend their time dishing out a lot of money on entertainment events... but they do not seem to have been alerted to what has happened in the waste collecting front.

The responsibility for waste collecting should be reverted to local councils immediately. Experience has shown it is the better system.