Policy schizophrenia

Instead of telling it how it is in a frank manner, they prefer to appear contradictory and schizophrenic!

Finance minister Clyde Caruana
Finance minister Clyde Caruana

Schizophrenia, in this case, refers to a state characterised by contradictory or conflicting attitudes, behaviour, or qualities.

I do not think that anything better describes the comparison between the official budget speech delivered by the Minister of Finance Clyde Caruana a few weeks ago, and the speech delivered in parliament by the same Minister of Finance two weeks or so later, during the debate on the vote for his ministry.

Clyde Caruana was reported in The Times as saying - in the more recent speech - that ‘MPs should be asking how they could grow (an incorrect translation of the Maltese ‘inkabbru’) an economy that did not need more people and build industries that were capital intensive, rather than labour-intensive.’

Then he summed up all the valid criticism that many observers and the Opposition have been repeating: ‘If Malta picks the road of industries that grow (again?!) the economy well but keep needing many people to operate, then the country will produce more but property prices will explode even further and people will be completely priced out of the market’.

Surely this is the whole point of Malta needing a new economic model, an idea with which Silvio Schembri – the Minister for the Economy, Investment and Small Businesses – openly disagrees with.

Schembri thinks that we are doing fine and should continue on the economic road that Malta has adopted since Joseph Muscat’s first electoral victory. He insists that we do not need to search for a new economic model.

The contradictory and conflicting stance is certainly evident when comparing the official budget speech with what Clyde Caruana said some two weeks later in parliament. There is also the same contradictory stance within Robert Abela’s Cabinet.

This is an issue that finally falls in the lap of the Prime Minister, who seems to be more worried by changes in the people’s mood as resulting from the polls, than by anything else. It seems that the idea of acting in an unpopular way is anathema to Robert Abela. He prefers to dish out syrup instead of the right medicine so as to keep the patient happy!

This is confirmed by the government’s stance on the current level of electricity and fuel subsidies that everybody, except the Prime Minister, considers unsustainable in the long run. Everybody includes the Governor of the Central Bank Edward Scicluna – Clyde Caruana’s predecessor – the EU and the IMF.

On the other hand, the Opposition leader Bernard Grech, has tried to popularise this issue by claiming that the problem of what he calls ‘overpopulation’ is the root of all problems in the country. In fact, what he calls overpopulation is the result of the wrong economic policies adopted by the Labour government.

Grech here mixes the cause with the effect...

In Grech’s words: ‘The population has grown substantially and nearly doubled since 2013, and that is because, for this government, the importation of foreign workers is the only solution to its shortcomings in the economic sectors.’

During the debate on the budget estimates of the Office of the Prime Minister, Grech said a Nationalist government would carry out a renewal, not just a shift, of the country’s economic model.

He did not say that the government would have to take some very unpopular decisions if this daunting task is taken seriously.

Today no politician has the knack of persuading people that we need to make short-term sacrifices to have a better future. Dom Mintoff famously explained this as an exercise in temporary ‘belt-tightening’.

Is it too much to expect Labour politicians to be frank with the common people and say the truth about the need to change our current economic model which depends on the importation of cheap labour from Asian and other Third World countries?

Instead of telling it how it is in a frank manner, they prefer to appear contradictory and schizophrenic!   

Flawed laws

In an article in The Corporate Times last Sunday, David Fabri, a University lecturer on financial services, examined three significant landmark judicial decisions in which the laws governing Malta’s public agencies in the financial sector have been found lacking by the Courts.

One of these decisions centred on the procedures when a company is struck off from the company register with its property devolving to government. Judge Toni Abela decided this procedure was anti-constitutional as it breached fundamental human rights.

Another was the decision taken by the Financial Services Tribunal to overturn a decision taken by the executive committee of the Malta Financial Services Authority (MFSA) that had fined a particular company. The Tribunal found that the ‘investigative and decision-making bodies of the MFSA overlap.’

The third decision concerned the FIAU’s procedures in issuing a fine that the court declared unsound and unconstitutional. The fine was meted for alleged breaches of the anti-laundering law and regulations. The Constitutional Court – presided by Judge Toni Abela – found that internal FIAU procedures were ‘biased’, ‘incestuous’ and ‘byzantine’.

What strikes me is the incredible ‘laissez faire’ attitude of the people who wrote the laws setting up these bodies without giving due considerations to basic human rights, and giving these bodies the possibility of doubling up as a Court and dish out draconian fines.

In short, the investigator becomes the accuser and then assumes the right to deliver a judgement. How is it possible that the people who drafted these laws did not realise that they were flawed?

In the case of money laundering – that is quite a recent crime from a historical legislative point of view – the legislator has resorted to legal summersaults as it is a crime that is difficult to prove. So, this gave rise to the notion that the accused has to prove his innocence rather than the prosecutor proving the infringement of the law – a dangerous notion that could be easily abused.

At the end of the day, without the protection of an independent judiciary, citizens cannot be protected from abuse by the government.

Malta should be thankful that it has judges that give due consideration to human rights and have the courage to flag down legal obscenities enacted by the government, ironically, on behalf of its citizens.

After all, it is the judiciary that has to articulate the rights and duties of citizens and protect them from threats inherent in the system.