4 People 4 Questions 4 Years

4 years since Malta went to the polls in the 2017 general election, TheJournal.mt sent 4 questions to 4 people to get their views on the past 4 years. Veteran journalist Reno Bugeja, economist and lecturer at the University of Malta, Stephanie Fabri, opinionist John Busuttil and Strategic Communications Director Sarah Puntan-Galea speak of the Government’s handling of the pandemic, the rule of law reforms, the economy and the environment. How do they rate the Government and what would they have done differently?

1. Reno Bugeja

How do you rate the performance of the Government during the past 4 years, since the 2017 election?

From the local perspective, the performance of the Maltese government in the past four years was good, although some signs of wear and tear were visible as the Labour government started its second legislature.

On the international front, the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017 overshadowed the performance and achievements of the Maltese government. The matters became even more difficult with the serious allegations against people in positions of power and the subsequent resignation of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat in January 2020.

The changes that followed thereafter allowed for the much-needed reform on the institutional framework.

After the election of Robert Abela as leader of the Labour Party and Prime Minister, the Labour government delivered these reforms in the judiciary and the Malta Police Force.

The barometer in all public opinion surveys carried out locally give Labour a substantial lead, and this is the best proof that government is listening to the wishes of the public at large.

Name two key highlights of the past 4 years which where the Government’s main success stories that have had a positive and direct impact on the lives and livelihoods of Maltese public.

The way in which the Government dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic, from both the medical and the economic aspect.

The numerous liberal reforms undertaken, including the amendments in divorce law, the medical cannabis law and the same sex marriage which was legalised in 2017.

If you were leading the Government yourself, what would you have done differently?

would work towards enhancing social justice further, as the economic benefits from the booming economy were felt more by the richer strata of society, rather than the poor. Some form of taxation should have been introduced to reach this aim while any social benefits should be aimed at meeting the requirements of those in need.

Moving forward, what are the biggest challenges the country is likely to face in the coming months and years?

I would say improving the standard of living with better wages and a work-life balance. Add to this, the safeguarding of the environment especially in the planning of our towns and streetscapes.

There is also an urgent need to improve the judicial processes in our law courts. 

2. Stephanie Fabri

How do you rate the performance of the Government during the past 4 years, since the 2017 election?

The past four years have presented considerable challenges for the government, both on a local and global level. COVID will remain as one of the largest global challenges of the past century and Malta responded extremely well. The vaccination roll-out has been a success as it projected the island on the global map for its implementation. The support measures and the economic recovery package was also well-received and an important instrument for job retention and the European Commission is expecting a very strong rebound of the Maltese economy. There were other internal challenges which the Government faced especially those relating to corruption, governance, and reforms. Here, the Government took some important decisions and reforms which will strengthen good governance as well as the fight against anti-money laundering which was still a lacuna in Malta. 

Having said this, other major challenges remain. These include Malta’s economic development, environmental sustainability, the general social well-being of the population and remaining governance issues. Productivity and efficiency in general are also areas which I believe Malta needs to tackle.

Name two key highlights of the past 4 years which were the Government’s main success stories that have had a positive and direct impact on the lives and livelihoods of Maltese public. 

The management of COVID-19 is one of them. The successful roll-out of the vaccination programme will allow us to bounce back sooner and this will support livelihoods in the months to come. In parallel, the economic recovery and stimulus programme have helped sustaining livelihoods during such a trying time. I also believe that the successful MONEYVAL outcome which still needs to be confirmed by FATF is also an important achievement for the country. Several reforms and changes were introduced which placated several gaps in our procedures, laws, and systems. This will bolster Malta’s ability to fight money laundering but more importantly will help solidify our international attractiveness.

In addition, the continued work on social liberties and rights is also commendable as it strengthens social progress in society.

 

If you were leading the government yourself, what would you have done differently?

Several challenges remain. I believe that Malta requires a holistic vision of where this country aspires to be in the coming decade. We need a societal vision which is all-encompassing to include the social and environmental aspects too. This should guide the private sector to invest in areas which the country will be actively pushing and attracting too. The vision must also not focus only on the economic component but also on the broader societal needs including well-being.

I would like to see more determination and focus on key structural issues that are affecting the country’s potential, but in the present and in the future. At present, banking and payments remain a key challenge and Malta’s ability to continue attracting key investment from abroad depends very much on Malta’s ability to offer an efficient and connected banking sector. Here, I believe Government needs to embark on a national payments strategy to support developments in this area and for the country to truly leverage on the opportunities that fintech is presenting and which other countries are maximising. Education is also another area which I believe we can do much more especially when it comes to tackling structural issues such as early school leavers and the take-up of STEM subjects as I believe that this will come to haunt us in the future.

Moving forward, what are the biggest challenges the country is likely to face in the coming months and years?

As I said earlier on; banking remains a key tangible issue and which foreign companies who we are attracting to Malta are not managing to establish a banking relationship. This is something that needs to be addressed. In the coming months, I am convinced that labour shortages will be a growing challenge as some sectors have already indicated. As a result of the pandemic, it is going to be pertinent to see how firms will respond once the support and recovery measures will start being lifted. To support the economy, the Government has run significant deficits and thanks to the good fiscal standing Malta had pre-COVID, the debt did not increase outside comfort zones. However, filing back this gap will also be challenging especially in the light of international tax developments.

On the longer-term I would say that marrying the environmental dimension to the economic one is going to be a key challenge that the country will face. Realigning the construction industry and greening other areas of the economy with a focus on sustainability will be a key policy dimension that the country needs to address in line with focusing on the general wellbeing of the population and country.

3. John Busuttil

How do you rate the performance of the Government during the past 4 years, since the 2017 election?

In the past four years, the Maltese people experienced an environment with a feel-good factor despite the odds and challenges faced. The performance of the government is measured by how the citizens feel about their way of life, and wherever you look, it’s evident that the Maltese people are living comfortably. Today, living in poverty often means that you cannot go for a holiday, you do not own a car, or you do not own a smart phone. I give the government’s performance an 8 out of 10.

Name two key highlights of the past 4 years which were the Government’s main success stories that have had a positive and direct impact on the lives and livelihoods of Maltese public. 

Most certainly the way that government handled the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, including from the economic aspect. This is definitely the key highlight for this government, particularly during the tenure of the current Prime Minister Robert Abela who shortly after taking office as Prime Minister, was faced with the pandemic and its related challenges. He has emerged with flying colours in every way.  

Another highlight is the infrastructure of the roads in Malta and Gozo. When you have two ministers like Ian Borg and Clint Camilleri working in tandem for the benefit of the two islands, the impact will be one which is unparalleled.

If you were leading the government yourself, what would you have done differently?

I would have reacted differently to those suspected of corruption. When Joseph Muscat was in command, he should have taken action immediately. The cause for not acting in an immediate way caused his resignation and Malta lost a great leader indeed. Also, Robert Abela had to face all this with the pandemic unfolding all around him. I would have done what Robert Abela has been doing now since taking office as Prime Minister: a clean sweep, leaving no stone unturned. The Government is delivering too much good for this country and this people and should not let any leeches ruin its reputation.

I would also grab the bull by the horns, and take decisive action where developers are concerned. This government failed where the environment is concerned, and developers took over in the uglification of Malta.

Moving forward, what are the biggest challenges the country is likely to face in the coming months and years?

How to get our normality back post COVID-19 and pick up in-bound tourism again.

4. Sarah Puntan-Galea

How do you rate the performance of the Government during the past 4 years, since the 2017 election?

Impactful! In a mostly good way.

Name two key highlights of the past 4 years which were the Government’s main success stories that have had a positive and direct impact on the lives and livelihoods of Maltese public.

No one can deny the way Malta has handled the COVID crisis has been one of the best responses in the world, led brilliantly by Health Minister/Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne, Superintendent of Health Dr Charmaine Gauci and their team. From the public health messaging to vaccinations, Malta has a reputation for having one of the best health systems and doctors in the world, and this hammered that home to the international community.

Foreign Policy: After years of EU-focused foreign policy, diplomatic relations were established in new countries including Japan, Ghana and the UAE. Plus, Malta has been helping the relevant Libyan authorities try to create stability in their civil war-torn land, and help the Libyan people steer their own political destiny. This has put Malta on the global stage, allowing it the platform to run for a seat on the United Nations Security Council.

If you were leading the government yourself, what would you have done differently?

I would have radically changed the current Planning Authority and put limits on building, from enforcing health and safety procedures to shortening the time during which people can build – most people working from home during lockdown had to endure unbearable construction noise from 7am. Let alone the shameful knocking down of beautiful buildings for ugly flats. And the death of so many workers. The overbuilding has impacted those who live on the Maltese Islands terribly: From high rates of pollution resulting in health problems, to disappearing ‘green’ spaces, and unaffordable rents/home prices for those on an average wage.

Moving forward, what are the biggest challenges the country is likely to face in the coming months and years?

The environment. Malta is a small island state that needs to do more to protect itself from the impacts of climate change and the rare spaces it has, so people can come together as a community to enjoy the countryside, from hiking to picnics, and not live in a concrete jungle with the health impacts that has. It must protect Gozo and Comino, it’s shorelines and sea, accelerate climate change actions, create better transport solutions, plus phase out bird hunting (and stop illegal hunting immediately!) which is negatively impacting the world’s bird population.

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