An Armchair Critic Special | ‘An Offer You Can’t Refuse’

As is the case in general elections, the usual rallies, populating of adverts all over the social media you use and proposals just about everywhere you look, can be tiring or can give you a fork in the road. What can help the situation is an engaging debate, after all, what better way is there to examine those who wish to represent you, if not on the spot and under the pressure that the nation is watching. Some of us prefer nothing more than to watch these events progress from the comfort of our own home. This is one of those times.

What are we criticising?

The Chamber of SMEs pre-election discussion/debate. 

Who is participating?

Prime Minister Robert Abela and Leader of the Opposition Bernard Grech will once again face off in a relaxed debate organised by the Chamber of SMEs. Grech and Abela will face questions pertaining to the business and SMEs sector. 

Opening Remarks

Well, at least there is no booing or cheering today. The debate seems to be focusing on what the future for SMEs will look like under a potential Labour or Nationalist Government. The session is opened by the President of the Chamber, Mr. Paul Abela who gives testament to the difficulties which businesses faced during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic and initiatives concocted by the Government and that businesses still face a couple of challenges in the course of operating, and new ones as a result of the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine, the FATF’s decision to greylist Malta and the difficulties in administration for banking for small businesses. 

The Chamber CEO, Ms. Abigail Mamo, presents 35 proposals to the respective leaders which the Chamber wishes to put forward. The Chamber proposed a ‘fair tax’ umbrella of proposals, whereby it urged parties to not discriminate against self-employed businesses when it comes to the proposed corporate tax and that family-run businesses should not see an increase in tax. The Chamber pledged a further extension of the COVID-19 Wage Supplement. The Chamber also pledged an extension of state aid, a better procurement  system, better efforts to maintain tourism and rethinking the relationship between Malta and the United Kingdom after Brexit.

Abela’s Remarks

The Prime Minister takes the podium and starts off by giving testament to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. He thanked the business community by thanking them for their help in symbolising peace in such dire times and everyone who gave humanitarian help to the Ukrainian people. 

The PM said that along with relevant stakeholders, he will be opening the doors for the MCESD to discuss better economic initiatives which preserve Malta’s economy. Abela gave testament to difficult decisions which had to be taken on the 14th of March of the year 2020. He maintained that a balance must be made between health initiatives and businesses thriving. Abela stresses that political austerity is an unnecessary evil and that whoever has the task of leading the country is to maintain the best financial and economic friendly road for everyone to thrive.

Abela stresses that political austerity

is an unnecessary evil.

Abela reminisced on an agreement made between Government and the Chamber and that the agreement was maintained on both sides. The decision which Abela is taking today is a result of 2 years of striving and making decisions which deliver results. Ah, mentions of energy- could have probably discussed this more. This is a good point: Abela did not let the Government take up all the credit for the decisions and progress made, but as a result of societal effort and listening. 

Abela said that the Government is no stranger to transformation and that currently there are further key transformations to make, such as digital and environmental transformation. Abela made a few political comments, saying that what he has to offer is a team which is well-versed and studied and who takes decisions for Malta to move forward. He further appealed for people to carefully analyse and consider what the Opposition has to offer. Abela also gave testament to the total quantified amount which the Labour Party’s proposals amount to and the EU funds allocated to the Government. Abela further elaborated on difficulties faced by businesses when it comes to obtaining a business loan and due diligence and eliminating unnecessary bureaucracy. 

Grech’s remarks

Leader of the Opposition Bernard Grech opens his speech by showing his admiration and sympathy for the business sector and that with today’s dialogue, he hopes to build the “new” economic sectors which the Nationalist Party is proposing. Oh come on, isn’t this a serious debate? No one debates the not-so-popular metaphors, but not the right place for it. Grech does admit that the COVID-19 Pandemic and the Ukrainian crisis were hardships for the country, but the right attitude is needed. Grech commended the government for the humanitarian aid.

Grech gave testament to the idea of the Government vouchers put forward by the Nationalist Party which was later used by the Government. On banks, Grech discussed the seriousness of the FATF’s decision to greylist Malta and that the Government also has to shoulder responsibility and reduce unnecessary bureaucracy. Grech mentioned a real life scenario to exemplify the situation and put a rhetorical question on the audience, if they found any help because of extra burdens as a result of government operations in the last 10 years. Grech pledges to give the ‘key’ to operate adequately. 

Grech hopes to build the “new” economic sectors which the Nationalist Party is proposing.

Grech pledged that a Nationalist Party government will create a fair, competitive and obligation-free climate. He continued criticising Abela for undermining the potential of the new economic sectors proposal put forward by the Nationalist Party and that there are no terms and conditions attached to the Nationalist Party’s electoral programme if elected. A general comment, no one debates the not-so-popular metaphors,  but why mock metaphors if you are going to use them just the same: ‘the ship, the key’? Another important thing which was not mentioned by anyone- Grech gives his word that there will be no increase in taxes and with the new economic pillars, new jobs will be created which will see an increase in those paying taxes. 

This sounds familiar- The Labour Party pledges that no one will ever be more than 10 minutes away from a green space, the Nationalist Party pledges that no one will be more than 10 minutes away from a retail space. This will, according to Grech, incentivise buying from local businesses. Finally, some proposals from Grech’s end. Now, on the environment, those who are in compliance with ESG Criteria, Grech, deferring that there are terms and conditions in the Nationalist Party’s manifesto but it is better to be transparent than have behind-the-back transactions, will get an ESG certificate. It shall be interesting to see these criteria and what will qualify as an ‘ESG’ criteria. Organisation Oppression and, ‘limiting freedoms’ according to Grech, is the reason to vote for the Nationalist Party and because of how quick the PN was to release it’s electoral programme. 

And, it begins…

Is Malta ready to eliminate cash?

Abela: Abela believes that there should be more benefits for sellers so that there are better digital salaries. Abela believes that a future is favourable for digital transactions but there must be a balance between cash use and digital transformation for the whole of society to catch up. Abela believes that most businesses are clean and believes in investing and making the basics more accessible. 

Grech: Agrees with the Prime Minister that almost all businesses are of good conduct and that this is a reason why unnecessary bureaucracy is not beneficial for everyone. 

A question against free pharmaceutical on medical formularies and a criticism of the Community Chest Fund.

Abela: Abela disagrees that there will be a lack of viability for pharmacies to open and that part and parcel with the Labour Party Manifesto’s proposal to give free medicine to pensioners, there will be a compensatory measure. Abela maintained that contraceptives and the Morning After Pill will be free and that the Government aiding the Community Chest fund serves to aid patients. He further mentioned the Government’s procurement in obtaining the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Grech: He understands the worries of the person imposing the question and not making profits from pharmaceuticals, but he maintains that there is a social obligation, which is not to be abandoned by the government to cater for everyone.  

Employment: TCNs, how aid will be provided and COVID-19 no longer seen as an obstacle

Abela: Abela mentioned the Opposition’s distaste for TCNs and that the Government aspires to keep on improving employment. Abela mentions that on a European level, it seems that Malta will have the best economic growth. On the pandemic, Abela said that from now on, the pandemic must be looked at with fresh eyes, with the perspective of moving forward. 

Grech: Grech asked the person imposing the question how long they have been experiencing the problem. Grech said that there was efficacy in the Government’s ways but there was a lack of digitalisation of the Government’s modus operandi. Grech maintained that he will continue outsourcing and staunchly came out against any form of discrimination. 

Proposals: Who has proposals which are most in touch with reality?

Grech: Grech imposes another rhetorical question on the audience: When coming across a dead end in the operation of their business, Grech says that he would try to find ways to come across such obstacles such as finding a new product or changing the modus operandi. Grech puts forward his way of thinking and how they will be financing their investment and that the strength lies in the Nationalist Party’s track record and ideas for the new economic sectors. Grech replied to Abela saying that the Labour Party does not do its calculations well. Did Grech really just go all out on the moderator calling his time a gimmick?

Abela: Abela responds to Grech by saying that the Nationalist Party will not incentivise investment in the near future. On costings, Abela maintained the efficacy of portraying an image of the costings. Abela closes by giving a quantified amount of the costs and that this will be based on 5 factors: economic growth, exceeding the EU’s GDP per capita, reducing national debt, participation in the work environment and remaining one of the top countries with a high employment rate. Abela criticises Grech for remaining vague and not elaborating on ESG criteria. 

Free Zones: A potential economic sector?

Abela: Abela says that there already is a Free Trade Zone Authority, which although at present is limited in scope, in the near future its scope will be rethought due to its potential. Abela believes that because of Malta’s geographical location, there should be a logistics hub and this issue should be addressed, along with other issues which may come along during the course of operating, along with bearing in mind the residents who live nearby. 

Grech: Grech made reference to the Nationalist Party’s manifesto and that free zones will be considered further. Grech said that we need to be more optimistic in our endeavours and that the Nationalist Party’s track record, once again, is proof of the Nationalist Party’s consistent governance.

Today’s Ranking

Well, we think today’s debate was different. For starters, it verged more on the ends of a discussion rather than a debate but if we are going to call it a debate, it was subject-specific, more on the verge of pitching the best plan for businesses, which undoubtedly, shape Malta’s economic growth. A few comments and remarks, it was great to see that Grech was finally ditching the ‘ROBERT ABELA’ narrative, even if it was every so often and focused on what the PN has to offer. However, Grech still has left many lacunae unaddressed, such as how ESG criteria will be determined. Abela focused more on giving answers and reasons for difficult decisions which the Government had to take during the course of the COVID-19 Pandemic and generally had an answer for every question.   

Robert Abela

Delivery: 8

Most convincing: 8

Planning: 9

Ambitious: 8

 

Bernard Grech

Delivery: 6

Most convincing: 7

Planning: 7

Ambitious: 8

5 2 votes
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