The ship of State, MV Malta, is set to sail again.
For seven years it had sailed the seas, steaming full speed ahead collecting trophies for its achievements, many times breaking records. It had left port in 2013, the captain determined to steer towards a new destination, the crew full of confidence, its passengers convinced the ship was invincible, and for a period of time, it looked like there was no stopping it.
Then, things started going wrong. They had nothing to do with the ship’s engines, which were sturdy and well oiled. So, the ship kept churning ahead like there was no tomorrow. But it turned out that some of the crew were not so reliable. The captain turned a blind eye to their shortcomings, if not misdeeds. Also, some of the practices they adopted were not sea-worthy at all. Ship materials were occasionally purchased from suspicious persons under conditions which were less than above board.
One day, out of the blue, a consortium of investigative journalists published a set of papers which created waves in the affairs of all states, and MV Malta got caught up in the storm. The captain and the crew thought it was nothing but a storm in a teacup. The faith shown by their passengers convinced the crew that they could ride out the storm, but somebody close to the crew threw a big spanner in the two-stroke reciprocating engines by killing off one of the journalists, and then mayhem followed.
As I said, the momentum of the ship was such that, for a time, it was thought that the impossible would happen. But, then, another disaster struck. A strange disease from the East suddenly engulfed Europe and the Mediterranean, and the passengers of MV Malta fell victim to it too.
The ship of state had to enter harbour, limping much like the famous Santa Maria convoy, many of the passengers and crew proud of their achievements, but battered by the two storms that had stopped it in its tracks. For some two years it has been undergoing repairs, particularly after some international organisations said it was no longer sea-worthy and withdrew their certificates. The captain resigned, some of the crew were sacked or left, and the engines had to undergo some very serious overhauls.
Now, there is a new captain. After some false starts, with some unwise comments about small waves or references to providing continuity when a complete change in course was required, he is showing increasing confidence. The engines have been largely refurbished, and some international organisations have expressed approval. The manuals are also being updated, though a particular organisation has said that it will only lift its interdiction once the captain shows that the new manual is delivering results.
Now, there is a new captain. He is showing increasing confidence.
Quite rightly, the captain is toying with the idea of asking the passengers to show whether they have confidence in him. This would allow him to show that he’s his own man, not following his predecessor’s script, not to mention that it might give him the opportunity to ditch some of the crew and recruit fresher faces.
Oh, about the journey. While the ship was in dock, the world has changed, and drastically at that. That disease from the East was not just “a little flu”, like one stupid American politician called it, but has turned out to be greater than a public health emergency. It has upended many things the passengers used to take for granted. It has, in fact, turned navigation into a nightmare, with new insidious threats and challenges.
So the journey is no longer about reaching a certain port in the shortest time possible, so that the passengers can enjoy sipping martinis and eating lavish hors d’oeuvre comparable to those enjoyed by their European peers. Indeed, the journey entails a completely new world of work, where high-level skills are required. The ship has to run on green engines. The captain needs to ensure that the ship is modernised and innovative technologies used. He is also aware that other big shipping companies are insisting that he should no longer rely on competing with them through tax avoidance.
Many of the passengers themselves have been changed by events and have had to change their behaviour. Whereas previously, many could get by even if they had no competences to speak of, now they realise that they have fallen behind in the rat-race and need to pull up their socks. They also realise that, if they really want a high quality of life, they need to stop polluting the ship with their trash when their own cabins are spit-clean.
Those passengers who were enterprising and had built nice businesses for themselves have been equally challenged by the storms. Some of their businesses turned out to be particularly susceptible to big waves. Indeed, some have seen their clients disappear. They need to re-invent themselves, at a time when there is still a lot of uncertainty. What makes their job even harder is that the signs are that they will no longer enjoy unofficial holidays from their obligation to pay their proper taxes.
The list of must-do things is daunting. So, the ship is ready to sail again, but the swagger of yester-year will not do. Hopefully, the new captain and his crew will realise that the bane of all leaders is over-confidence in their abilities. Even the strongest ship can be badly damaged, maybe sink, if it hits hidden shoals due to bad navigation charts.
The ship is ready to sail again, but the swagger of yester-year will not do.
Oh, I forgot to mention one thing. The pirates. Well, there are the bad pirates whose sole purpose in life is to destroy, even if for the fun of it. They won’t go away, even if the captain wins his vote of confidence. Indeed, they might well redouble their efforts after two disappointments. Desperate people can do desperate things.
Then there are the good pirates. They are the ones who want to take over the ship because they are convinced the current crew are a bad lot, and because they believe they can do a better job. No matter how much they are derided, this kind of pirates are a good thing to have. They will snipe at the captain and criticise his every choice of course, but it will not do to ignore them. Indeed, a good captain will listen to them and make their good proposals his, even if he might be called a copy-cat. Such proposals might not just be about his journey on the ship, but about things underground.
Lest some might think that this chronicler is some kind of doomsday guy, he knows that the changed world into which MV Malta will sail presents some opportunities, not just threats. The trick is to lessen the threats and its own weaknesses, while maximising the opportunities using its strengths. The Government and its partners have been doing a lot of SWOTting over the last few months. There is a strategy in place. In this week’s Budget, the ship’s treasurer laid out a plan for the short-term, not least how he will make sure that the ship’s finances will be strengthened after the unprecedented splashing made because of that disease from the East.
But we all know that strategies need to be flexible. If the ship encounters some heavy waters, it needs to steer away from them as much as possible. The captain knows that a steady hand and a disciplined crew are crucial, since some “mistakes” may wreak havoc, much like they did in previous years. To err once is human, but to err twice is carelessness.
Of course, we do have one big bonus. That is the millions of euros which the EU has committed to the Maltese ship. They will surely make a huge difference if used wisely.
So, there’s nothing left for me to say, except wish the ship, crew and passengers a safe journey. Because, after all, ships are built to sail, not stay in port.