Poll after poll keeps showing that the Opposition is not attracting the electorates’ attention. Beset by this situation, the PN has recently tried to position itself as a party bursting with new policies with which it will make a real difference to people’s lives. But when faced with a new proposal, people not only look at the content, but on trust and credibility of who is proposing.
Trust and credibility depend on past actions. And this is the crucial problem faced by the Opposition. The track record in office of most of those putting forward these new ideas is abysmal, and without a complete reset within the Opposition it will be very hard for the electorate to judge it as different from the pre-2013 administration.
Energy and fuel prices
The current narrative is that if returned to power, the Nationalist Party would give back the millions “stolen” by the Labour administration due to “incorrect” billing. Apart from the fact that this billing is based on a Legal Notice issued by a PN administration. Why would anyone choose energy prices as a pathway of possible electoral success against Labour? This brings back memories of the Opposition’s faux pas when it argued for months that Labour was stealing motorists because of incorrect hedging of oil prices. It went as far as affixing fake tickets to cars with supposed amounts stolen by the Prime Minister.
For the Nationalist party to discuss energy and fuel prices while it still has within its ranks, prominent members of the pre-2013 Cabinet is foolhardy. That Cabinet had raised electricity bills three times the average rise in the EU, while it had hiked fuel prices by twice the European average. This while claiming that its policy was driven by what was happening abroad. If energy and fuel had increased in line with EU average, every household would have spent about €600 less per year on these necessities. Every year Maltese and Gozitan households had to foot a bill that was €90 million higher because of the PN’s management of Enemalta, a total bill of close to half a billion Euro. Enemalta still managed to accumulate so much debt as to nearly bring down the country’s credit rating to below investment grade.
Trust and credibility depend on past actions. And this is the crucial problem faced by the Opposition.
Management of public finances
The Opposition constantly argues that Government mismanages public finances, with its spokespersons always making a song and dance about Labour’s “overspending” habit. Ironically, these same spokespersons were part of the Cabinet that in 2008 promised a surplus by 2010. What happened was that in 2010 our country had a larger deficit than when the 2008 budget speech was made, and by 2012 the deficit had doubled.
In the 2010 budget speech, the Minister for Finance had stated that the Government was going to set up a National Investment Fund to be able to finance projects of long-term investment for the country. Of course, no such fund was created as the administration ended up with Malta’s highest national debt burden. What was promised by the PN was delivered by Labour, lowering debt burden and setting up a sovereign wealth fund worth more than half a billion Euro.
Generosity of social benefits
Another line of attack by the Opposition is that economic growth has benefited only the few and that little has beendone for those in need. Without going into the “poverty is a perception” argument put forward by previous administrations, and the fact that the minimum wage and the minimum pension were left frozen in real terms for more than a generation. Another pledge in the 2008 budget speech was the children’s allowances boost. Government at the time even said that it would have wished to improve these allowances even further but it needed to be prudent.
Official statistics show that while in 2008 €40.2 million was spent on children’s allowance, by 2010 expenditure had fallen by €2 million. This meant that during a recession which hit hardest those in need, less money was spent in aid.
Another recent plank of the Opposition is income tax reform. They have argued that they will introduce a fair and just system that reduces burdens. But everyone remembers the promises made in the electoral programme for the 2008-2012 legislature, when the PN had announced a large reduction in income tax which would have benefitted greatly the Middle Class. Despite such pledge, duting the first budget speech after the electoral victory, the Minister for Finance argued that the circumstances had changed, and that he needed to be prudent so as not to undermine our country’s financial sustainability.
It took a Labour administration to pass these income tax reductions. Every year the PN’s failure to enact its promise deprived people of around €65 million, meaning that people were taxed almost a third of a billion Euro more than they had reckoned when they voted for the Nationalist Party in 2008.
Leaving the best for last. The Opposition has been a frequent critic of Government in terms of transport policy. It has argued against the road infrastructure programme and other transport initiatives, and is always coming up with flashy, but vacuous, proposals. But who can forget the 2011 budget speech when we were told that the upcoming public transport reform would bring direct investment from an experienced foreign operator, expertise and modern practices to Malta. This had to result in the creation of one thousand new jobs, and contribute greatly to our country’s economy. Yes, they were talking about Arriva – one of the greatest fiascos in our nation’s history.
The list goes on for a number of other sectors. With such a track record, the road to regaining the electorate’s trust remains a very long one for the Opposition.