Election blues, elderly homes and mechanisms
Author: George Mangion
Published on Business Today on 6 May 2021
Malta will eventually get its share and needs to plan wisely how best to utilize such funds.
A new drive by the Malta Tourism Authority has taken to the active promotion of the island as a place for serene enjoyment of clean air, safety and improved ecological attributes.
Last year, this was the dream of a tourism minister as she waxed poetically about the new mechanisms. Hypothetically, this may result to be the brainchild of a politician who is a spirit of revival that lifts up the fortunes of the decimated hotel industry.
Another quirk is the cataloguing of all the grotesque building structures licensed by PA in a lavish colour brochure distributed to airport visitors to be reminded that Pisa in Italy is not the only country with buildings that had a faulty design like the famous leaning tower. Surreptitiously, election fever is slowly building up and you can sense it in the air.
Election candidates have used the Easter break to send greetings for the occasion while reminding the party faithful of their presence in the roll call for a general election (still to be announced). This is a reminder that the last day for the prime minister to fire the starting gun is July 2022. Be that as it may, the electorate is weary of political hustings and would rather they be spared the rivalry that general elections generate. They want some breathing space following two years of lockdowns, curfews and wearing funny looking masks.
Most already picture themselves as they wake up this time next year to enjoy the brisk springtime air when flowers blossom and Ta Qali park is brimming with people giving space to a coterie of children (no masks needed) who picnic and fly kites. All the way, this dream makes way for the rhetoric from party leaders who promise us they shall kickstart the green economy which translates into quality jobs and a healthier environment for all to enjoy.
Notte Bianca will never be so successful when folks from all corners of the island congregate at the walled city of Valletta singing songs of liberation from the ghastly pandemic (which is now in its dying phases on the development of effective vaccines). Gone are the weekly medical bulletins sadly informing us of Covid cases and the number of mortalities.
The vulnerable and pregnant mothers can once again go out on countryside trips to Wardija, Delimara or roam the Gozo countryside to enjoy each other in a healthy and carefree atmosphere. Hotels for the next Christmas season are slowly picking up numbers and rack rates for accommodation have become more competitive should vat on hospitality and restaurants be reduced.
We need a bold reform but the body is weak while the spirit is willing. It may sound Utopian, but potentially the government needs to set up an SPV in collaboration with hotel owners and banks which contribute to a government-sponsored fund to embellish the island in a five-year plan to seriously upgrade the touristic product. No more rave youth parties, vodka and music Ibiza revelries that cheapen our image albeit enrich the pockets of a few hackneyed promoters.
The penny dropped and a mantra of quality first needs to permeate the Malta Tourist Authority board. Forget the threadbare policy of attracting cheap sea, sand and beer hordes that pleased One TV audiences. This glorified the numbers in the past. We must respect and conserve our ecology by evoking sustainable tourism.
There is collective guilt feeling that we have sinned against Mother Nature and allowed corruption to be dressed as virtuous while rot had serendipitously taken root and tarred our collective conscience. The plebs are immune from an overdose of daily exposure in the media of money laundering scandals and tax evasion as many ask if enough has been done by Caesar to collect dues and urge Thomas (tax collector) to do his duty.
Laissez-faire has penetrated the bureaucracy and corruption was camouflaged as virtuous – remember to read “The Fable of the Bees” by Mandeville (1714). Such abuses can be costly particular now that the market environment is unstable and changing fast. The recent publication of an NAO audit of a €272 million kitchen project at St Vincent De Paul (SVP) hospital has been tarred as a corrupt tender in 2017 not approved by Cabinet, yet Castille is showering holy water saying the elderly benefitted from the scandal.
The NAO report states inter alia that “gravest among concerns identified is that the basis cited as justification authorising the negotiated procedure was in breach of legislative provisions, thereby possibly leading to the invalidity of the procurement undertaken”.
The authorisation was sought by the SVP, endorsed by the Ministry for the Family and Social Solidarity (MFSS) and granted by the Department of Contracts (DoC) on the basis that competition was absent for technical reasons and for reasons of extreme urgency. The NAO contends that there existed no technical reasons that precluded competition since the management of these blocks could have been undertaken by other operators.
Notwithstanding the reference to urgency, this was not justified as the blocks were to be under construction for at least 18 months, during which the SVP could procure these services through an open procedure.
When the media questioned Social Solidarity Minister Michael Falzon, he replied that he was “absolutely convinced” that necessary internal scrutiny ‘would happen’ as a consequence of an Audit-General report. He could not say, however, whether the deal would be stopped. He meekly justified the scandal by saying that the elderly needed extra beds omitting to mention that the bed rates charged to the government by the consortium increased by 50%.
No heads will roll but there will be slaps on the wrist since a general election is looming ominously ahead. The electorate is fraught with mental and social restrictions and needs to be fed ample doses of contrite feelings and a sense of retribution towards past sins.
A streak of hope lies in the acknowledgement of a global economy which will occur once herd immunization is reached. Financial help is available from the Commission in its bold allocation of a €750 billion recovery fund.
Malta will eventually get its share and needs to plan wisely how best to utilize such funds. Leaving aside electioneering rhetoric, we need to inculcate a new feeling that probity and good governance are the essential hallmarks that will guarantee a brighter future.
As can be expected, due to the financing of furlough schemes, the burden of sleaze, cost of vaccines and undoubtedly a slowdown of business due to election fever, the country needs nerves of steel to create a long-desired reprieve associated with a serene and peaceful living.
Author: George Mangion
Published on Business Today on 6 May 2021
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