George Mangion is a partner in PKFMalta, an audit and business advisory firm
Election fever is slowly building up and you can sense it in the air.
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 are 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 imagine a time when 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 to 5%.
A new drive by a reconstituted Board at MTA has taken to active promotion of the island as a place for serene enjoyment of clean air and improved ecological attributes. A smart move to pull down a number of under-performing hotels, spread around the best parts of the habitat, has been planned to be converted into car parks while many will be converted into recreational parks decked with elaborate water fountains. Hypothetically, this may result to be the brainchild of a Renaissance politician who in a spirit of revival lifts up the fortunes of the fragmented hotel industry. We need a bold reform. This may sound Utopian, but potentially 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 and Ibiza-style revelries that cheapen our image albeit enrich the pockets of a few hackneyed promoters. The penny dropped and a mantra of quality first has finally permeated the Malta Tourist Authority board. Forget the threadbare policy of attracting cheap sea, sand and beer hordes that glorified the numbers in the past. We must respect Mother nature and conserve our ecology by evoking sustainable tourism. There is a 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.
With the overhang of daily exposure in the media of money laundering scandals and tax evasion many doubt 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 The Fable of the Bees by Mandeville (1714). Such abuses can be costly particularly now that the market environment is unstable and changing fast. The post-Covid frugality 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 €750bn recovery fund. Malta will get its share and needs to plan wisely how best to utilise 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 heavy burden of furlough schemes, increased cost of medical attention and as expected the slowdown of business on the anticipated start of election fever, the country needs nerves of steel to create a long-desired reprieve associated with a serene and peaceful living.