Crises mark transitions and turning points. And it is exactly at these turning points that crises are productive. This is the moment when we can remove the aftertaste of catastrophe and use it as a ‘decisive turning point’, as per the meaning of the Greek word krisis. This is our belief too.
We believe, more than ever, that this is the right time to define our future. As Seed, we published Agile, an economic report outlining a future vision for Malta based on a broad stakeholder consultation.
As Malta prepares for the government’s post COVID-19 stimulus package, we wanted to share the underpinnings of what we believe should be our long-run response to the crisis.
The foundational elements
The first element is surely values. This vision must be rooted to our national identity which draws strength from a key set of values. Our future vision needs to be anchored around the values of solidarity, sustainability, integrity, accountability and subsidiarity amongst others. This stage definitely calls for a debate on our contemporary national identity.
Secondly, institutional quality. Prior to COVID-19, Malta was focused and engaged in a national debate to strengthen its institutional quality and rule of law.
A debate on the broader sense of governance needs to be held in parallel to the Constitutional Convention being spearheaded by the President as well as important reforms as indicated by MoneyVal and the Venice Commission need to be implemented.
Our research and consultation identified three key enablers. First, we need to ensure a broad stakeholder approach. Going forward, we recommend that a social pact is drawn up to ensure that all stakeholders come together to implement the agreed vision. There needs to be a greater role for business chambers, trade unions, civil society and the opposition.
Secondly, Malta needs to launch and implement industry transformation maps. Although as a country we should always look out for new niche sectors, it is even more important to further diversify the present sectors by increasing the value-added as well as intra and inter-sectoral linkages. This sectoral transformation needs to focus on productivity, jobs and skills, innovation and digital transformation and trade and internationalisation.
More than ever, this is the right time to define our future
Finally, there needs to be a long-term plan of investment in Malta’s urban and natural environment and infrastructure. In addition to better planning through demand- and-supply modelling, an improved focus on regeneration efforts needs to be made including waste management and mobility with a mass transport system.
We believe that Malta has the potential to leverage a green revolution which the government needs to be the lead promoter by actively encouraging green investments in Malta.
The pandemic has shown the importance of food security and a strategy on agriculture should be actively pursued.
Although we have identified four distinct pillars, these are not mutually exclusive. On the other hand, each pillar is mutually reinforcing. First, we need to further internationalise the Maltese economy. Malta needs to continue focusing on niche markets for its goods and services.
The establishment of an export credit agency should be considered to address a market failure that Maltese firms have faced. In terms of services, a constant review and streamlining of current legislative structures and regulatory frameworks needs to be conducted.
Secondly, we need to improve the skill-base of the workforce. Notwithstanding the advances Malta made in the educational sector, much more needs to be achieved. A closer link between acquisition and utilisation of skills in industry needs to be achieved, however focus must be made on the basics too.
The early school leaving rate remains high when compared to European averages and the government needs to drive this through a broad-ranging reform in the educational sector.
Third, we need to enable companies to innovate. A review of the innovation ecosystem is required, and it is the Malta Development Bank that should take a key role to provide the financing such firms require. Focus needs to be given on creating the right ecosystem for companies to innovate including talent and incentives.
Finally, we need to lead a digital transformation.
The public sector needs to become digital to the core and we need to move towards a digital society which includes digital health records and prescriptions, digital identity and signatures and much more.
Following the success of numerous schemes, the government needs to ensure that digital transformation is entrenched in our soc-iety including the relevant infrastructure as well as access to technology and cybersecurity.
COVID-19 has caught us unprepared. However, it presents a unique opportunity for us to re-examine ourselves, our current practices and our outlook and vision on the future. Our biggest responsibility lies in charting a long-term vision and strategy for our country.
This should be one that is future-looking and which directs us to achieve a sustainable path of well-being as a nation whereby the economy, the environment and our society coexist for the benefit of all, present and future.
JP Fabri and Nicky Gouder are Founding partners at Seed Consultancy.
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