Malta attained its Independence 55 years ago with a Constitution voted in by the majority of the electorate and a mutual defence agreement and financial protocol for 10 years. Our relations with our former rulers were at their best.
All this helped to ensure a peaceful transition, which contributed towards economic and democratic progress.
Spearheading all this was George Borg Olivier, who had won the 1962 general election, secured amendments to the Blood Constitution giving back to the Maltese government control of the police and civil service and fought for the country’s independence in Malta and London.
Borg Olivier’s greatest achievement after Independence was our economic miracle.
Mokhtar M. Metwally, from the University of Queensland in Australia, had conducted a study about Malta’s economy up to 1974. He was invited to our islands by the University of Malta and his findings were published in his book Structure and Performance of the Maltese economy, which earned him the status of persona non grata by the Labour government.
This in-depth study contained revealing figures. The highest rate of growth in GDP (at factor cost) occurred from 1961 to 1970 and the lowest between 1971 and 1974.
Gross fixed capital formation (GFCF), that is, adding to the wealth of the country, slowed down drastically in 1971-1974, declining to a negative rate of about nine per cent, whereas, in 1961-1970, there had been a positive rate of nine per cent.
The percentage rate of growth for the 1964-1970 period was much higher than that for 1961-1970.
The economic results that followed Independence would not have been realised had Borg Olivier not obtained Malta’s sovereignty. After 1958, following the Nationalist Party’s support for the Break with Britain resolution, unanimously approved by the Maltese Parliament in the face of massive British Services rundowns, Borg Olivier and the PN were written off by many. The PN was divided and a new splinter party was formed.
Borg Olivier was accused of doing nothing to combat Dom Mintoff and his ideas.
But the Nationalist leader, for whom Malta’s interests came first and foremost, was working patiently, with the few means at his disposal, to offer an alternative government to the colonial administration.
The PN was organised from the bottom. He brought back to the party all past ministers. He patiently fought all five political parties contesting the 1962 general election. He won and, with him, Malta and the Maltese.
Independence in 1964 opened the doors to Malta’s rebirth as a nation. The following year, Malta was admitted to the Council of Europe and the United Nations. It became a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and in 1970 was associated with the European Economic Community.
Borg Olivier’s greatest achievement after Independence was our economic miracle
On September 21, 1964, Borg Olivier addressed the tens of thousands at the Independence Arena in Floriana. He declared that “Independence does not mean that we will not need foreign help, that our people would not need to work, that we did not need help from our friends.
“Independence means that we have to work harder and with more will because we have to give proof to the world that the Independence we achieved we really deserve; that we can work democratically and lead our people through the path of law and order towards economic prosperity for ourselves and our children”.
These words were followed up by facts. In the following years, Malta witnessed an economic miracle. On February 20, 1971, Carnival Saturday, the PN’s executive committee, of which I formed part, called a full-day seminar in Gozo to discuss the way ahead. Crossing from Malta to Gozo, Borg Olivier called me and handed me a Central Bank of Malta publication, The Maltese economy in figures – 1971 edition, telling me he was sure I would make the best use of the figures contained in it.
The figures showed the economic progress achieved in the first six years of Independence, with GDP going up from £53.3 million to £88.3 million; investment spiralling from £11.3 million to £25.4 million; exports of goods and services increasing from £27.2 million to £43.4 million; the number of tourists visiting Malta shooting up from 37,573 to 170,853.
All this resulted in more jobs. In 1964, the gainfully occupied totalled 86,530, rising to 101,000 in 1970. When adding the redundancies in the British Services departments and other sectors of the economy, the net result was the creation of 26,000 new jobs. At the time, only 20,000 jobs were in the public sector. The median wage went up from £173.1 in 1966 to £261.7 in 1970. Migration dropped from 8,987 to 2,696.
What a difference to the picture painted by the UN mission which, in its 1963 economic study, concluded that our GDP would go down and that for unemployment to be kept within tolerable limits the rate of emigration had to go up to 10,000 per annum.
The great economic progress we achieved in the first seven years of our Independence was duly noted by ex-colonial leaders.
I remember the positive comments by Lee Kuan Uwe of Singapore and Archbishop Makarios of Cyprus who wanted to know how Malta went through all that economic transformation.
Throughout his political career, Borg Olivier showed that in politics only the brave move forward. Only the brave obtain results.
Borg Olivier had faith in his people and this was returned by all Maltese of goodwill who gave their best for the good of their country, as he opined on September 21, 1964.