Malta’s accelerated economic growth in the last 10 years has intensified corruption and led to problems of good governance, Alfred Sant has admitted.
The MEP and former prime minister was speaking to Times of Malta as the country marks 10 years since the Labour Party won government, securing three successive general election victories in the process.
While hailing his party’s success in securing economic prosperity for all classes, Sant said good governance took a hit and corruption intensified, though he added that such a phenomenon is common when the economy booms.
Joseph Muscat, who secured Labour first big victory, said the PL’s biggest challenge today is to continue reinventing itself as a broad church, but he sounded a warning: “Talking heads promoting an elitist narrative that does not resonate with people from all walks of life should not be its architects.”
Former prime minister Lawrence Gonzi was highly critical of the Labour government, saying the country’s core values have been torn apart.
While former president Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca applauded Labour’s “bold decisions”, she acknowledged the “blatant corruption, fraud and money-laundering surrounding multi-million-euro public projects”.
Core values torn apart – Lawrence Gonzi
It is 10 years of Labour but nearly 20 years since Malta joined the European Union. From where I stand that is the benchmark. And it is one that fails the test. Whereas the first 10 years saw Malta gain a solid reputation as a result of a modernised economy that had the courage to change what needed to be changed, we now have an economy that is addicted to money coming in from the sale of passports, construction, crypto, cannabis and nothing else that really matters.
So much so that today we worry about the exodus of our younger generation who prefer to seek greener pastures far away from their home country.
And what about our values? Daphne Caruana Galizia was the one who criticised what needed to be criticised without fear or favour. And she was assassinated. Lip service has been given to conclusions of inquiry reports but insult was added to injury because those recommendations remain nothing more than a dead letter, buried beneath the scandals that are exposed every week and that confirm how right she was.
Oh, and by the way, construction is doing well. For whom? I am not sure that our engaged couples are benefitting from a fair price for an apartment. Neither am I sure that our elderly who have been evicted from their homes are managing to find alternative accommodation at reasonable rates.
Recommendations remain nothing more than a dead letter, buried beneath the scandals that are exposed every week- Lawrence Gonzi
Our core values have been torn apart to the extent that we now have a government that favours the introduction of abortion by stealth. What a difference from the 2003 EU referendum approving a treaty that included a protocol defending the Maltese position on abortion.
And what about the reputation of a neutral country that had the courage of its convictions and gained the plaudits of the international community especially during the Libya crises... as against a government that chooses to abandon migrants at sea during Christmas.
But notwithstanding everything, Malta remains our island that is embraced by a beautiful blue sea and with a history that proves its resilience in the face of adversity.
Time is of the essence – Joseph Muscat
Following Malta’s accession to the European Union, the Nationalist Party started to lose its way. Despite a quarter of a century of substantial achievements under its belt, the magic touch was gone. It lacked a unifying project and vision. Its traditionally clear sense of what to do next was no longer instinctive.
For a decade it hobbled, barely holding itself together, uncertain at every turn. Meanwhile, they effectively ground the country to a halt. A sense of helplessness and resignation underscored their position at every turn: energy prices could not be reduced, gay people could only be allowed to live like “brothers”, job creation had peaked and could not be improved, a fiscal deficit was unavoidable, a budget needed to be synonymous with taxes, broken marriages had to be taken to the grave, to name but a few.
Political paralysis gradually set in and navel-gazing substituted real decisions in the interest of this country and its people.
At the end of that lost, meandering decade, Labour was swept to power with a historic majority. It was an enormous call for change. It was so huge some thought it to be a statistical fluke. It wasn’t. Indeed, it continued to increase.
Buoyed by this electoral success we immediately set about taking bold, game-changing decisions. Too much time had been wasted. People were so used to the inertia, to living in political limbo, that they had to change gears to adjust to our speed to bring about fundamental economic, social, cultural and political change.
I will not list achievements nor failures. Self-praise is no praise, and I probably would be one of the harshest critics of our own performance. Let others judge. What is paramount is that the people’s verdict was delivered not in one but in three consecutive general elections, as it should be in any European democracy. To this day, those still living in a long-lost past, are still scratching their heads to figure it out.
Our way of governing was not just about the decisions we took but also how they were taken. The default top down system was dismantled and replaced with a more decentralised one. Stakeholders were given genuine responsibility and expected them to carry it.
On some occasions our enthusiasm for a better future made us naïve, leading us to trust certain people more than we should have- Joseph Muscat
We took office in a grey, depressing public service and a policy climate in which fear of taking the wrong decision bred widespread inaction in every sector. At my first meeting with the heads of the Public Service, I pledged to stand by them when they made mistakes as long as their decisions were well-intentioned.
This can-do attitude took the country by storm, energised people across society with a new-found trust and purpose. People embraced social change because they saw a place for themselves in it. Electorally, we kept carrying the day because people felt that their tomorrow was going to be better than today. This is precisely what those still aimlessly looking for answers in the past still don’t fathom and cannot grasp.
On some occasions our enthusiasm for a better future made us naïve, leading us to trust certain people more than we should have. A number of great ideas were badly implemented while others were simply not good ones. But in the grand scheme of things, for all our faults, life for the up-and-coming middle class and those most in need became much, much better than in the previous decade of Nationalist rule. That’s what more and more people thought and felt in the last three elections.
It is not often mentioned, let alone properly interpreted, that the Nationalist Party hasn’t won an absolute electoral majority since 2003. That is two whole, unforgiving decades. Clearly, the PN today has become a pale shadow of its former, seemingly invincible, self. Yet, that shadow has been cast over a long time. And the longer the party remains hijacked by narrow interests, the paler and insignificant it is bound to become.
Labour’s challenge today is to continue re-inventing itself as a broad church. Talking heads promoting an elitist narrative that does not resonate with people from all walks of life should not be its architects. It should stick to what time has proven it does best: taking timely decisions.
Economic growth intensified corruption – Alfred Sant
The Labour Party was strong and wise enough to bring about a much-needed economic boom, and the generation of more wealth enabled necessary and fruitful social reforms.
The downside to the success is the environment was not given enough importance and we have problems in governance.
A new Labour government brought about a new and strong appetite for investment and confidence in economic growth that were absent during Gonzi’s years. Economic prosperity trickled down to all social classes and enabled government to boost social welfare.
That economic model also led to a contestable influx of cheap imported labour.
The accelerated economic growth rate also meant that governance and corruption problems increased. More wealth became available as a result of economic growth, causing good governance to take a hit and corruption to intensify. But such a phenomenon is common when the economy booms.
The accelerated economic growth rate also meant that governance and corruption problems increased- Alfred Sant
Good governance and corruption have always been an issue, under all administrations. But economic growth might have fuelled them. Similarly, I believe they will start to matter to people when the economy takes a downturn.
I believe more attention to good governance would still not have stifled the economic growth rate.
One issue which increasingly frustrates people is the environment, which has not been handled well enough.
I think people also changed, in the sense that they became more ambitious for their personal gain. I believe they are more inclined to look out for themselves than to stand up to what they believe in.
A decade of extremes – Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca
The past 10 years have been characterised by extremities. On one hand, the government took bold decisions and introduced positive initiatives. On the other, we faced, and continue to uncover, traumatic situations that have rocked our society and shaken international confidence in our beloved country.
First, the good: The introduction of civil rights for the LGBTI community and transposition of the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women have been extremely positive developments that have raised Malta’s profile internationally in terms of human rights; even though we need to do more to ensure we have the resources to better protect victims like Bernice Cassar, who was brutally murdered after suffering years of domestic violence.
Free childcare for all and in-work benefit measures have been crucial to encourage women to join the paid workforce, while the introduction of free public transport and school transport have been beneficial both from an environmental point of view as well as offering assistance to the less well off.
The abilities of our leaders and workers shone during the pandemic. The country managed to overcome, not just the public health threat, but also the economic hardships it brought about.
The constitutional changes demanded by the Venice Commission have also been successfully introduced by the government – positively affecting the way we appoint the President of Malta, the judiciary, and the police commissioner. This shone a ray of hope on our country amid the trauma of the macabre assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, though I feel that there is still work to be done for our institutions to operate completely independently from the government and where justice is truly blind.
When elected 10 years ago, the Labour Party had the unique opportunity to transform Malta into heaven on earth and drive the much-needed changes; instead, while a section of our population is admittedly more wealthy, this has come at a huge cost to our country which has lost out to greed and personal interests- Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca
As for the neutral: Malta has opened up to an extraordinary influx of workers from third countries. While essential for Malta’s economy, this reality has created a new form of slavery and exploitation which has brought out the worst in some Maltese. It has also led to a multicultural society nobody was prepared for – leading to heightened racism and, in some cases, violence against those considered to be “the other” by those blinded to foreigners’ contribution to our island’s generation of wealth.
And then there is the bad and the ugly: When elected 10 years ago, the Labour Party had the unique opportunity to transform Malta into heaven on earth and drive the much-needed changes; instead, while a section of our population is admittedly more wealthy, this has come at a huge cost to our country which has lost out to greed and personal interests.
We have sadly witnessed unplanned and unbridled construction on an unprecedented scale, which has changed the face of Malta and erased its charm. Our island has become more of a city-state than a country, robbing citizens, especially children, of green, open, safe and inclusive spaces.
The blatant corruption, fraud and money-laundering surrounding multi-million-euro public projects have, and will continue to have, a resounding effect not just in Malta, but around the world. And it will continue to impact us unless justice is served.
Another unprecedented situation is with the Nationalist Party, after 10 years in opposition, it is still struggling to present itself as a united, coherent and credible opposition – subsequently stifling an effective democracy, though over the past days, there seem to be encouraging attempts to generate unity.
I dearly hope that we have learnt from these tough lessons and build a better Malta for our children in the next decade.