The international coverage of the perfect storm that has hit Maltese politics over the last few weeks is of deep concern to those who work in financial services, gaming and other industries highly dependent on foreign investment. Malta, whose economy rests so heavily on how it is perceived by overseas investors, regulators and institutions, is suffering from a shattered reputation. Even ordinary people who decide where to spend their holidays may yet start to shun a destination labelled by the international media as a Mafia state.
This loss of confidence has been brought about by politicians who have put their self-interest before that of the country and its citizens. “Politics is about trust, and it’s about the integrity of the office. This is not about the formalities.” The comment by Sophia in’t Veld, head of a delegation from the European Parliament that was in Malta last week on an urgent fact-finding mission, says it all.
The upheaval and uncertainty caused by the tragedy of errors, corruption and murder we have been witnessing, in what looks increasingly like a conspiracy between big business and high office, is also hurting enterprises that rely largely on local consumption.
The Chamber of Small and Medium Enterprises, GRTU, is possibly the best placed to have a finger on the pulse of this type of business.
The survey it has just conducted makes for grim reading: 65 per cent of respondents across 50 economic sectors report business being down over the past weeks, with 15 per cent seeing a drop in sales of 50 per cent. Nearly half the business owners surveyed said they were reconsidering or cancelling business plans for next year.
The Sunday Times of Malta yesterday had more bad news. Real estate agents we spoke to reported a downturn in property sales, although not all agreed on the cause, while operators in the entertainment industry expressed concerns about a Christmas wipe-out if the political situation is not quickly resolved.
The recent statements expressing deep concern issued by bodies such as the Chamber of Commerce, Malta Employers Association, Malta Developers Association and even the Medical Association of Malta add to a picture of dark clouds looming over the economy. Many of these stakeholders have demanded immediate change at the top in order for a semblance of stability to be restored.
When businesses and consumers are unsure of the future, they stop spending. What is so galling is that the Prime Minister persists in error by prolonging his stay in office for another long month, despite all the calls for him to take his leave immediately. By doing so he ensures that the protests will continue to be held and the local and international headlines about his handling of the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder case will continue to damage the country’s reputation and by extension, its economy.
Christmas, then, looks set to be one of the worst in a long time for many Maltese, not just for those who feel betrayed and humiliated but also for those whose pockets and jobs are threatened by this political mess, which is despicable not just in the way it was caused but because it could be avoided.
The Prime Minister may harp about the way he transformed the economy but his successor may have to pick up the pieces of it he is leaving behind.