Business is the engine of our economy. The Labour party is well aware that in our country a healthy business atmosphere will encourage expansion and generate additional employment. Not only will the PL in government allow businesses to work, but it will also introduce measures to facilitate business growth. Dr. Joseph Muscat said that the Labour Party will address the challenges that businesses face and find lasting solutions that give businesses the necessary confidence to be masters of their own fate.
During a seminar on the future of business in Malta, the message that Maltese businesses wanted to convey to politicians was clear – ‘Let us work’. The call must have been based on the difficulties that all businesses have had to face, especially during the last few years. The Gonzi administration has introduced measures that have affected businesses, both directly and indirectly. These measures, coming back to back with a severe economic downturn, have made it far more difficult for businesses to prosper. GonziPN has been oblivious to these problems. The response by Joseph Muscat was unequivocal – ‘We will let you work’. The seminar was organised by the Labour party as part of the activities for the Labour Party Congress being held this month.
A short while ago, a report on competitiveness issued by the World Economic Forum’s centre for Global Competitiveness, listed very similar concerns to those expressed at the seminar. In this report, respondents had put inefficient government bureaucracy as the most problematic issue with doing business in Malta. During the seminar this point was raised by a number of participants. The business community has been hoping for years that governments address this problem. This is a matter for national concern and urgent action is needed. Successive PN governments had promised to solve this major problem, but very few measures have been actually introduced. The PL leader has confirmed that the election manifesto will be based on achievable goals and not on empty promises. It will include a roadmap for the benefit of all the different sectors of the business community.
Apart from bureaucracy, both the report and speakers at the seminar mentioned accountability and corruption as other concerns. Businesses have a right to carry on with their trade, without undue hindrance. It is not something that should be treated as a favour or concession. Governments have a duty to help businesses and a comprehensive review to eliminate bureaucracy is needed.
Another common concern has been that of the exorbitant cost of utility bills. The country should make allowances for the restricted market that businesses operate in here in Malta. We have major constraints, including a very restricted market size. We cannot keep burdening the people with our mistakes, especially in the energy sector. The cost of Water and Electricity services to businesses cannot be passed on to respective businesses as it would then be passed on again to the consumer. Internet shopping is a serious threat to the local businessman and the country should not impose higher rents and service charges as these would have to be added on, thus leading to uncompetitive prices in the local market.
The new rents that the Gonzi government has imposed on businesses in Malta border on the ridiculous. One speaker said that for an increase of factory space equivalent to a 100% increase in space for expansion, the increase in rent payable to the Government was to increase by almost 800 times. This is no way to encourage business. No wonder that some businessmen in Malta are losing their enthusiasm.
There are several sectors in the business community. The construction industry; manufacturing companies; the tourist industry as well as the service industry are very important to our economy. However, the retail trade in Malta employs more people than any of the other sectors. Yet this is the area wherein our governments have failed. Retailers are not given the respect that they deserve. In fact retail business in Malta is probably the sector that employs most persons. Yet this sector has been neglected for many years.
The welfare of the business community will reflect in a better standard of living for the whole population. Establishing the right environment for the success of businesses in Malta should have been a priority. This is one topic that would have called for a united front to help one of the most important pillars of our economy.
There are other sectors that are doing well and Joseph Muscat has already stated that a new PL government will not change for change’s sake. A new Labour government will adopt a modern approach to issues which will lead to a better quality of life for all the different sectors of the Maltese people. GonziPN has, for many years, completely neglected this sector, except for the added charges, bureaucratic delays and increases in Water and Electricity. It is now too late in the day for the Gonzi government to make any real difference to the situation.
The welfare of the people and the state should come above all partisan politics.