The Malta Independent 18 July 2024, Thursday
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Oh Dear, another snake-oil merchant

Malta Independent Sunday, 7 November 2010, 00:00 Last update: about 12 years ago

The day the Labour Party isn’t led by a snake-oil merchant is the day we’re all going to heave a sigh of relief and get on with our lives without worrying about the consequences of a Labour victory.

The Labour Party is too much of a negative presence in our lives even when it is in Opposition, let alone in government. It’s always an unending stream of kvetch, bitch, whine and moan, without the slightest bit of intelligence or humour to divvy it up.

And yes, Joseph Muscat is yet another snake-oil merchant, following directly in the footsteps of his poodle-Meister Alfred Sant, a state of affairs made worse by the fact that he also borrows madly from Dom Mintoff’s belief that it’s all grist to the mill as long as you get what you want. Mix all that up with his inability to make the psychological and intellectual transition from Super One reporter to Leader of the Opposition – pace his ill-mannered conduct and shouts of ‘giddieb’ on Xarabank last Friday – and all is set for a grim ride downhill.

Snake-oil merchants sell things that don’t exist, things that are not theirs to sell, or dreams that they can’t deliver. Alfred Sant did this with value added tax in 1996 and tried to do it with his mad fantasy of a Switzerland in the Mediterranean in 2003. Now Joseph Muscat is doing the same with promises to refund €50 million in VAT paid on car registration tax, even if the courts decide that the tax was justified. This means that he will have to come right back at the more productive members of the workforce, fiscal jaws snapping, to bite that €50 million off somewhere else.

His best bit of snake-oil merchandising so far came a few days ago, when he announced that The People will have to wait until the general election campaign, which quite frankly seems to have started in June 2008, to discover just how he plans to reduce water and electricity charges while the state finds the money to carry the cost. Muscat actually had the nerve to ask his RTK radio audience to be patient for the next two and a half years, when all will be revealed.

This forces us to make one of two damning assessments of Muscat’s credibility and integrity. If he has a magic solution to the problem of how to reduce the cost of utilities to the consumer, or how to reduce the bills (not the same thing at all), then he has a duty to declare it now rather than let those consumers suffer the extra cost until 2013, sacrificing their money to his electoral chances.

If he really does have a solution but would rather let people spend more money while he holds out a carrot to them for two and a half years until he gets their vote, then he has no integrity and certainly doesn’t deserve their vote. You would have to be an utter doormat to vote for somebody who tells you “I know how you can spend a lot less money on water and electricity, but for the next two and a half years, until I get your vote, I’m not going to tell you how.” There’s only one response to that, and it’s a two-fingered salute.

If he’s doing what Alfred Sant did with value added tax and telling us he has a solution to the water and electricity bills problem when he doesn’t, holding out that carrot for a vote and then inventing a square-wheel solution when he’s tricked you into voting for him under false pretences, then not only has he no integrity, but he has no credibility, either.

Muscat justified his behaviour by saying that his opposite number announced a pledge for a reduction in income tax just 30 days before the general election, “So I will choose when to say how a Labour government will lower water and electricity bills.” That Muscat is not strong on logic has been apparent since his first forays into public life as a Super One propagandist. But this really takes the poodle-biscuit.

Announcing a reduction in water and electricity bills equates to announcing a reduction in income tax. Explaining how you will do the former equates to explaining how you will do the latter. For Muscat to do what Gonzi did with the pledge on income tax, he would have had to wait until 30 days before the election to announce a pledge to cut utilities bills. But he has done so already.

Even then, the argument is tenuous. Water and electricity are consumables which cost X to produce and deliver to the consumer and which, therefore, must be sold at a price which at least covers X even if the supplier is to operate as a non-profit-making organisation. If the price to the consumer does not cover X, then it stands to reason that somebody else is going to pay for the shortfall, and this somebody else is the poor sod of a taxpayer who, besides subsidising everybody else’s schooling, university, healthcare, pensions, benefits and the rest, must then also subsidise their electricity and water consumption.

A cut in income tax is not in any way comparable because nothing is sold or bought and nobody is being ripped off to pay for somebody else’s air-conditioning, showers or even just compulsive floor-washing. You use, you pay. You don’t use, you don’t pay.

I don’t think the Labour Party has a solution, for the simple reason that it has nobody capable of producing one. Even poor Edward Scicluna has been reduced to the level of a yapping lap-dog, forced to argue in favour of a living wage when it is clear from his article published in The Times a few days ago that he has thought for 40 years that the idea is unwise, unjust and irresponsible. He cannot possibly have had a Damascene moment on the road to Brussels a year ago.

The more I think about it, the crazier it seems to entrust the running of the country to a Super One reporter in his 30s. The days of zealot peasant-leaders on a personal mission to fulfil their dreams and exorcise their demons should have been long behind us.

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