The Malta Independent 23 February 2020, Sunday

How the unions and constituted bodies reacted to Malta’s current political crisis

Albert Galea Sunday, 8 December 2019, 09:30 Last update: about 4 months ago

Over the course of the last week, unions and associations across all sectors and industries in Malta have issued statements about the political crisis that the country is currently experiencing.

The Malta Independent on Sunday has looked back on the past week or so since the Prime Minister announced that he would be stepping down to gather and compare the statements of various unions and representative bodies.

The nature of the statements vary, with some organisations calling for Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to resign immediately and not half-way through the next month – as he plans to do and others taking a more measured approach and calling for justice to be done for everyone and for measures to be taken for national unity to prevail.

The GRTU has perhaps been one of the most hard-hitting and blunt in its comments.

“Malta has been ridiculed long enough. The Prime Minister needs to step down now,” the Union said, as it blasted MPs who “should have stood up to be counted when their country needed them most.”

“Our message is not targeted at protestors but at those in power that dragged, and are still dragging, their feet. This is the instability that you have caused”, it wrote.

That statement was published in conjunction with a survey that revealed that 65 per cent of businesses across various sectors had seen their sales plummet.  Some 15 per cent of businesses have, in fact, seen their sales fall by 50 per cent, while 46 per cent are considering cancelling investments planned for next year, the survey found.

The Chamber of Commerce also issued a statement which, they said, was on behalf of “ethical businesses”, calling on the Prime Minister to “do the right thing.”

“It is the humility to bow out promptly, modestly and responsibly without any shadow of a doubt that distinguishes the statesman from the self-serving politician”, they wrote, while also noting that the Prime Minister’s decision to prolong his stay in office and handle “day-to-day” matters only had brought the country to a standstill that is characterised by a level of uncertainty seldom experienced before.

“This sense of prolonged uncertainty for businesses and investment is rendered even more serious by the negative attention our country is attracting, with potentially unimaginable consequences. The hiatus into which the country has descended must be lifted”, they wrote.

The Chamber of Advocates is another body that has called for Muscat’s resignation, saying that delaying the inevitable by a month will serve no useful purpose.

“For the sake of the country’s reputation and credibility, the Prime Minister must resign. The time for that is now. Delaying the inevitable by a month will serve no useful purpose but seriously risks tainting the integrity and credibility of the investigative process”, they wrote in a statement issued early this week.

Later in the week they went a step further and cancelled the traditional celebrations that are held on 17 December – St Ivo’s Day, when lawyers celebrate their patron saint. The reason for this cancellation was given as being “the current mood in the country”.

The University Student’s Council, KSU, has also called on the Prime Minister to resign and is continuing to endorse and support protests taking place, including the one taking place today, where activists and citizens are piling on the pressure for Muscat to resign immediately.

In a resolution on 27 November – prior to Muscat’s resignation announcement – the council had called for Muscat to step down and for an investigation into all public procurement contracts involving Konrad Mizzi, Chris Cardona and Keith Schembri.

They also called for further checks and balances on Malta’s system of government and for a clear separation of powers. That resolution was supported by 27 student organisations.

Other organisations have made it very clear that it is time for Muscat to put the interests of the country above his own, with the Federated Association of Travel and Tourist Agents, the Malta Institute of Taxation, and the National Book Council – with the latter two having cancelled events in the light of the situation.

The Malta Council for Economic & Social Development (MCESD), which brings together representatives from employers, unions, and civil society, issued a statement last Monday after an emergency meeting, making – like several other organisations – a more measured comment on the situation.

They recognised the progress in the ongoing murder investigation and that “political responsibility is being shouldered at the highest political level”, and ultimately resolved that “the national institutions responsible for the Rule of Law must continue to be strengthened”, that “nobody should be considered above the law and justice must prevail and must be seen to prevail in a timely manner”, and that “national unity and stability should be prioritised by all stakeholders”.

The council is comprised of the Malta Employers’ Association (MEA), the Chamber of Commerce, MHRA, GRTU, UHM, General Workers Union (GWU), UHM, the Confederation of Malta Trade Unions, Forum Union Malta, and a representative from the Gozo Regional Committee and the Civil Society Committee.

The statement was also endorsed by The Malta Federation of Professional Associations which is comprised of a total of 17 organisations, including the Chamber of Engineers, the Chamber of Architects, the Medical Association Malta and the Malta Institute of Accountants.

The General Workers Union (GWU) itself issued a statement last week, before Muscat had announced his resignation, expressing its preoccupation with the situation and calling for the political class to tread with prudence and caution.

“This is the moment where everyone must place the national interest above all other interests so that justice is done on those who deserve, and that the full truth emerges and the situation returns to normal”, the statement read, while also calling for mature politics.

Since that statement was issued, the GWU has attended the aforementioned MCESD meeting and voiced its concern regarding the current situation, and has also met PN leader Adrian Delia “to discuss the current crisis and a way forward to stabilise the situation”, GWU Secretary-General Josef Bugeja told this newsroom.

The UHM meanwhile had also issued its own statement before Muscat resigned, saying that political parties should not instigate further anger from the people.

The Union’s CEO Josef Vella was a speaker at one of the national protests organised by civil society groups which called for Muscat’s resignation. “Be a good example and don’t push this nation to the precipice of anger,” he said. “As politicians, and as a government, you have the moral and executive authority not to control anger using the forces of law and order, but by doing what is right and just in its proper time.”

The Malta Employers Association (MEA) has, apart from endorsing the MCESD’s statement, also called for an investigation into the extent of paid phantom jobs, after it emerged that the middleman Melvin Theuma had been given a job on the government payroll and had been paid despite never attending work.

The Chamber of Architects was also a bit more measured in its demands earlier this week, not mentioning Muscat by name but calling for those in authority to recognise the situation that has led to the current social unrest and urgently take all necessary decisions to safeguard the national interest.

“It is clear that our society is in the throes of a deep-set and chronic malady that has pervaded its very foundations. It is the obligation of each of us to combat this scourge and eradicate it from our industries, our society and our country,” it said.

They also issued a separate statement condemning the overuse of barriers to close off public spaces from protestors, saying that this was propagating the gap between the electors and the elected.

The Malta Developers’ Association, meanwhile, issued a statement saying that the Prime Minister’s resignation was inevitable, noting that personal greed had overcome prudence and the country was paying for such a mistake.

“The new Prime Minister would do well to ensure that those around the most powerful office of the Maltese state consider their input to the administration as valuable to help the country move forward and not for personal gain”, they said.

Other more measured statements were issued by the Gozo Business Chamber, which stressed the need for “utmost transparency at all echelons so that the crisis facing the country can be overcome without any further delay”, and the Malta Chamber of Psychologists, who urged politicians and people of influence “to act in our nation’s best interest to quickly restore stability and unity and to start healing the damage that has already been done to our collective psyche”, noting that the present situation could have psychological ramifications on society.

All in all, it is clear that while their messages have been varied, the underpinning common factor across the unions and associations in all sectors is one of general concern over the current situation, with the vast majority – if not all – of these expressing the need for action to be taken to bring back national unity.



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