The Malta Independent 24 February 2020, Monday

New broom dilemma

Charles Flores Sunday, 12 January 2020, 10:10 Last update: about 2 months ago

As the old cliché goes, a new broom sweeps clean and from early this very morning many people will be following proceedings in earnest as either Chris Fearne or Robert Abela both of whom have run a remarkably efficient and clean campaigntakes over the leadership of a popular Labour Party still strongly in power. It will, however, be no joyride.

The successful heir to Joseph Muscat’s burgeoning economic boom, for example, will hardly have anything to sweep clean unless he wants to halt the momentum that has seen the Maltese people’s quality of life, financial stability and job mobility soaring, only to watch it slowly falling into decay or decline. Yes, a tweak here and a tug there would still be needed to smooth over things that otherwise have been a veritable booster a mere seven years since the European Union was seriously warning the then Nationalist government that it needed to pull its socks up to avert a major economic collapse.

If you look at it from this perspective, the new broom will have a dilemma as to how to outdo what has already been achieved to the expressed satisfaction of a very stable majority of citizens on these Islands. Most new brooms elsewhere in Europe do not have the privilege of assuming leadership at a time of mesmerising achievements. How else can one describe the fact that an island-nation without any natural resources whatsoever is today managing to register consecutive financial surpluses in its annual budgetary operations?

What new broom would want to sweep away a practically zero unemployment rate; a record number of women actively participating in the labour market; a strictly-no-new-taxes government policy; an ever-growing system of social benefits that has been able to shed the spongers while happily helping out those still in genuine need of support and integration into society; a thriving tourism industry that has finally managed to do away with the concept of seasonality with the only hotels that will be closing for a period of time being those either eagerly expanding or refurbishing or both?

The new broom can hardly be expected to sweep away the vast reduction in the national debt, the huge increase in local and foreign investments and the breath-taking impetus of job creation that can only be sustained with the influx of more foreign workers a complete departure from the not-so-distant past when it was Maltese workers in their thousands seeking a better future elsewhere in the world. Nor can Fearne or Abela seek to drive down the tempo of infrastructural projects so much needed to help mobilise the whole island in harmony with a blossoming economic environment.

I can hear some of my readers sniggering and murmuring, with an obvious touch of irony, the word perfection. No, the new broom will not be trudging onto a perfectly cosy carpet across the face of Malta and Gozo. Success nurtures new challenges and creates new problems. It is here that the leader-PM-elect will have to be quickly competent and realistically ready to sweep away what is needed to be swiftly swept away, particularly in the fields of governance and the environment as he undertakes a consolidation of the many judicial reforms that have been effected over the past few years as part of a declared government policy and, in some instances, as a result of undue EU pressure.

The new broom dilemma balances on how best to retain today’s level of success in so many sectors while assuring sustainability, transparency and quality. For Fearne or Abela it will be a question of both fine-tuning and brave new forays by resorting to one’s own method and style of running the country. It cannot be a Joseph Muscat clone, but certainly a man with the same vision and foresight.

In between all that, he will need to work at reinstating stability. The molten lava of the crisis of public conscience of the past few weeks will, in post-Joseph Muscat Malta, hopefully harden into a new political landscape. An Opposition divided into  two or three is never a happy reality for any government, however strong or successful. The question of the alternation of power is always a prerequisite in any true democracy and new brooms will have to be aware of it all the time if they want to play their cards well and make of their tenure an enduring one.

 

A human Pope

Pope Francis cannot stop surprising people – not with symbolic rituals or triumphal displays, but with his humility and humanity. To suddenly realise that the Pope, once dictatorial ruler of vast chunks of what are today Italy and France, is human shows how much we, particularly my post-WWII, baby-boom generation, were indoctrinated into thinking he (of course always a he) was supposed to be some sort of infallible demi-god wrapped in golden foil.

To watch Pope Francis, during the recent New Year wishes at the Vatican, apologising for angrily striking the hand of a woman who reached out and yanked him towards her as he walked past people, was another demonstration of his down-to-earth attitude to life not as a ruler but as a worthy leader who is not against admitting having lost his patience.

In his apology, the Pope said: “So many times we lose patience: me too”, as he asked people to excuse him for his bad example. How could one not feel the warmth and sensitivity of a Pope who is, after all, human like you and me, with attributes and weaknesses that occur as we travel life’s course in the passage of time.

                                     

War raging in our backyard

Whether we like it or not, our geographical position and the impact from the recent flare-up in the on-going Libyan civil war crisis cannot be overlooked or downplayed. Only last weekend, shocking videos emerged online, and in some of the mainstream media, showing what appeared to be a drone strike on a Libyan military academy that resulted in 30 trainees being killed and another 33 injured, and this at a time when pro-Tripoli Turkish troops were moving into Libya with the Libyan National Army under Khalifa Haftar, from the rival government to the east, declaring a Jihad against them and taking the city of Sirte from the UN-backed Tripoli government.

Of course Libya is still reeling from the aftermath of Gaddafi’s removal from power with the help of the US, France, Italy and other EU countries, including Malta, whose Prime Minister at the time had just returned from embracing the Libyan dictator. The current crisis has driven Europe’s refugee catastrophe and created the lawlessness that now flourishes in our backyard. 

While we rightly feel jeopardised by the whole Libyan situation, foreign interference continues to be the major cause of its escalation. As in Iraq, Iran, Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East where the West is obviously more interested in sowing dissent for its own economic and military aims, the civil war raging in Libya is of particular concern to most countries in the Mediterranean basin.

 

 

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