The Malta Independent 5 December 2021, Sunday

Tale of two leaders

Owen Bonnici Friday, 22 October 2021, 08:55 Last update: about 2 months ago

This week has been characterized by the speeches of the two main political leaders, Dr Robert Abela, the Prime Minister, and Dr Bernard Grech, the Leader of the Opposition, in Parliament on the budget which will lead Malta in the year ahead.

Prime Minister Abela’s speech was indeed well studied and well delivered.  It managed to reflect on what the government did to save lives and livelihoods once COVID became part of our reality while at the same time looking firmly towards the future.  It managed to dissect and destroy the main points of criticism of the Opposition, while remaining positive, upbeat and conciliatory. 

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Dr Abela had a number of strong points, underpinning the Budget, which he struck home with clarity and in a manner which everyone could understand.   For me the main ones are the following:

Firstly, we are the country in the whole of the European Union with the biggest increase in healthcare.  Secondly, we have the largest number of Gozitans ever working in Gozo within the private sector.  Thirdly, we have the lowest rate of unemployment ever.  Fourthly, Maltese families enjoy the cheapest energy bills in the whole of the Eurozone.  Fifthly, we have the lowest price of diesel in the whole of the Eurozone. 

The list goes on: we have the lowest number of people ever on the waiting list for Social Accommodation, we have the lowest number of people depending on social benefits and we have the largest ever number of people in active employment in the history of the country.

I feel very proud by what we have achieved together, particularly given what we went through as a country and as a global community during COVID.  The Prime Minister has the merit to lead the ship forward through testing times and the Maltese people showed extraordinary courage, dedication and sheer resilience which made all the difference.

In my then capacity of Minister for Education and Employment, I am very proud about how me and my team managed to oversee the successful holding of MATSEC exams, the successful holding of Skolasajf and the successful reopening of schools at a time when the percentage of people vaccinated in our country was still zero.  The rate was zero because the vaccine was still a work in progress at the time in the respective laboratories of the brave researchers and leaders of regulatory authorities abroad and would come in Malta at the end of that same year.

Also the country was, at the time, still grappling with the delicate process which we then later perfected and built upon with almost scientific precision with regards to the issuing of restrictions as a means of defence against the malady.

And yet, even though not one single person was vaccinated back in 2020 and the experience as a country with regards to restrictions was still in its infancy we managed to re-open our schools and see that the educational process keeps moving forward.  I am saying this because I sometimes occasionally read, even in this very paper’s editorial some days ago, that the re-opening of schools of 2020 was bumpy or not as smooth as one expected during those early pandemic, non-vaccine times. 

I personally find that such an assessment is grossly unfair, hurtful and not objective and belittles in a rather cruel manner the extraordinary efforts done by our fantastic SMTs, teachers, LSEs and employees in Government  schools, Church Schools and Independent schools all over the country.

But let me go back to the budget debates.

We saw, yet again, the same old Opposition, repeating the same things like a broken record, making one mistake after another even on the most basic facts.  For instance, Bernard Grech kept harping that this government shot up public debt while repeating time and time against that we misspent public money.

And yet, Dr Grech seems to ignore that the International Monetary Fund is anticipating that the economic growth rate will be twice that obtaining between 2003 and 2012.

Let me quote directly its report: “With the economic recovery, the expiration of most COVID-19 related measures, and the containment of spending growth, the fiscal deficit is projected to narrow rapidly from 2022 onward, and debt to fall steadily over the medium term.”

Also, Dr Grech seems to ignore what the Malta Chamber of SMEs said about the Budget.  “This is a Budget that leaves more funds in people’s pockets, encourages work and investments,” it clearly said.

Not to mention the list of “proposals” which the Leader of the Opposition presented, only to be told by the Prime Minister the day after that these “proposals” have long been already implemented by the Government under particular schemes.  I will not bore down the readers with the actual names and details of the schemes but all this speaks volumes about the acute lack of preparedness shown by the Leader of the Opposition.

This week was indeed a tale of two leaders.   The contrast could not come out any clearer.  Prime Minister Robert Abela deserves our full support for the sterling work he is doing at the headship of our beloved country.

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Black Managers

When former footballer Dwight Yorke was in Malta a couple of weeks ago to endorse our first-ever Anti-Racism strategy, I had plenty of opportunity to have conversations with him about football and his career for the future.

Dwight is indeed a very focused, charismatic and self-disciplined person.  He has very clear goals and oozes positivity.  He told me that his main aim is to coach a first team in one of the divisions of the main football leagues and explained how he obtained the necessary coaching badges.

What he then told me actually shocked me.  He said that the colour of his skin is certainly a factor for the lack of opportunities that he is encountering.

“Is it so?” I asked the football star, quite incredulous.  I mean this guy won the treble, played in the World Cup and could not stop scoring fantastic goals (including against Southampton).

“Yes,” he said. 

When he saw me lost for words, not knowing what to reply he asked me a direct question.

“Are you able to name three black coaches in any of the divisions of the main football leagues?”

The answer is that I absolutely could not.  There is Vieira but that’s how far I could go.  The football team which I have been passionately following since I was a kid never had a black Manager.  I know that for a while Paul Ince, Ruud Gullit and Clarence Seedorf coached other teams but that is in the past, few and far between and not in the present anyway.

Dwight Yorke is perfectly right.

I wish I could do something to right this glaring wrong.  

 

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