The Malta Independent 17 June 2024, Monday
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Free market and climate warming

Alfred Sant MEP Thursday, 23 March 2023, 08:00 Last update: about 2 years ago

Can the struggle against climate warming be won by relying uniquely on market forces to generate the investments and products required for this to happen?

At first, some believed that yes, this could be done. It was a reaction that reflected the neo-liberalism which has come to dominate contemporary thought and action. Still “soon” enough, the discovery seems to have been made that this was a pipedream. Direction changed soonest in the US, supposedly the major neo-liberal powerhouse (or so we believe).

The law ushered in by the Biden administration to push the American economy towaards a “Green Deal” similar to Europe’s, is crammed with government measures and interventions intended to promote projects that the government wishes to implement for the sake of the common good.

Today, the debate in Europe is whether we should adopt the same momentum as in the US and in their same direction. To be clear, in the US over the years and when the need arose, few difficulties were placed in the way of significant state interventions in the economy. This did not always happen in Europe.

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ACCOUNTABILITY

In the public sector, accountability is crucial – meaning the need to ensure that an account is publicly given of what has been carried out and that such account is thoroughly and objectively investigated.

In our democracy, we need to be clear that this has got to be done and clear too about how it should be done. As of today, I doubt whether the basic conditions exist that would allow accountability to be done appropriately. I well remember the strong opposition mounted to the end by the Fenech Adami administration against the notion of having to explain in detail its decision to sell Mid-Med Bank to HSBC and why it so decided (HSBC later showed it did not know very much what it wanted to do with this bank that they had bought).

These are all old stories, so I get told. True. The point though is that the issues of accountability raised at that time, are all still with us now.  

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FUNDING FOR LOCAL COUNCILS

I admit that right from the start, I was sceptical about the usefulness of local councils in a micro country such as Malta. Friends like the much lamented Joe Attard (Zejtun) would argue that the idea was not so bad. And I guess that facts have proven them right. The introduction of local councils did stimulate new and previously inexistent local activity geared to improve the state of affairs. (To be sure, along with that came abuses and waste of a new kind).

Even so, fundamentally not only yours truly but also those who were proposing the reform remained actually lukewarm about the idea of giving too big a toehold to local councils in public affairs.

The best test of what importance is being given to a proposal in the public sector is by checking what proportion it absorbs of the total funds that the government spends. Then by comparing this with what is happening in the rest of Europe.

On this measure, Malta’s local councils are not really well positioned. Only some 2 per cent of government’s annual expenditures are allocated to local councils, the lowest in Europe. On average, over Europe as a whole, the spend on local councils is close to 33 per cent of the total government budget! 

 

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