A fellow Maltese, Edward Debono, coined the concept of lateral thinking in 1967. Now, ironically, this concept seems to be what our society lacks the most, due to our inability to respond hastily to certain local economic and social situations.
Over the duration of the pandemic, Malta’s tourism industry and other sectors have suffered a substantial blow. Our financial services sector is now also bearing the brunt of Malta’s greylisting. The finance ministry’s half-year report announced that Malta faces a projected deficit of €1.6 billion for 2021.
At face value, the outlook seems bleak. However, as Maltese, we have faced similar scenarios and lived through situations where our future was questioned.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the country saw its traditional manufacturing sector dismantling as globalisation pushed factories to cheaper labour locations. Then came the global financial crisis of 2008, which, luckily, found us in good form. Whatever the situation, we came out stronger and we developed new niches and economic sectors.
We are now at a similar junction. No one wanted COVID-19 and no one foresaw this global crisis. But every crisis passes. However, for the economy to return to a proper robust state, we all need to set a good long-term vision for its continued success. We need to dare and be courageous to propose the badly needed constitutional, educational, taxation and environmental reforms that Malta truly needs.
Most times, problems happen because of bad policies and decisions, expecting politicians to solve them. Politicians never did it alone. Numerous reforms have been inspired by people, businesses and stakeholders, with the involvement of all those who can and want to be drivers for positive change.
And it is precisely now that we are being handed the perfect opportunity to pave the way for a better tomorrow because tomorrow is now and tomorrow will only be what we make of it today. As a country, we could reinvent ourselves. We are small enough to adapt and change course if need be.
A luzzu inside a harbour will change tack in a few seconds. A cruise liner may take hours. We have an opportunity to ask where do we want to go in the next three decades. We need to think not in terms of a year but a generation.
Now is the right time to map a vision for our country - Mark Aquilina
Take Singapore, incidently, a model that Malta wanted to copy. Today it is one of the most clean, cosmopolitan, diverse and wealthiest nations in Asia, adopting a free-market policy, low taxes and tariffs, liberal immigration policies and a diverse economy ranging from shipbuilding to electronics to banking. It has rigorously built an undivided society based on discipline, a performance-based meritocratic system and the highest education standards.
And what about Ireland? Having suffered the 2008 crisis due to its poor economic and political policies and reliance on the property market, the country saw a radical political and cultural transformation, from a populist to a reformist one. Like Singapore, Ireland opted for low taxes and tariffs and targeted investment in life sciences, ICT, financial services and agrifoods.
Now is the right time to map a vision for our country but serious soul-searching is needed. What are our aspirations as a country? Which sectors are expected to grow in the near future? Malta has enjoyed exceptional economic growth but at what price? Rather than just discussing economic growth, when are we going to start discussing the quality of life?
The Prosperity Index 2020 published by the Legatum Institute places Malta in the 25th position with 75.48 points. Singapore stands in 15th place and Ireland 12th. Denmark is first. Not bad for a tiny island out of 167 countries but we can always do better. From an environmental perspective, we rank 105. Which is worrying, but we could improve.
We need to get our house in order and move away from the obsession of fast growth at all costs. Let’s think of a strategy for the future, for our well-being and a more sustainable form of growth.
The time is now, let us seize the moment.