When an editor has no solid background in economics, editorials run the risk of making no economic sense. Under an editorial titled “Playing the same economic tune,” the Times of Malta offered a prescription that is, instead, a recipe for disaster. The newspaper lamented that government ministers do not share the same view about the country’s economic future. It is imperative, it said, that all ministers sing “from the same hymn sheet – something that is not happening.”

Thank God, if it’s not happening. Labour’s organizational philosophy represented by the phrase “aħna magħqudin” has led the country to a financial precipice.

We saw it with the Health Department where Minister Fearne remained mum while the government splurged $400,000,000 on Vitals and Stewart, getting nothing of substance in return. Yes, Fearne was a good team player because he kept his mouth shuti nstead of speaking out the truth to power. In return, the fraudsters milked the country’s financial reserves.

We saw it with Labour taking no corrective action when its leaders were caught in brazen money laundering attempts. Were it not for Daphne’s murder, they would still be in charge racing for billionaire status. The country ended up on the Grey List while the ministers repeatedly assured us that it didn’t matter. It didn’t if the ministers had kept their nerves, but they withered under scrutiny. If only some cabinet ministers had stubbornly refused to budge under pressure even if it meant remaining on the Grey List.

It also happened with Labour buckling under OECD pressure, increasing company taxes from 5% to a soon whopping 15%. As a result, the big corporations in Malta are packing up their bags, moving their headquarters to jurisdictions with a lower tax base. This by itself will be the kiss of death for the country’s balance books within about the next two years. We have no oil reserves to fall on. Neither can we offer hefty research and development (R&D) deductions, as tax sweeteners, given that we don’t even have space for R&D labs big enough for big companies.

When ministers slavishly speak with one voice, “from the same hymn sheet,” as recommended by The Times, you get group think, not flexible solutions, as the above cases illustrate. In group think, conformity and consensus overrule critical thinking and independent decision-making. Minister Fearne and his CEO Carmen Ciantar demonstrated a serious lack of critical evaluation when they didn’t stop the flow of payments to the fraudsters behind the hospitals. Group think also leads to a false sense of invulnerability, “Ghax aħna għandna lil Joseph (or whoever), aħna magħqudin.” As if the international markets give a hoot about Joseph or his replica whenever the interest rate payments come calling. What The Times is prescribing for the government is self-censorship, where ministers keep their mouths shut for fear of upsetting the apple cart. Labour has never stopped practicing “l-interdett,” axing out those who offer a different view. From its infamous Kumitat tad-Dixxiplina to a Prime Minister who declares ex-cathedra that a fellow MP who exposed “il-ħniżrijiet” will never be allowed to run again for Labour, the fear of the party’s “interdett” machinery is what keeps many ministers in tow. An overemphasis on consensus leads to suboptimal decisions. It would have been better to investigate the “ħniżrijiet” instead and rejuvenate the party through openness and transparency. The stereotyping of agents of change into outgroups reflects great insecurity at the top. As Edwin Vassallo repeated in this blog post, Labour candidates are being forced to declare absolute loyalty to the party leader. Pride deafens the leader to the advice of those around him. Dom Mintoff would have never replaced Boffa under such a blind oath of loyalty. Long live the King, but at what cost?

The Cabinet

Many have a hard time understanding why in Hans Christian Anderson’s fable, it’s a little child who points out the obvious, that the emperor has no clothes. After reading Vassallo’s incisive article, one suspects that those around the King have taken an oath of loyalty to keep their honest opinions to themselves. 

“The long journey to modernising the economy must start with all ministers singing from the same hymn sheet,” cautioned The Times’ editorial. It could have just as well said that “The long journey to modernizing the King’s wardrobe must start with all the ministers suppressing their own opinion.” Under Adrian Hilman, Strickland’s conservative newspaper evolved into liberal group think and jettisoned the Nationalist Party into no man’s land. Sharing none of the ethos that had bonded the Times to the Nationalist Party as bastions of conservatism, the foreign bred Hillman and his inner circle teamed up with money launderers and allegedly derived over €1 million in proceeds of crime mainly at the expense of Progress Press. Pleasure and graft took over principled journalism.

What the country needs is brave Labour ministers who are not afraid of speaking their mind. Otherwise, the Labour government is heading into the hubris of the Nationalists before it, “għal ġol-ħajt,” taking the whole country with it. Sophocles said that “no enemy is worse than bad advice,” and this is what The Times dishes out with its sweeping statements that would otherwise stand no chance of making it into print if the newspaper were to run decent fact checks first.

Prescribed by The Times

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