Jittery moves and election chatter

Rumours of a late November general election have exploded over the past few days, with everyone and their dog participating in the frenzied chatter. The feverish gossip has morphed into sheer absurdity, with random radio hosts claiming to have ‘found out,’ through high-comedy skullduggery, exactly when it will be held.

The date being bandied around as election day, 27 November, would have to be announced today for it to be possible.

Other media have picked up that date and run with it, citing ‘sources’ saying that there was to have been an extra cabinet meeting last night, after which Prime Minister Robert Abela will announce the election via a press conference today.

These reports flag 27 November as the date too, though guarding against being wrong by including the by now familiar disclaimer: different warring factions within the Party have different ideas, so it all depends on which group wins the argument.

But if it’s not announced today, then it’s unlikely to be this year. Political parties tend to avoid December elections, which means early 2022 would be the next period we’d have to start speculating about. This legislature runs to June 2022.

Whatever it is, it certainly looks as though the Opposition is convinced an election is coming soon, though. I’ve given up on trying to work out all the sneaky moves of the people in power and the ones who’re dying to take their places.

But Opposition Leader Bernard Grech’s response to the government’s budget last night certainly sounded, from the news reports, very much like a somewhat desperate election push.

I fully intended to watch Grech’s speech in parliament last night, but my internet provider decided to spare my sanity. When my connection spluttered back and became stable enough to actually load websites, I realised I owed a debt of gratitude to the online gremlins that interrupted my plans.

Because Grech appears to have been infected by the same fairy dust that transported Finance Minister Clyde Caruana to Neverland last week. The PN Leader, reiterating his pledge to get Malta early release from the FATF’s grey list within three months of being elected, said that he’s going to transform our currently-pariah jurisdiction into a hub for internet giants like Amazon, Google and Facebook.

This kind of announcement is what makes my blood run cold with anxiety. These people, all of them, don’t have a clue what they’re doing. They’re operating in knee-jerk mode, name-dropping like the most obsequious of social climbers claiming that Queen Elizabeth promised to pop into their coffee morning, but got held up by a runny tummy.

Facebook. The social media giant has spent the last ten or so years expanding its presence in London enormously. The UK capital hosts its largest ‘hub’ anywhere, after its US offices. Just last month it was reported that it would be adding even more office space to its current footprint, giving it the potential of hosting thousands of more workers.

In 2017, the company opened a seven-storey new engineering office in London, which has more than a thousand employees. The company’s commitment to the UK capital appears solid, even after Brexit, and why it would be tempted to sully that relationship by setting up some kind of hub in tiny-but-tainted Malta is hard to fathom.

Google. The internet giant already has 40 offices around Europe, with its European headquarters long based in Dublin’s docklands district. Starting in 2003 with just 100 employees, Google now has its largest office outside the US in Ireland and employs 8,000 people. Once again, how Malta could become any sort of ‘hub’ for Google is hard to imagine; the company has offices all across Europe to cater for regional business already.

Amazon. Similarly, the online retailer already has an established European hub in Luxembourg. It’s also got regional offices across the continent. While it doesn’t appear too fussed about the reputation of its HQ hosts, there seems to be a lack of clear rationale for what Malta could offer the company that it doesn’t already get from its European headquarters and office network already.

Malta is already committed to joining the OECD’s initiative to reform the international tax system, establishing a minimum tax for large companies of 15% and putting into question the island’s tax rebate system for foreign-owned companies – giving them an effective tax rate of just 5% – that proved a successful draw to foreign direct investment in the past.

So, even without the black stain of FATF grey-listing, it’s going to be a much harder sell from now on. Especially for mega corporations of the size and scope of the companies Grech mentioned.

Grech reportedly said the PN would offer tax credits to companies that invest profits back into their employees or their businesses. The reports didn’t offer any more detail, so it’s impossible to gauge how truly attractive this measure might be, but it’s always pertinent to remember that publicly traded companies will be looking to distribute dividends and carry out share buybacks to keep their investors happy.

Besides, mega-corporations of the scale Grech’s targeting – such as Facebook, whose revenue in just three months to June this year ($29 billion) was almost exactly double Malta’s entire annual GDP for 2020 ($14.7 billion) – are hardly going to be tempted by a tax credit offered by Bernard Grech.

Like Abela and his sidekick Caruana, Grech appears to have decided that he too should dangle the easy money carrot in front of the electorate – 500-euro travel vouchers for young people between the ages of 16 and 21, a 25% increase to student stipends, an annual pensions’ increase at twice the cost of living boost and tax cuts for middle-to-high income earners.

Grech’s budget response, based on the early reports, seems as detached from reality as Caruana’s. A hodge-podge of ideas based on an unrealistic assumption about grey list exoneration and mega-corporation investment. Some dubbed it the first unveiling of the PN’s electoral manifesto, so perhaps this was a rush job cobbled together on the back of the 27 November election date rumours.

Certainly, if the surveys published over the last months are to be believed, an election held this year would be disastrous for the PN. Surveys are famously unreliable – Brexit is one unforgettable example of the way surveys predicted what looked like a slam-dunk for Remain, only for the result to turn them on their heads – but public sentiment does seem to support them.

This is a frightening prospect. The reinstallation of the current corrupt PL government for a further five-year term would be catastrophic. Yet the election of Grech’s gang of in-fighting misfits, also liberally sprinkled with knaves, would hardly provide a solution for Malta. I look forward to reading more of Grech’s ideas, but on the basis of what I’ve seen so far, my heart simply continues to sink.

                           
                               
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James
James
1 month ago

Israel already hosts an important Google hub. Why should google trans locate to Malta when they are very well served in Israel for the Mediterranean region?
Israel is a country of start ups and high tech supported by high quality education..think Technion, Weizmann Institute…what a contrast to Malta where higher education is sinking to even more mediocre levels thanks to the arrogance and stupidity of the education ministry and its Permanent Secretary, compounded by poor standards in nearly everything thanks to the incompetent and toothless regulatory authorities. Keep dreaming Malta.

Stephen Pace Bonello
Stephen Pace Bonello
1 month ago

I can understand the scepticism, seeing that the PN at present can safely promise the earth knowing full well that it will not be entrusted to deliver any time soon. However, I would be inclined to believe that a certain degree of expert research was carried out by the party putting together these proposals, almost certainly more than Ms Gatt and her dodgy internet connection could achieve in the few hours since Dr Grech’s presentation last night. Ms Gatt’s cynicism comes as no surprise; her record of dismissing and trying to discredit anything that comes out of post-Adrian Delia PN is clear to all. It does nothing to help the cause of removing once and for all the true enemy of the people – this corrupt and incompetent PL government.

M.Galea
M.Galea
1 month ago
Reply to  Blanche Gatt

Kudos to you!

Catherine Desira
Catherine Desira
1 month ago

Yes normal political parties will avoid the month of December. But NOT the Maltese Criminal labour Gangs. For your information, the infamous 1981 election which labour lost but still clung to power unethically was held on the 12th of December.

saviour mamo
saviour mamo
1 month ago

It is possible if Dr Grech as prime minister had to replace the present police commissioner. Time showed that Angelo Gafa is weak.

M.Galea
M.Galea
1 month ago

Fuq l ambjent kollox imqanzah u jidher bic car li l istess politika ta dal gvern ihaddan l pn fejn jidhol l ambjent! Kollox imqanzah! L izvilupp ikompli qalilna w xejn kif ser intejbu x tip ta bini tiela, l aqwa li jibqa jitla, odz ma qalilniex li m hemmx bini fuq odz imma jitqanzah jghid m hemmx bini fuq raba li jinhadem! Odz mhiex biss ghelieqi li jinhadem! Ma jghidtx li ser jiehu hsieb l ambjent naturali imma paroli fil vojt dwar spazji miftuha w gonna! Min jhobb l ambjent irid jara ambjent naturali jibqa mhux mittiefes u mhux parks u spazji miftuha w moghdija ta zmien! Paroli fil vojt! Tridux thalluna! Qabda ameatures!

Simon Oosterman
Simon Oosterman
1 month ago

Malta really has to get out of the PN/PL rut. When the election comes the thinking part of the electorate has to vote for CHANGE. In the present circumstances that means first votes for ADPD. And ADPD should agree on one candidate per district.

Gordon
Gordon
1 month ago

The basis of Bernard Grech’s bankrolling is subject to 5 main assumptions: 1. rescinding 700 contracts to persons of trust; 2. removal of grey-listing within 3 months; 3. reneging on the Electrogas contract; 4. cancelling the Vitals/Stewards contract. 5. eliminating (reducing corruption)

Now, we all know that the PN are soft on employment, so there is little chance that they would reverse the 700 contracts to persons of trust as this affects 700 families. PN will buckle on this immediately.

Grey-listing is dependent on us but also dependent on the whims and requirements of other countries vis-a-vis Malta.

Elctrogas deal can be done but it is lengthy, will require arbitration, and will not give the immediate injection one may think – especially with rising energy prices across the EU

Likewise, the Hospitals deal comes with a penalty that will also mean arbitration, lengthy processes, etc. Therefore, not immediate either

Corruption can be quantified and the visible corruption of direct orders, etc can be reduced but we will fool ourselves if it is eliminated altogether.

What worried me is more the raising of VAT brackets to 60K. Unlike the income tax reduction – which is based on above the board declarations and, therefore, will lead to increased spend and more tax from other sectors, the VAT threshold will only serve to increase the black economy and parallel trade in several sectors. Traders can and will doge the VAT collection as they will be totally under the radar and when they will be close to the threshold, they will simply set up under a different trading name, etc.

I liked the tone of the budget reply and the measures but some are not fully worked out and I agree with the author of this piece (and the last weeks’ one as well) that this is fairyland stuff.

joe tedesco
joe tedesco
1 month ago

NEVER, EVER, TRUST THE PEOPLE’S
REPRESENTATIVES, THEY WILL ALWAYS,
UNFAILINGLY, DECEIVE YOU.

Cikku Poplu
Cikku Poplu
1 month ago

Well, you did not understand the gist of Bernard Grech’s speech about attracting companies like Facebook, etc. Granted, that Malta may not attract giants like Facebook. But it create new niches as with past PN governments and can attract other companies ,meaning more investment and creation of new jobs.

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